• John McDonnell

When will Australia's borders open?


When the national cabinet meets on Monday, one of the items on the agenda will be the process for re-opening the borders.


As one senior official has pointed out the prime minister and the premiers have a choice.


Once everyone is vaccinated they will have two options” to keep Australia Covid free or to allow borders to open and risk multiple infections a week. Of course, once everyone is vaccinated the effects of Covid may be no worse than the common cold.


If Australia is to open the international borders the states will have to commit to keeping the internal borders open otherwise the tourist industry will be unable to recover. At the moment this is uncertain.


When he was asked about the prospect for the borders re-opening on Sunday, Scott Morrison said it was far from certain.


On the other hand, Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews told Sky News Sunday Agenda she was working towards getting the borders open.


The overriding factor is medical advice. At the moment the jury is still out on whether vaccination can prevent the transmission of the virus. Initial evidence from the United Kingdom appears to indicate that the Astra Zeneca vaccine does prevent transmission but vaccination with AZ is being limited to the over 50’s, who are less likely to be spreaders than younger people.


In the circumstances, it is likely that the Morrison government will take a cautious approach. This will involve enlarging the bubble with New Zealand, which begins its operation tomorrow. This will probably be extended to include Singapore, Korea and Vietnam. Such an extension will allow the return of at least some of the overseas students.


Another prospect floated by the prime minister was the idea of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians who want to travel from overseas. It is not clear that the state governments will agree to this, even though it has been employed before now for selected people such as actor Tom Hanks. This approach could also be extended to allow vaccinated foreign students to quarantine in student accommodation.


Any opening of the borders will assist with the economic recovery and increase business confidence. Business is calling for certainty about the border opening so they can frame their investment decisions. As Judo Bank economist, Warren Hogan has pointed out, non-mining business investment is yet to recover and this will handicap any boost to productivity.


Politically, the prospect for both the vaccination program and border re-opening is cloudy.


There is an incentive for the Labor states to run dead on both programs in order to assist Anthony Albanese to win the next federal election. It doesn’t matter what goes wrong with either the vaccination program or the economic recovery: Scott Morrison will get the blame. This provides a perverse incentive for Labor premiers to delay border opening under the guise of keeping their citizens safe.


Once the election is over it should be smooth sailing. This would be a great fillip to Labor’s popularity if it was in government.