Australia hopes for NZ travel bubble by end of year

Photo: ODT files
Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the bubble would initially include South Island residents only, owing to the Auckland cluster. File photo
Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham hopes a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand can be put in place by the end of the year.

But he says "first and foremost" Australian states must open up to one another, as great progress is being made.

His comments came as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced some "safe and steady steps" in unwinding the restrictions for locked-down Melbourne.

Senator Birmingham said opening up an international border with New Zealand would be a "great step" and work was being done to make sure this could be done in a safe way.

"We're making sure we have all the work done, all the preparations there so that we can safely achieve that bubble with New Zealand," the minister told ABC News Weekend Breakfast.

"It's up to them as to whether they choose to open up to Australia, but we're certainly making sure that we're prepared and I'm hopeful that could be this year."

Birmingham suggested travel could initially be one way, with Kiwis being able to go to Australia without having to quarantine when they arrive.

But he said that would only be permitted for residents of the South Island, due to the Auckland cluster.

The Australian government also announced $250 million to boost tourism and infrastructure in Australia's regions which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

This includes $50 million for a regional tourism recovery initiative to assist businesses in regions heavily reliant on international tourism.

A further $200 million will be injected into the 'building better regions fund' to boost infrastructure in regional communities, $100 million of which will be dedicated to tourism-related infrastructure.

"We want to make sure that our tourism regions are in the best possible shape on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic," Senator Birmingham said.

Meanwhile, Premier Andrews on Sunday reported just 16 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths in Victoria, taking the state's pandemic death toll to 784 and the national figure to 872.

He said the target was to get to a rolling 14-day average of between 30 and 50 cases when in fact it has now dropped to 22.1 cases.

"It means that this strategy is working, it's more than working," he told reporters.

"We are ahead of schedule ... but that doesn't mean this is over."

But his "safe and steady" approach includes the night curfew being lifted in Victoria from 5am on Monday, while 127,000 people will be allowed to return to work from midnight, which is 30,000 more than originally expected.

Among other actions, year 12 students will be able return to school for assessments on October 3 with primary school students to return from October 12, but exercise limits of two hours per day within 5km will remain in place.

Elsewhere, NSW recorded no new infections for the first time since June 10, but health officials urged people to remain vigilant as the school holidays start.

Traces of COVID-19 have been detected in raw sewage across Sydney as part of new research that could provide another tool in the fight against the pandemic, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.

Meanwhile, opposition parties and unions are angered by the federal government going ahead with its planned winding back of the JobKeeper wage subsidy on Monday, just days after reducing the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement on Friday.

From Monday, JobKeeper will be reduced from $1500 a fortnight to $1200 for full-time workers and to $750 for part-time workers.

The JobSeeker supplement was reduced from $550 a fortnight to $250.

The ACTU said 3.5 million people - more than a third of the pre-COVID workforce - are currently receiving the JobKeeper payment - will be worse off from this week.

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