Australia’s international borders are unlikely to reopen until next year, with authorities saying they are “following the medical advice” and will only do so when it is deemed “safe”.
In a sit-down interview with SBS News, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the budget expectation is that migration will begin again in 2022.
“We have an assumption in the budget that will be revealed on Tuesday night, but it will be next year,” he said.
More detail about when the border ban is expected to lift will be released in Tuesday’s federal budget.
But Mr Frydenberg cautioned that there are many factors to take into account that will determine whether that timeline will be met.
“We’ve got to follow the medical advice. That medical advice has helped keep Australians safe, that medical advice has helped keep the virus at bay here in Australia, and with a strong health position, we’ve had a strong economic recovery, and it’s vitally important we continue to follow the medical advice, with respect to borders.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the borders will “only open when it’s safe to do so”.
On Sunday, News Corp reported that Australia would stay closed to the rest of the world indefinitely and that the Prime Minister said there was no need to “move beyond the elimination strategy”.
In a Facebook post, Mr Morrison, noting Australia has not moved to an “elimination” strategy for COVID, and that “zero cases” was not the goal.
“There will always be cases as we return Australians home from overseas. International borders will only open when it is safe to do so,” he wrote.
“We still have a long way to go, and there are still many uncertainties ahead. Australians are living like in few countries around the world today. We will continue to do everything we can to work together prevent a third wave and roll out our vaccination programme.
“And, as always, we will continue to listen to the medical advice and make decisions in the best health and economic interests of all Australians.”
But with the vaccination rollout running at “about 350,000 doses per week”, Australia’s adult population won’t be fully vaccinated until 2023, opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said.
“Three weeks ago Scott Morrison said there could be international travel and home quarantine by as early as July. This morning … he’s saying Australia will be locked down forever,” Mr Butler told reporters on Sunday.
Mr Frydenberg has also confirmed, as revealed in this year’s Royal Commission report.
But he’s conceded that improving the aged care system is partly reliant on having the appropriate workforce.
In the past migrant workers have made up a significant portion of the employment base.
“Unemployment today is at 5.6 per cent,” the Treasurer said, pointing back to Treasury predictions in December that foreshadowed a much higher jobless rate of 7.5 per cent.
“So, we have seen more people go into work, including in the care workforce.
“There are going to be more jobs in the care workforce, we’re going to help train people up to take those jobs.”
The JobKeeper wage subsidy ended in March, and the Treasurer says the latest figures show 105,000 Australians were able to move off the Jobseeker income support in April.
“Political opponents said that the sky would fall in,” the Treasurer said.
“It’s time for them to apologise based on some of this early data.”
The Treasurer also said the decision to threaten punitive measures for Australians in India to stop them trying to get home during the pandemic was among many “challenging” decision that have been made during the pandemic.
Repatriation flights will begin again next Saturday, with up to six repatriation flights from India expected to arrive in Australia before the end of the month.
The proposal to restart travel was initially signed off on during a national security committee meeting on Thursday to establish three flights to the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory.
During a meeting of National Cabinet on Friday, Mr Morrison had requested states consider receiving additional repatriation flights from India.
“It’s doubling the amount of repatriation and facilitated commercial flights we will see this month from three to what we anticipate is six,” he told reporters after the meeting on Friday.
“But those details will be confirmed with those states and territories in those arrangements as we work together on that.”
About 9,000 Australians currently stranded in India have registered their desire to return home with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.