International Travel Could Return Sooner Than Domestic For Australians

There’s a chance that it will soon be easier to fly from Sydney to Auckland than Sydney to Brisbane. An ugly spat is developing between Australia’s federal politicians and state politicians. Five of Australia’s eight states and territories are refusing to open their borders to interstate travel, citing health concerns. It comes amid a concerted push at the federal level to get people moving again and to reignite the economy as the COVID-19 emergency eases in Australia.

State premiers are defying the federal government and keeping some interstate borders closed. Photo: Getty Images

States slam interstate borders shut

In March, Australia closed its international borders to non-citizens. Around the same time, Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania closed their borders to non-residents. Already struggling, that effectively shut down Qantas’ and Virgin Australia’s domestic flying.

New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) have all kept their interstate borders open.

The decision to close interstate borders was taken by each state’s premiers (the local equivalent of US state governors). It was never encouraged by Australia’s federal government. Now, with infection rates low and under control, the federal government is keen to get people moving, with interstate and some international borders open.

Police at roadblocks and airports are keeping interstate travelers out. Photo: Getty Images.

But individual states are resisting. Queensland’s Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has suggested Queensland’s borders may stay closed until September, outraging advocates of re-opening the border, including the federal government.

Fly to Auckland before you can fly to Queensland?

Yesterday, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, flagged the possibility of re-opening national borders to New Zealanders before locals could take a trip to Cairns.

“It may well be that Sydneysiders can fly to Auckland before they can fly to Perth, or even the Gold Coast, for that matter,” the PM told the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday.

Will Aussies be able to travel to Auckland before Brisbane? Photo: Getty Images

Talks are underway between Australia and New Zealand to allow travel between the two countries, in what’s being styled as a ‘travel bubble’. Several Pacific Islands are also keen to get into the bubble.

“I was speaking with (New Zealand’s) Prime Minister Ardern this morning, and we’ll continue to have our discussions about the trans-Tasman safe travel zone.”

It could lead to the absurd situation where travel to New Zealand is okayed (and vice versa), but parts of Australia remain closed off to other Australians.

State premiers likely to buckle and toe the line

But pressure is building on the recalcitrant state premiers from both within their states and outside it. In the absence of any real health concerns, interstate borders closures are increasingly seen as a politically expedient ploy at the expense of local businesses and broader economic concerns. Annastacia Palaszczuk is being accused of putting her short-term electoral interests ahead of Queensland’s interests.

There are also moves to mount a challenge to the interstate border closures in Australia’s High Court. There are suggestions the closures are unconstitutional.

That will be good news for local airlines

Despite resistance, the tide is slowly swinging towards opening borders. That’s good news for local tourist industries and airlines. New Zealand is desperate to lure Aussie snow bunnies across to Queenstown for the busy upcoming ski season. Likewise, crippled tourism operators in North Queensland are crying out for business.

Qantas says it is ready to ramp up capacity to meet any increase in demand. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have indicated they will put additional capacity onto their barebones domestic schedules as soon as demand warrants it. Qantas, in particular, has been promoting domestic tourism and what passengers can expect in-flight in a heightened COVID-19 aware era. The opening of interstate and some international borders would also give a re-booted Virgin Australia the best possible chance of succeeding.

Scott Morrison’s dramatic scenario is unlikely to play out. Impending court challenges and real-life pressures will probably see most interstate borders re-open within weeks. That will be music to the ears of airlines and hotels. For lockdown weary travelers, that will mean a choice of snow in Queenstown or warm water in North Queensland.