Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed that despite Australia’s international borders reopening from next month for Aussies, foreign tourists won’t be welcomed back into the country until sometime next year.
While Australian citizens and residents will be “first cab off the rank” for travel both to and from Australia, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, “we’ll get to international visitors I believe, next year.”
After getting fully vaccinated Australians back home to Australia, following 18 months of restrictive arrival caps and removing the outbound travel ban imposed on citizens and residents in November, the government will then look to bring in long-term migrants and international students.
“The next priority is our skilled migrants that are very important for the country and who are double vaccinated, as well as students who are coming and returning to Australia for study. They are another important priority,” Prime Minister Morrison said.
It comes after the Prime Minister announced that from next month, vaccinated Australians will be offered new freedoms to travel overseas and return without an exemption for the first time since March 2020, and undergo seven-day home quarantine.
According to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, Australia’s travel and tourism sectors have now been in “hard lockdown” for 600 days and are in desperate need of certainty on the future of tourism in Australia.
David Gschwind, chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, said that the imminent return of international tourist arrivals has to “be a part of the plan”.
“Even if they’re not the first priority, we’d like to see how this is going to be worked out. There are many businesses that are just hanging on,” he said.
RMIT associate professor Con Stavros said that while tourism and education sectors can “breathe a huge sigh of relief” following the government’s announcement, they must also acknowledge that “there will be hard work ahead to persuade people that travelling to Australia is feasible and reliable.”
“Uncertainty about state-by-state rules, possible changes to quarantine requirements and the general uncertainty in life fuelled by COVID-19 has raised formidable barriers,” Stavros said.
The federal government has also said it will “work towards” establishing a number of quarantine-free travel bubbles, similar to the agreement previously held with New Zealand, which will allow small numbers of tourists to visit Australia.
Prime Minister Morrison confirmed that the government’s next steps would include introducing additional travel bubble arrangements that won’t require any length of quarantine “when it is safe to do so”.
Previously, it had been suggested that a quarantine-free travel arrangement would be introduced with Singapore, plus that the existing trans-Tasman travel bubble – which is currently suspended – could be expanded to include the Pacific islands, including New Caledonia, Tahiti and the Cook Islands.
Last month, the New Zealand government announced that it would extend the suspension of travel between Australia and New Zealand for a further eight weeks, to 19 November.
Even so, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said it would be “extremely unlikely” that New Zealand would reopen its border to Australia in November, due to its ongoing Delta outbreak in Sydney and Melbourne.
Robertson said the country would keep its eyes on the vaccination rates across Australia and within the states over the next eight weeks.