'Most Obvious Place To Start': Is The Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble Happening?
Scott Morrison has confirmed there have been talks of a plan to create a "safe-travel zone" between Australia and New Zealand as COVID-19 restrictions ease in both nations, but leaders say it's not coming any time soon.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called into Australia's National Cabinet meeting to discuss the plan and more generally her nation's response to the pandemic on Tuesday.
It was a historic moment for the two nations, marking the first time a New Zealand Prime Minister participated in such a meeting since Peter Fraser attended a number of meetings of Australia's war cabinet during WW2.
But while talks of a 'travel bubble' between the two nations were on the table, the leaders said it was still a fair way away from being implemented.
"The Prime Minister and I have now for several weeks been talking about a safe travel zone between Australia and New Zealand," Morrison told reporters after the national cabinet meeting which also focused on the safe return of Australians back into the workplace.
"It is still some time away. But it is important to flag it because it is part of the road back. At some point both Australia and New Zealand will start connecting with the rest of the world again, the most obvious place for that to start is between the two countries.
"We could see that happening but it's not something that's about to happen next week."
At her own press conference in New Zealand, Ardern said resuming trans-Tasman travel would be beneficial for both countries, with New Zealand being Australia's second-largest source of tourists after China and about 1.6 million Australians visiting New Zealand every year.
"Australians and New Zealanders travel across the ditch more than anywhere else," she told reporters on Wednesday.
"Part of the reason for so much travel is families and friendship span the Tasman."
"There are more than half a million Kiwis in Australia.
"Also, we are Australia's largest export market. 18,000 Aussie businesses trade with New Zealand which means we are especially critical for Australian SMEs so the case for increasing economic relations when it is safe is clear."
Ardern said there were also a lot of similarities in how both countries had tackled the virus, adding that neither nation wanted the burden of COVID cases coming between both countries.
"I think simply the position that I would take on behalf of New Zealand is that when we feel comfortable and confident that we both won't receive cases from Australia, but equally we won't export them, then that will be the time to move," she said.
The suggested Trans-Tasman travel plan has been welcomed by some state leaders.
Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein said he had raised the prospect of direct flights with Tourism Tasmania and Hobart Airport.
"I think this is something that may benefit this state," he said.
"This isn't going to happen tomorrow, it's not going to happen next week.
"(But) as we work our way through the course of the calendar year if the opportunity arises ... then that's an opportunity we will look at.
"It's one that I'm looking to pursue."
Morrison said the plan would most likely be put in place when domestic air travel is also up and running again.
"It is something that will better sit alongside when we are seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns. At about that time I would expect, everything being equal, we would be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland or Christchurch or things like that," he said.
"The two-way travel between Australia and New Zealand is 1.4 million a year both ways, almost as many Kiwis come here is Australians go there."
He said states such as Queensland had a much greater share of tourism travel coming from New Zealand.
"And as we build up our economies again, and especially for trans- Tasman travel and what it means for the airlines that will be important to support jobs in those sectors."
"We are working cooperatively together. New Zealand has stronger biosecurity and border arrangements, as do we, so it is the obvious place to start."