NZ Deputy PM says trans-Tasman bubble shouldn’t wait for slowest state

NZ travel bubble being delayed by Australian states’ coronavirus border closures, Winston Peters says

By foreign affairs reporter Melissa Clarke

State border restrictions are holding up the resumption of travel between Australia and New Zealand, with leaders across the Tasman Sea becoming frustrated at the delays.

New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has complained about the “roadblock of federalism” getting in the way of plans to create a trans-Tasman ‘travel bubble’ between the two countries.

While some states are now welcoming interstate tourists, others, such as Queensland and Western Australia, are still banning visitors from outside the state.

That’s adding complications to the plan to revive trans-Tasman tourism, which both nations have been working towards for months.

“Before we went to lockdown, we were talking about getting out of it and having a bubble of success between both countries,” Mr Peters, who is also New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, told the Nine network.

“But we’ve run into the roadblock of federalism, so to speak.”

Jacinda Ardern walks with Winston Peters, both clutching papers and staring ahead.
Jacinda Ardern and her Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters have pushed the idea of a trans-Tasman travel bubble.(AP: Hagen Hopkins)

New Zealand has lifted all of its domestic restrictions on social distancing and mass gatherings, after more than a fortnight without any new cases of the virus being recorded.

Mr Peters has been a vocal advocate for a rapid resumption of business and tourism, backing the idea of direct flights between New Zealand and Tasmania.

“It’s very clear that Tasmania is set to go and we should start, frankly,” he said.

State bubbles ‘a matter for Australia’, Ardern says

Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that it was up to Australia whether the travel bubble would be between New Zealand and select states, or if all internal travel restrictions would have to be removed first.

“[Prime Minister Scott Morrison] has actually left that open,” she told a New Zealand radio station.

“We’ve said that’s a matter for Australia, we’re not necessarily here determining that it has to be country-wide.

“They have very deliberately left the option of opening up individual states.”

Mr Morrison has expressed his own frustrations at interstate border restrictions put in place by state premiers.

Headshot of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaking at a press conference in Brisbane.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has held firm against calls to open her border.(AAP: Dan Peled)

During question time on Wednesday, he urged states to put a date on when they plan to reopen, saying it was vital to the health of the economy and to airline companies.

According to the broad plan agreed to by National Cabinet on easing of restrictions, interstate travel is set to resume again by July.

“We need to open up these domestic borders … that occurs for South Australia, for Tasmania, for Queensland and Western Australia,” the Prime Minister said.

“I would be hoping that at the earliest possible opportunity, states will be able to indicate the date in July that interstate travel will be open again to be able to give that certainty.”

Pressure is mounting on the Federal Government to get the travel bubble operating in time for the winter school holidays.

New Zealand’s tourism industry is hopeful of welcoming Australian visitors to its ski resorts.

Ms Ardern said neither Australia nor New Zealand were ready just yet, but her outspoken deputy said it was up to Australia to get things moving.

The New Zealand Government has some concerns about recent cases of community transmission in Victoria, but does not expect Australia to eliminate the virus before allowing two-way travel to restart.

Once protocols for managing international tourism between the two countries have been established, both Australia and New Zealand will consider extending the travel bubble to Pacific countries.