Border restrictions have kept many Australians from travelling between states for months. But those could be easing soon, with free travel between seven of Australia's eight states and territories on the cards by the end of the year.
Following a national cabinet meeting on September 4, prime minister Scott Morrison announced that every state and territory except Western Australia had committed to following a nationally agreed “hotspot model” for tackling the spread of the virus, so borders could reopen by December. Under the new system, state borders would remain open, while smaller areas could be isolated if an outbreak occurred and a high risk of further community spread was of concern.
Morrison also said that he wanted New Zealand to be included in this hotspot model, so that a trans-Tasman travel bubble could be established before Christmas, allowing international travel to resume for the first time since March. NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian echoed these hopes in her post-national cabinet media briefing, saying that travel across the ditch to Australia’s nearest neighbours should be resumed “as soon as possible”. However, while New Zealanders will be welcome to visit Australia, NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern might not allow Aussies access to New Zealand until the virus is more under control.
The decision to reopen the nation by the summer holidays has largely been driven by the devastating economic impacts on Australia’s tourism sector, which could record losses of as much as $54 billion this year due to travel restrictions and lockdown measures. Many tourism-reliant communities, particularly in NSW, are also still reeling from last summer’s catastrophic bushfire disaster, so a push to stimulate more widespread interstate tourism as the summer peak season approaches has become common ground for many of Australia’s state leaders.
But not all of them, it seems. The premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, has pledged to keep the border closed to the rest of the country, refusing to sign on to the hotspot strategy, even with a limited number of states or territories that have gone months without recording a new case.