The tourism, agriculture and education sectors are urging Scott Morrison to outline a roadmap to open the international border, warning the “costs of Australia’s isolation continue to multiply”.
Ahead of a meeting of national cabinet on Friday, the National Farmers Federation, the Group of Eight universities and the Tourism and Transport Forum have joined forces to demand clarity over when the border restrictions can be lifted, saying they are “struggling amid an absence of international workers, visitors and students”.
The industry bodies are calling for national cabinet to outline a roadmap that would clarify: the proportion of the population needed to be vaccinated before quarantine-free travel can resume; how Australians would be incentivised to meet vaccination targets; the criteria used to assess “border bubble” arrangements with other countries; and the timeframe for new purpose-built quarantine facilities.
National cabinet’s meeting on Friday is expected to provide updates on international arrival passenger caps but is unlikely to provide a roadmap on reopening.
NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said there should be no further delay in national cabinet outlining a plan for opening the international border, describing the lack of clarity as an “embarrassment”.
“We’re not saying we need to reopen tomorrow. Public safety must always come first, but part of ensuring public safety is planning for the future,” Mr Mahar said.
“What we want is clarity over the criteria for reopening the border that will keep Australians safe and allow businesses to plan ahead.
“The absence of any national cabinet-endorsed roadmap to reopen borders is an embarrassment, and it risks eroding the advantage Australia has earned by successfully managing the pandemic.
“It also sends an adverse signal to our region and the world that is seeing Australia branded a hermit nation by commentators.”
Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson said Australia’s reputation as a destination for education and research was “hanging in the balance as universities and international students await policy certainty”.
“Currently, we have around 30,000 Go8 students studying offshore. These students have stuck by our leading research-intensive universities during the pandemic and they have done that with the expectation that they can eventually be back in Australia to resume their studies on campus,” Ms Thomson said.
“However, this ongoing commitment will be hard to maintain unless we can clearly communicate that we have a plan to safely reopen or borders.”
TTF chief executive Margy Osmond said Australian tourism operators risked being “left behind as the world reopened”.
“We could become one of the only major countries in the world without a comprehensive and well understood timeframe and targets for reopening,” Ms Osmond said.
“The lack of international tourism is setting our sector back around $4 billion per month, and we can’t expect domestic travellers to fill this void — particularly when we’re still facing uncertainty around state borders.
“It’s time to get our head out of the sand and look beyond the vaccine rollout.”
The federal budget delivered last month assumed the international border would remain closed well into next year, with only a small number of international students to arrive this year.
“A gradual return of temporary and permanent migrants is assumed to occur from mid-2022. Small phased programs for international students will commence in late 2021 and gradually increase from 2022,” the budget 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.”
With state governments being re-elected on the back of border closures, Mr Morrison has declined to specify what targets would need to be met for the international border to reopen.