International border reopening hidden in Budget papers

·News Editor
·4-min read

Australians looking forward to an international holiday will be waiting at least another year, according to information buried in this year’s Federal Budget.

The details surrounding Australia’s borders were mentioned 36-pages into the document, and states that international travel will “remain low” until mid-2022.

“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur,” the papers say.

“The rate of international arrivals will continue to be constrained by state and territory quarantine caps over 2021 and the first half of 2022, with the exception of passengers from Safe Travel Zones.”

A Qantas plane takes off from the Sydney International airport on May 6, 2021, as Australia's competition regulator said it would block a pricing, code-sharing and scheduling deal between Qantas and Japan Airlines because it would likely mean higher fares for passengers. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP) (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Qantas was hoping to return to international routes in October - but the budget indicates borders will be firmly shut for at least another year. Source: Getty/File

Australia risks becoming "the lost kingdom"

The plans were met with anger from the tourism sector about a lack of support in the budget.

The industry wants a clear calendar for when borders will open, Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond told reporters after Tuesday's announcement.

"No timetable condemns us virtually to being the lost kingdom of the South Pacific when the rest of the world is opening up," she said.

"We will see more job losses and we will see many many business failures."

Australian Chamber-Tourism chair John Hart said budget funding for zoos and aquariums, consumer travel and Tourism Australia will fall short without a plan to open Australia.

"It is vital for the government to begin a staged opening as soon as possible, given the stimulus measures (in the budget)," he said.

"Businesses need certainty and this is especially important after state border lockdowns battered the sector in 2020/21."

"We'll be lucky to have a tourism industry to welcome international tourists back into the country," Ms Osmond said.

Boards with information about canceled flights are seen at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International airport amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Thailand, June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Australians hoping to travel overseas will be forced to wait until at least mid-2022. Source: Getty/File

The dates are a far cry from the schedule Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was aiming for - telling reporters last month it was “still a possibility” that international flights could resume again at the end of October.

"We haven't walked away from October," he told reporters on April 14.

"We are getting ready and still planning, and it's our best guess at the end of October for the market to open up."

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said trying to predict the reopening of Australia's border to the rest of the world was an "imprecise business".

But he said it would be done "as early as possible but no sooner than it is safe to do so”.

The budget papers said “effective containment of Covid-19 outbreaks” in Australia and overseas would be a “key factor” in the reopening of international borders.

CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum Margy Osmond speaks during a hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Margy Osmond, pictured in 2016, fears Australia will become the "lost kingdom" of the South Pacific. Source: AAP/File

Vaccine rollout to speed up

The cautious approach on travel comes as the government revealed it would spend an extra $1.9 billion over the coming year to boost its Covid-19 vaccine supply to 170 million doses and speed up the rollout.

As well, the budget papers confirmed a plan to investigate domestic manufacturing of mRNA vaccines.

The plan - led by the federal industry and health departments - would complement the existing CSL facility in Melbourne, which makes the AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine. It would also ensure Australia is not at risk of blockages of supply from overseas.

The budget papers said a funding figure could not be put on the project due to "commercial in confidence sensitivities".

A queue forms outside at a mass COVID-19 vaccination hub in Sydney, Monday, May 10, 2021. The hub will be open to people in categories 1a and 1b before expanding to anyone over 50 from May 24. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING
The budget also laid out plans to speed up Covid vaccinations across Australia. Source: AAP

The Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, which is housing Australians returning from overseas, will cost $487 million over two years as it is expanded to 2000 places.

Part of the cost will be offset from people paying for their stay at the facility.

There will also be $879 million provided over two years to support access to health care services and reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19.

The funding covers subsidising testing and detection of the virus, telehealth services and operating dedicated commonwealth respiratory clinics.

The budget sets aside $37.1 million over two years to support India with urgently needed medical supplies.

-with AAP

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