‘Big trouble’: Scary prediction for Aussies
A war of words is brewing between tourism industry groups and the federal government surrounding Australia's international border reopening as experts predict businesses are in "big trouble".
Frustrated by the lack of clear advice over the ever-changing timeline, the head of Australia's Tourism and Transport Forum appeared on TV on Monday calling for clarity after what the group described as the "worst year in living memory for the tourism industry".
It comes as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg signalled ahead of today's federal budget that international travel will remain closed, with the border shut down until at least next year.
CEO Margy Osmond appeared on the ABC and said she was frustrated by "too much speculation" surrounding an opening.
She said the issue for businesses in the industry is that they are "completely at the behest of government" and demanded a clear calendar based around Australia's vaccination program of when borders might open.
International border closures are forecast to cost the nation at least $17bn due to the botched vaccine rollout - but the damage bill could climb frighteningly higher.
The cost to the economy incurred by Australia's isolation from the rest of the world is a whopping $203m a day, according to new modelling by the McKell Institute.
"It's just too hard for the industry at this point in time when we have no certainty over dates," Ms Osmond told Michael Rowland.
A campaign aiming for a targeted industry support package from the government and headed by the tourism group said 500,000 full-time jobs have already been lost.
"If there is no additional Government support beyond March when the JobKeeper Wage Subsidy ends, another 300,000 will be gone by September," it predicted.
In an interview with News Corp last weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians had no "appetite" for borders reopening and understood the virus "isn't going anywhere".
"We have to be careful not to exchange that way of life for what everyone else has," he said.
"All I know is once you let it back in … you cannot get it out. You've crossed that threshold. You move into another dimension."
On Monday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham cautioned that there are "many uncertainties" as the Morrison Government works on a road map to reopening, warning it could be the second half of 2022 until travel resumes.
"Border closures have been, arguably, the single biggest factor in keeping COVID out of Australia and in doing so, not just saving Australian lives, but saving Australian jobs,'' Senator Birmingham said.
"We are going to maintain those tough border settings until it is clearly safe for us to do so. "Where we take cautious steps, as we have done with New Zealand, it will be on health advice.
"Right now, sadly, it's a bit of a grim picture in some parts of the world. That means it will be a very cautious approach."
Ms Osmond warned a large part of the tourism industry - up to 70 per cent - is completely exposed to the international market".
"They've got nowhere to go," she said.
"There's only so long you can hang from the fly screen doors. We're going to see an awful lot more failures and I think that is a critical outcome because when we do finally open the door to international tourists again, what on earth are they going to do? Hardly any of those attractions will still be there."
She said while the New Zealand travel bubble was a hopeful sign, "there's not an awful lot of travelling dollars in that exercise".
The federal government initially set a target that every Australian would be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October, and major airlines such as Qantas based their relaunching of international services around that timeline.
Last week Qantas boss Alan Joyce said the airline's hopes may be dashed, but warned Australia risks becoming a "hermit state" if borders remain shut for too long.
However, supply issues and concerns about the risk of rare blood clotting from the AstraZeneca vaccine in those younger than 50 prompted the government to abandon any immunisation deadline.
'The Federal Government needs to supply us with a very clear calendar, based around the vaccination process, on when we might open. It's just too hard for the tourism industry at this point when we have no certainty about dates.' - @MargyOsmond#AusPolhttps://t.co/LrzIAyjXYw— TTF (@TTFAus) May 10, 2021
With Australian tourism still suffering due to international border closures, TTF CEO Margy Osmond is calling for clarity around opening dates, so our industry can plan its survival strategies.— TTF (@TTFAus) May 10, 2021
Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Monday joined the chorus and demanded the government clarify its road map.
"Yesterday the headlines in all the papers people would have seen were: doors slam shut. This morning, it's: doors are about to open," Mr Albanese told 2GB.
"It's very confusing. For the business community trying to get a handle on future investments, and where these issues are going, the government needs to keep a single message for 24 hours."
Nationals leader Michael McCormack refused to put a timeline on borders reopening.
"We will resume international travel when it is safe to do so and when the medical experts advise accordingly. That's what we've done the whole way through," he said.
"There's no textbook that you can pull down from the shelf, open it up and say 'This is how we address this particular issue or that'."
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said the regions needed migrants to fill jobs that "Australians just don't want to do", and warned failing to facilitate their return would cause inflation and interest rates spikes.
"We have to make sure we get the farmworkers in, the chefs in, that we get the people who clean the hospital rooms and clean the motel rooms in," he told Sunrise.
"I hope that we get a flow of people as quickly as possible to fill the jobs that Australians just don't want to do, so that we can get the economy absolutely humming."
Originally published as 'Big trouble': Scary prediction for Aussies