NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been joking with her Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk about the Sunshine State’s hard border.
“I often joke with the Queensland Premier that I’ll end up going to Auckland before I go to Brisbane if we continue the way we are going,” she said on Thursday.
But there’s something to those comments. And Ms Berejiklian’s Tourism Minister isn’t laughing.
Stuart Ayres wants Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory to soften borders and allow travel around Australia again.
“The simple matter of the fact is, we can’t stay closed forever,” he said.
“If states believe they can keep their economies functional while keeping their borders closed, I think that’s a mistake.”
NSW IS HARDEST HIT
NSW accounts for more interstate tourists than any other state. According to the ABC, more than 11.47 million overnight interstate trips were made by people from NSW last year.
“Why you would deliberately close yourself off to that economic activity when it comes at a low health risk, I think deserves to be questioned,” Mr Ayres said.
“If you keep the borders closed, it’s an irrefutable fact, you are slowing down Australia’s economic activity.”
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The states having the most success combating the virus are unlikely to want to reopen borders soon. But every day that passes is another hit to the economy.
The tourism industry in Western Australia estimates travel restrictions have already cost the local economy more than $3 billion.
Premier Mark McGowan said WA’s interstate border would remain shut until the number of coronavirus infections on the east coast fell to “virtually zero”.
“The hard borders with the east are not coming down,” he said. “I know there’s people in the east who say we should … but frankly, we’re not listening to them.”
QUEENSLAND AIMING FOR JUNE BORDER EASING
The head of Australia’s peak tourism body has cautiously welcomed the staged easing of coronavirus restrictions, but said the real boost will only occur once state borders are reopened.
Australian Tourism Industry Council executive director Simon Westaway said the Prime Minister’s announcement on Friday is great news for the sector.
“All the signs are pointing to green shoots of domestic travel from June,” he said.
Mr Westaway said while there was a long way to go before tourism returned to normal, members had already expressed excitement about the plan for the way out.
“What’s really important about today is that there has been a level of certainty put out there,” he said.
“The level of uncertainty has been a big part of the angst for our industry.”
But he said the biggest challenge facing tourism operators was the ongoing closure of state borders.
Overseas travel is another thing entirely.
AUSTRALIA EXPERIENCING LARGEST EVER DROP
Overseas arrivals to Australia slumped 60 per cent in March – the largest ever drop in overseas travel – as the country imposed restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
There were 331,900 short-term visitors to Australia in March 2020, down from 836,300 visitors a year earlier, data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday shows.
The steep fall in visitor arrivals was from all regions around the world.
Visitor numbers from China slid 78 per cent to 27,900, from Japan down 75 per cent to 13,300 and 61.5 per cent from the United States to 34,300. Visitors from New Zealand – Australia’s largest source country – were also down 56 per cent in March to 48,200, the data shows.
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Australia first barred entry for foreign nationals travelling from mainland China on February 1 in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The incoming travel ban was gradually extended to several countries that became virus hot spots before borders were shut to all nonresidents from March 21.
Australia’s tourism industry, already hit because of the bushfires during key summer months, is likely to cop heavy economic damage from the coronavirus lockdown, with some analysts estimating it is costing the sector as much as $2 billion a month.
All states and territories recorded large falls in international visitors during March.
NSW led the way with a 64 per cent drop, Queensland visitor numbers declined 63 per cent, Victoria by 58 per cent and the Northern Territory by 66 per cent. There was also a record fall in the number of Australian residents returning from short-term trips overseas, down 29 per cent to 538,400.
– with AAP