Topics: End of travel exemption requirement for fully vaccinated Australians travelling overseas; parents of Australians eligible for travel to Australia from 1 November.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Australians can travel overseas from Monday the 1st of November. To talk to us about this plan we’re joined by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. Minister, good morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Stephen, how are you?
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Very well. Now, I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of locking Australians out of our own country, which I think was ridiculous, but from Monday – because it’s not as simple as everybody being able to leave and come and go freely – is it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, no. For Australians – they will now be able to leave the country if they’re fully vaccinated, to go overseas – that’s what the major change has been. But also there’s changes for parents of Australians; they are able to come into the country. Clearly there’s a process for them to go through to demonstrate that they do have a relationship with an Australian as a parent. But, yes, we are reopening the Australian borders, and that’s something that all Australians well and truly deserve.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now we’ve heard stories over the last 18 months of Aussies trapped overseas and not being able to come home, and to a certain extent I think – you know – there was a cut-off point where people should have made their own arrangements; but what does this mean? Is there any Australian overseas that won’t be allowed to come back into the country?
KAREN ANDREWS: If you are an Australian passport holder – so an Australian citizen or an Australian permanent resident – yes, you are able to come home, absolutely. That – in fact – has always been the case. People have had difficulty in getting flights – and also with quarantine caps that have been imposed by the states and territories – that has impacted the number of passengers that can come in on flights – that’s what the bottleneck has been. But we’ve now seen that some states – and, of course, the ACT – changing quarantine arrangements, and from Monday people will be able to move much more freely than what they have been able to within Australia, but also as they come in to New South Wales and Victoria in particular.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Minister, I imagine part of the difficulty of your job is actually working out what the requirements of other countries have. It’s all well and good for us to be able to leave the country, but we still need to enter wherever elsewhere going. What sort of restrictions are still in place there and for our major trading partners; our major destinations; is the world open to us?
KAREN ANDREWS: To a point. I would always advise any travellers to have a look at various websites; you know to make sure that they have their passport in order; they check Smartraveller; because that will give them some advice on information on the countries that they are going to. And the rules are very different. In many ways like they always have been, you’ve always needed to know what vaccinations are recommended when you go to various countries. You need to know what the length of time is needed to be remaining on your passport. Those sorts of things have been in place for a long time. But it’s even more important now that people are looking at what the restrictions might be to either get into another foreign country or to be able to travel around that country.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: One of the business areas that’s been hardest hit by this lockdown has been our tourism and hospitality industry. When will visitors be allowed to come to Australia?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’re working through that process now. The Prime Minister’s made it very clear that his priority is for Australians and, hence the changes that we’re all seeing now that will take effect as of Monday. But the next cohort – as the Prime Minister has set out – that we will be looking at, includes a range of skilled workers and international students, and then we will move on to looking at the international travel, which is the tourists that are going to be coming into the country.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: But if people are double vaccinated and we can prove that they are, why is there a delay on this? Why don’t we just say ‘if you’re double vaccinated: welcome’?
KAREN ANDREWS: Because we need to manage the process, and we are putting the welcome mat out well and truly. But what we need to do is make sure that we are opening up the borders in a sensible way so that we can get people through the airports. Not all states are accepting people without quarantine; so there’s limitations on that. Unfortunately we just can’t open it up to absolutely everyone because the state systems – in particular – would be unlikely to cope.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: And I know this is outside of your portfolio jurisdiction, but what are we doing to alleviate that problem? Because, I mean, we – at this stage, apart from the east coast – well, not the whole east coast because Queensland is still being recalcitrant – are we ever going to get back to being one country again?
KAREN ANDREWS: I hope so, absolutely. Vaccination rates are a key to that. Now, in the ACT the vaccination rates are outstanding; I mean, you’re leading Australia here in the ACT, which is just terrific. But you mentioned Queensland – Queensland is one of the lowest, if not the lowest state at the moment – it actually alternates between Queensland and Western Australia as to the lowest levels of vaccination – which is very disappointing. So yes, we need to get the vaccination rates up because that’s the key to reopening fully. I think it’s very sad that we still have such restrictions between states and territories in Australia.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: The vaccination rate in Queensland; it probably would have been a bit better if their Chief Health Officer didn’t actively demonise one of the vaccines. Karen Andrews, thanks for your time this morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. Take care.