The report, titled, “A Roadmap to Reopening,” explicitly advocates “an Australia re-engaged with the world.” Noting that “the global elimination of the virus is highly unlikely,” because “only one human virus, smallpox, has ever been eliminated,” the authors support re-opening international borders “in a controlled, risk-weighted and staged manner, after our vaccination processes are complete and a robust regime of testing, quarantining and monitoring is in place as a second line of protection.”
The issue is not only reopening, but creating a “psychological runway” to reopening. This would explain the very public launch of the report last month, which featured former NSW Premier Mike Baird.
A cynic might point to the major universities’ financial incentive in reopening to international students. However, lead author Prof. Tim Soutphommasane (a political theorist specialising in multiculturalism) calls attention to both economic and non-material benefits to re-opening.
“As the Brexit victory in the United Kingdom has demonstrated, when the focus of a nation is fixed exclusively on its borders for an extended time, it is easy to lose sight of the enormous consequences that inevitably follow closing down,” says Soutphommasane. These include providing cover for racism and xenophobia and limiting business and cultural exchanges, “fueling a negative and inward-focused national psyche that threatens our global standing.”
Yet the public remains split on the issue, even assuming full vaccination. In a survey carried out alongside the report, just 55% support travel between countries even where the population is fully vaccinated and the virus is under control. About the same number support entry for vaccinated university students and vaccinated “creatives” travelling for public events or major projects.
So if we look to where the votes are (which the politicians are already surely doing), it is plausible on current sentiment for the border to remain closed permanently! It isn’t going to get better than “fully vaccinated and with the virus under control.”
Closed to the punter, that is. Survey respondents would not have known that 124,000 non-citizens have come to Australia since April 2020, according to the USYD report. They have predominately been workers with business sponsorship approved by Border Force “on the advice of the National Skills Commission”, mostly farm workers, remote area miners, and holders of a “business and innovation visa.”
Lastly, the report authors implicitly criticise the Morrison view that there is “no rush.”
“Believing this would be a grave error,” they say. “It would consign Australia to emerge from the pandemic much slower than it otherwise could. Such a delay would cause significant economic, social and cultural harm.”
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