The close relationship between Australia and New Zealand is legendary and enduring. So when the rival PMs were at each other’s throats a few months’ back it was a bit like a sibling squabble.
Shouts, bites, insults and sulking all-round at the dinner table. But nothing too serious really.
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern seemed a bit like the little sister angrily telling her older sibling not to be such a disagreeable bully. Aussie PM Scott Morrison was the big brother unmoved by her rebukes, telling Jacinda: “that’s the way it’s going to be”. End of story.
But then trouble came around. And, as with most families, the petty arguments were quickly forgotten and everyone pulled together.
COVID-19 was, and still is of course, big trouble. And Ahern and Morrison have been the best of friends ever since, as they have consulted and encouraged each other in their respective national fights against the pandemic.
Joint travel statement followed Ahern attending Cabinet meeting
There was more evidence of that on Tuesday, 5 May when Ahern accepted an invitation to dial into a meeting of Australia’s National Cabinet. In effect, the country’s coronavirus war room.
And thereafter came the next happy family announcement. Once current lockdown restrictions have eased sufficiently, there will be a Trans-Tasman travel safe zone – already referred to in some quarters as the ‘Trans-Tasman Bubble’.
It certainly can’t happen immediately and will be very dependent on all the various states and territories with Australia having open internal borders again. Indeed, both PMs have been at pains to emphasise that the first Trans-Tasman coronavirus travel is still months rather than weeks away.
“It is part of the road back,” Morrison said. Nations around the world would eventually begin reopening their travel connections and the most obvious place to start was with the two Tasman neighbours, he explained.
“When we are seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns – at about that time I would expect, everything being equal – we would be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland or Christchurch or things like that,” he stated.
The next step is to reopen links with the Pacific Islands
In a joint statement, the two PMs said: “Once we have established effective travel arrangements across the Tasman, we will also explore opportunities to expand the concept to members of our broader Pacific family, enabling travel between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island countries.”
The statement added: “We will work with interested Pacific countries on parameters and arrangements to manage the risks.”
Pacific islands such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Palau and the Cook Islands would all welcome the news as they are tourism-dependent and have been hard-hit by the collapse of the travel industry, particularly the supply of tourists from Australia and New Zealand.