Unrestricted transtasman travel could be a reality by the time New Zealand reverts to its lowest covid-19 alert setting, according to the task force charged with getting it off the ground.

The transtasman safe border group, coordinated by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, was formed three weeks ago and will present its proposals to both governments within days. Its aim is to have the bubble up and flying by the July school holidays.

The working group is made up of health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both nations.

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Last year, 1.5 million Australians visited New Zealand, about 40 per cent of the country's visitors, while almost as many Kiwis, 1.4 million, travelled to Australia. Reciprocal spending amounted to about $3 billion.

Forum co-chair Ann Sherry said the bubble had made good progress in a short space of time, across customs, transport, foreign affairs and other key parts of government, airports and airlines and working closely with health groups around specific travel advice.

One of the drivers of the transtasman initiative, Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood, said there had been an "avalanche of interest" with significant progress made in a very short time to rekindle cross tourism.

While there were plans to expand the bubble to other countries, he said the Australian-New Zealand corridor would be a "pilot to test and learn" and take lessons for going forward.

New Zealand and Australia could soon open their borders to each other. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
New Zealand and Australia could soon open their borders to each other. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Health passport

Sherry said that while the idea of a "health passport" had been raised many times, it was more about balancing the assurance of safe travel for all.

She said people will have to testify as to their health and will not be allowed to travel if they are sick. Airlines also needed to consider fare conditions, so that people didn't feel obligated to travel so they didn't "lose your fare" even if they're not feeling well a day or two before travelling, she said.

"But the pace of people being tested has already given us a good understanding of how community transmission is working."

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While there are some differences of views and degrees of conservatism, she said the "overriding focus is to ensure each partner has jointly got the confidence in keeping travellers safe and each other's ability to do what we say we are going to do".

Foreign Minister Winston Peters, speaking to a transtasman Business Circle briefing yesterday, said that while progress had been positive to date, he accepted it wasn't quite there yet.

"Truthfully, we couldn't get it up and running tomorrow. But if we are going to have biosecurity standards and transportation protocols they need to be identical between the two countries."

Protocols

He said that to get those protocols in place, to envisage everything that needs to be covered, means we are ready to go "the moment the balloon goes up".

Peters said another issue was the fact that Canberra had to work "state by state", whereas New Zealand "has the advantage of the Government being able to decide what we can do".

"Maybe we'll have to start with some states, because the others aren't ready," Peters said.

Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker said the benefits of establishing a "safe zone" between the two countries went well beyond direct trade.

Tourists may face pre-travel health checks and on-arrival health checks, including airport temperature readings. Photo / AP
Tourists may face pre-travel health checks and on-arrival health checks, including airport temperature readings. Photo / AP

"As soon as global disruption became evident, and before we had harder border restrictions, we were discussing the maintenance of supply lines with Australia, both by sea and air, and we have both also been in regular contact with our traditional trading partners, to retain supply lines for health and other essential goods."

Parker said the reestablishment of tourism and business between the neighbours would also be good for both country's brand values, in particular in protecting New Zealand's tourism brands.

"I think an indication of how seriously we are taking this is that both of our Prime Ministers are speaking about this weekly, so we are now trying to apply the 'go fast go early' principles to rekindling the economy – and that is an important part of that."

Move quickly

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the group needed to "move quickly to make the most" of Australians' enthusiasm for transtasman travel.

He said research from TIA, which is involved in one of the project workstreams, showed an appetite for travel between the two countries.

"New Zealand is a clear favourite, with a third of those wanting to travel overseas identifying it as their preferred destination."

Roberts said New Zealand is seen as "no riskier than travelling interstate within Australia, while there is a lot more apprehension about travelling to other destinations that have not been as successful in containing the virus."

Asked whether there was a tolerance for outbreaks of the coronavirus once borders opened, Peters said while there were no thresholds as such, "any outbreak will have to have an immediate response; on any level we can deal with localised crisis."

Peters said the corridor arrangement wasn't about each country holding back the other.

"Each country will also need to consult with the other in the event they want to open travel to others."

- BusinessDesk