The government is under pressure to clarify when Australia’s international borders will reopen.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday denied reports the government had switched to a COVID-19 elimination strategy, closing Australia’s borders indefinitely.
And after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg flagged to Nine newspapers a border reopening next year to ramp up migrant arrivals, Labor leader Anthony Albanese demanded the government clarify its road map on Monday.
“Yesterday, the headlines in all the papers people would have seen were: doors slam shut. This morning, it’s: doors are about to open,” Mr. Albanese told 2GB.
“It’s very confusing. For the business community trying to get a handle on future investments, and where these issues are going, the government needs to keep a single message for 24 hours.”
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia’s tough border stance had helped it avoid the “grim picture” elsewhere, and the government would take a “cautious approach” to reopen the economy.
“None of it’s going to happen any earlier than (when it is) safe to do so because our border closures have been perhaps arguably the single most important factor in keeping COVID out of Australia,” he told Sky News.
“We’re going to maintain those sorts of tough border control settings until it is clearly safe.”
Nationals leader Michael McCormack refused to put a timeline on borders reopening.
“We will resume international travel when it is safe to do so and when the medical experts advise accordingly. That’s what we’ve done the whole way through,” he said.
“There’s no textbook that you can pull down from the shelf, open it up and say, ‘This is how we address this particular issue or that.”
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said the regions needed migrants to fill jobs that “Australians just don’t want to do” and warned failing to facilitate their return would cause inflation and interest rates spikes.
“We have to make sure we get the farmworkers in, the chefs in, that we get the people who clean the hospital rooms and clean the motel rooms in,” he told Sunrise.
“I hope that we get a flow of people as quickly as possible to fill the jobs that Australians just don’t want to do so that we can get the economy absolutely humming.”
In an interview with News Corp last weekend, Mr. Morrison said Australians had no “appetite” for borders reopening and understood the virus “isn’t going anywhere”.
“We have to be careful not to exchange that way of life for what everyone else has,” he said.
“All I know is once you let it back in … you cannot get it out. You’ve crossed that threshold. You move into another dimension.”
But the prime minister later took to Facebook to clarify the comments did not signal a shift to an elimination strategy.
“There will always be cases as we return Australians home from overseas. International orders will only open when it is safe to do so,” he said.
“As always, we will continue to listen to medical advice and make decisions in the best health and economic interests of all Australians.”