THE COVID-19 pandemic has exposed significant flaws in Australia’s model of “competitive federalism”, with differing state-by-state approaches causing major complications for the entire economy – and in particular the travel and tourism sectors.
While most of the country has exercised a highly risk-averse approach to COVID-19, NSW has been a virtual outlier in its attempt to walk the fine line between upholding important health imperatives and getting its economy going again.
This disparity was evident last month when newly installed NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet proudly declared that NSW residents would “be travelling to Bali before Broome”, a not-so-subtle jibe at Western Australia’s fortress-like border stance.
But the message was clear nonetheless, once NSW hits 80% of its adult population fully vaccinated, the state is ready to throw open its borders.
In line with the Federal Government’s four-stage plan to normality, NSW’s speedy vaccination rate meant that it could announce the removal of quarantine requirements and caps for overseas arrivals and allow its fully vaccinated residents to finally make an overseas trip from 01 November.
But in a telling moment that Australia has been a patchwork quilt on the issue of travel freedoms, Perrottet’s announcement that all arrivals are welcome to visit was quickly qualified by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who stated that while he supported NSW’s impetus to get travel going again, the border would not be open to everyone straight away.
Morrison clarified that it would only be Australian citizens, residents and their immediate family members who he will let in initially, with tourists, students and skilled workers having to wait until Aussies stranded abroad are accommodated on flights home.
Further complicating life is the various vaccination rates of different states, as well as the differing polices each Premier has so far applied to travel, meaning that although residents across the country are able to take a flight overseas from the start of this month, capped arrangements from state to state may complicate where they can re-enter the country and whether they will still need to undergo a phase of hotel quarantine.
Western Australia has perhaps applied the most draconian approach, with Premier Mark McGowan stating WA would open “at some stage next year” — even if the state reaches the magical 80% vaccination threshold sooner. Qantas wasted no time in punishing WA for not staying the course with the National Cabinet plan, announcing that its flights to London would now take off from Darwin instead of Perth, at least for the short-term future.
Meanwhile Queensland’s sluggish vaccination rate has resulted in a delay to quarantine-free travel to The Sunshine State from places like NSW and Victoria, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announcing that it would only be allowed to happen when it reached 80% vaccination, tipped to be around 17 December. Even then, travellers entering via road or air from “hotspots” will still need to be fully vaccinated and test negative within 72 hours prior to arriving in the state. Only at 90% of Qld residents being fully vaccinated will result in free travel across it borders, expected to be early next year.