As talk heats up about a trans-Tasman safe travel zone, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged his intention to continue lobbying airlines to establish a direct route between Canberra and New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was invited to Tuesday’s (5 May) National Cabinet meeting and spoke about the prospect of setting up a ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ between the two countries. Both continue to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve.
Domestic, and trans-Tasman travel is still some time away from becoming a reality as physical distancing measures remain in place and five Australian states or territories have closed borders. But Mr Barr says he will be engaging in discussions with Qantas and Air New Zealand to prepare for restrictions easing over the coming months.
“The current health crisis has caused unprecedented disruption to aviation across the globe, but the prospect of a Tasman bubble with travel permitted between Australia and New Zealand presents a great opportunity to again prosecute the case of connecting Canberra to Wellington and Auckland,” the Chief Minister told Region Media.
“We have been working hard to reconnect Canberra to New Zealand ever since Singapore Airlines took the Wellington leg off their Singapore flight. I was due to meet officials at Air New Zealand in Auckland in late March to continue lobbying for direct flights, however that trade mission was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“I will be discussing opportunities with Qantas and Air New Zealand, and the respective airports, in the coming months.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated Mr Barr’s comments that any measures would still be some months away.
“The [NZ] Prime Minister and I have, for several weeks, been talking about a safe travel zone between Australia and New Zealand,” Mr Morrison said.
“It is still some time away. It is important to flag it because it is part of the road back, at some point both Australia and New Zealand will connect with the rest of the world again… the most obvious place for that to start is between the two countries.”
Both Prime Ministers released a statement saying that an arrangement would only be put in place when “it is safe to do so and necessary health, transport and other protocols had been developed and met, to ensure the protection of public health”.
“This arrangement recognises that Australia and New Zealand are both successfully addressing the spread of COVID-19. Any arrangement would need to take into account state and territory movement restrictions,” the statement said.
“A trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone would be mutually beneficial, assisting our trade and economic recovery, helping kick-start the tourism and transport sectors, enhancing sporting contacts, and reuniting families and friends.”
However, both countries would need to exercise caution with measures that could encourage travel if a second wave of infection occurs.
“Neither country wants to see the virus rebound so it is essential any such travel zone is safe. Relaxing travel restrictions at an appropriate time will clearly benefit both countries and demonstrates why getting on top of the virus early is the best strategy for economic recovery,” the statement added.
Further easing is on the National Cabinet’s agenda this week. Both the Chief Minister and Prime Minister have said that the path out of lockdown will be staged and gradual, but it’s widely expected that restrictions will be eased further after the National Cabinet meeting this Friday.