Covid 19 coronavirus: Australian travel bubble in doubt as anger rises over Kiwi travellers

It’s been less than 72 hours since the first flight from New Zealand landed in Australia, but after a turbulent weekend – the future of travel bubbles may already be about to burst.

Flights from New Zealand began touching down in NSW and the Northern Territory on Friday as part of the first instalment of the transtasman travel bubble, but the system has already exposed some leaks.

Over the weekend, dozens of New Zealanders spilt into Victoria and Western Australia on board domestic flights despite both states opting out of the travel arrangements.

Under the new corridor, Kiwi residents can enter NSW and the Northern Territory without having to undertake 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine.

But the watertight plan seemingly burst at the seams, with about 23 Kiwi travellers slipping into Western Australia despite the state having a hard border with overseas arrivals.

In Victoria, the state which has battled Australia’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, 65 New Zealanders entered the Garden State without the State Government’s knowledge, and another five into South Australia.

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews hit out at the Federal Government, saying he – along with his counterpart in Western Australia – had “absolutely no idea” travellers from New Zealand were entering their states, despite opting out of the travel bubble arrangement.

“We are not particularly pleased that we were asked the question, do you want to be in a bubble, and it turns out that even though we said no, we are, but that is the fact of the matter, that is what we faced,” he told media on Monday.

“Ultimately, we are in the bubble, whether we like it or not … We can’t stop these people coming here, unless of course the Prime Minister and [acting Immigration Minister Alan] Tudge and whoever else has been wheeled out to apparently blame me for what happens at Sydney Airport, Perth Airport, Hobart Airport, you know, come on – stopping the Federal Government is in charge of the borders.”

It is understood the travellers entered Victoria and Western Australia after flying into NSW, and boarding domestic flights into other states.

The revelation left state authorities scrambling, with tourism experts questioning whether “border hoppers” may have thrown any future bubble arrangements into jeopardy.

“I am not at all surprised that at least some New Zealanders wanted to go to places other than NSW and the Northern Territory,” tourism lecturer Dr David Beirman, from Sydney’s University of Technology, told

“Kiwis have ties with Australians in all states and territories. Just as we regard New Zealand as one country with no internal borders, most New Zealanders regard Australia as a single country and because their provinces have no real entry restrictions Kiwis understandably assume we are the same.

“The concept of Australia with internal state borders which have a right to bar or restrict visitors is alien to 99 per cent of Kiwis.”

Beirman said that half-cocked corridors were certain to fail, and that current predicament Australia now faces comes as no surprise.

“The limitations to New Zealanders coming to Australia were not very well communicated by the Australian government, the New Zealand government or by the NZ travel industry to the New Zealanders generally,” Beirman said.

“It appears that the airlines involved in bringing Kiwis to Australia – mainly Air New Zealand – did not use the three-hour flight time from either Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to brief passengers on the finer points of the transtasman bubble which were that the travelling beyond NSW and the NT involved quarantine in most other states, resulting in a lot of extra costs.”

Beirman believes New Zealanders were unlikely to have been briefed on restrictions still impacting Australian interstate travel, and the international travellers didn’t try and “sneak in” to other states on purpose.

“Clearly it was easy from the New Zealand end to tack on Australian domestic ticket sectors, and it was likely there was no warning given to booking staff,” he said.

“I don’t think that most Kiwis who booked to Perth or Melbourne sought to sneak in defiance of the state premiers, they just wanted to see their relatives and friends they had missed.

“If governments fail to communicate a policy such as a half-popped travel bubble to all stakeholders, stuff-ups are a certainty.”

Beirman said he didn’t believe the bungle would stop future travel bubbles from occurring but Australia needed to “approach them more systematically”.

“As things stand, Australians can’t visit New Zealand at all so I have defined this ‘bubble’ as a dribble, and a dribble with a lot of mistakes having been made on both sides of the Tasman.

“I guess if there were going to be mistakes made, better make them on this version of the bubble than when we try on two-way bubbles with places like Fiji, Singapore or Japan.”

The political stoush that has erupted over the transtasman travel bubble between state and federal governments sparked a war of words with Andrews during his press conference on Monday, with the Premier seemingly blindsided to learn that dozens had arrived in Victoria over the weekend.

While Victorian authorities have now spoken to 55 of the 65 people who arrived into the state to explain local coronavirus rules, Andrews reiterated that his government had repeatedly requested to be excluded from the arrangement.

“We were asked, ‘Do you want to be in the bubble?’ and we said ‘no’,” Andrews told reporters on Sunday.

“No one is alleging that the virus is hiding in New Zealand, it’s not.

“What was concerning is that a bunch of people turned up and we didn’t know about it.”

The Premier said the Federal Government originally advised him there were 17 travellers from New Zealand who had entered Victoria, but it later emerged there were up to 65 possible arrivals.

According to the ABC, Andrews wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday, requesting for new arrivals from New Zealand to be prevented from boarding internal flights from New South Wales to Victoria.

“I urgently request your action to prohibit onward travel of passengers under the Safe Travel Zone arrangements into Victoria,” the letter says.

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