After opposition pressure in parliament, noises from the New Zealand government suggest quarantine-free travel for Australians may be nearing.
Trans-Tasman bubble chat has reached fever pitch in Wellington this week, with Jacinda Ardern’s government moving closer to landing its long-held goal.
On Thursday morning, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson told Radio NZ a border opening for Australians was “not far off”.
And in the afternoon in parliament’s halls, COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said the issue could be heard by cabinet on Monday.
“The cabinet is going to be discussing that … in the next week or two,” he said.
“We’ll say a lot more about the bubble next week.”
Several Kiwi outlets have reported – without attribution – the government plans to open its borders next month, though a spokesman for the PM said that was speculation.
Mr Hipkins has previously told parliament that Air New Zealand would need three weeks notice to resume regular flights across the Tasman.
That would make a bubble possible within a month should the government finally decide on a re-opening plan – in line with the reported date.
For weeks, the government has prevaricated on the issue, pointing to issues that still need agreement before pre-COVID travel is restored.
Those issues include the government’s response to future outbreaks, its required testing regime, and how to treat passengers transiting from other countries.
Speaking on Radio NZ, Mr Robertson said he was “very optimistic we’ll sort that out in reasonably short order”.
New Zealand’s borders have been closed to all but citizens, regular residents and some exemptions for the last 12 months, with all requiring a fortnight’s stay in isolation.
In recent days, the creation of the trans-Tasman bubble has become a top-line issue in Aotearoa.
The opposition National party has made the issue their number one priority in parliament this week, pushing the government in question time on the matter.
It has also launched a petition to open the border, gathering tens of thousands of signatures in a few days.
While the government’s comments on Thursday point towards progress, the government has form in missing deadlines.
Last year, Ms Ardern gave her hope for a September opening, only for Melbourne’s major outbreak to squash those hopes.
In the last few weeks, she has backed away from a previous promise to open in the first quarter of 2021.
Later on Thursday, Ms Ardern said she wanted the next timeline to be the last.
“I don’t want there to be moving goalposts … I want to present people with some definitive dates that they can plan around,” she said.
“We are working very very hard … we’d like to see it soon.”
Three Australian states – NSW, Victoria and Queensland – have allowed New Zealanders to visit without the need for a 14-day quarantine at various points since last year.
New Zealand is yet to do the same.