Fortress Australia: Borders to stay closed to the world
Australia will stay closed to the world indefinitely, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison warning he doesn't see an appetite to move beyond the elimination strategy that has shut the nation's borders.
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister made clear the government was not pushing for an end to the target of "zero cases" that has created Fortress Australia.
While in the early days of the pandemic Mr Morrison talked about local restrictions from outbreaks as "part of living with COVID-19", he thinks Australians are not eager for a change.
"I don't see an appetite for that at the moment," he said.
"I think what we're seeing at the moment is the appreciation of the people that the pandemic isn't going anywhere."
Mr Morrison said "we sit here as an island that's living like few countries in the world are at the moment.
"We have to be careful not to exchange that way of life for what everyone else has."
It is "different for the UK and the US and Europe because they have been riddled with the pandemic and they can't turn that back," 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.
"At this point in the pandemic that is a very uncertain world.
"We continue to roll out the vaccination program, over the course of this year, and in the meantime, I intend to be cautious, it's in my nature."
Mr Morrison said there was not enough evidence on how the current crop vaccines reduced transmission to wind back quarantine.
"We don't as of yet have considerable clinical evidence that tells us transmission is preventable … and so, we've just got to wait for the numbers to come in on that, but at this point in time I think Australians want to ensure that the way we're living at the moment is maintained," he said.
Mr Morrison said that given the risk aversion of the state premiers he couldn't be certain things would change even after the vaccine rollout was completed.
"The next big step that can be taken is that Australians who are vaccinated, based on clear evidence that this prevents transmissibility, are able to travel and return to Australia without having to hotel quarantine, and ideally we only have to engage in some sort of home quarantine of a less restrictive nature," he said.
"And indeed, if for whatever reason, a state might from time to time impose some lockdown, then an Australian who is vaccinated might be exempted from those sorts of restrictions.
"That's the next step. So ask yourself the question: which state and territory is going to adopt that?"
In these circumstances there was no saying when immigrants will return.
"I can't tell you. I don't know. Now as we look at COVID, it's not necessarily as a short-term thing. But as a medium-term challenge. That's where our minds turn."
The PM said it was looking "likely" we would need COVID booster shots and Australia would be at the front of the queue.
"We have always been and we will continue to be - and that's why manufacturing capabilities remain a very high priority."
Mr Morrison also said he believed we would have to look at different quarantine regulations for different countries of origin.
"I think this will become more stratified. I do. And that is based on the medical evidenced-based risk mitigation approach.
"The pandemic has moved through different phases. There was an emergency phase, there's a recovery phase - we're still in that - but now I think the risk around the world is different. We need to adjust to that."
Mr Morrison said it was important state governments looked at getting back-to-work plans in the cities.
"A lot of (global corporations') risk settings are based on experiences that are not in Australia. And it's important, I think, for local settings to drive those decisions for people coming into work. People are going to get on the tram, people are going to get on the bus. And one of the biggest inhibitors to people coming back into cities has been their apprehension about getting on public transport."
ON MP QUOTAS FOR WOMEN
Mr Morrison said the obligation on those opposing quotas was to come up with an alternative.
"I responded to a question at a press conference - all I said was that I am not opposed to that," he said. "That didn't make me the principal organising secretary of the movement.
"What I meant is I just want more women in the parliament in winnable seats as part of my team. Now if someone has a better idea, knock yourself out.
"When I've tried to move on this - this has been a big issue for me for a long time - (the response) is 'oh, we can't have quotas'.
"OK, fine. I understand that point. So what's your plan?"
ON BIDEN AND CHINA
"They've been tremendous. We are of one mind on the Indo-Pacific - the risks, the issues.
"I actually thought I was incredibly impressed with Joe Biden in the Quad. Because what he understood, and you've probably already heard him say this a few times - he understands that the great issue now is between authoritarian autocracies and liberal democracies.
"This is the cleavage point. And he gets this.
"And his point is, and we agree strongly, that liberal democracies must demonstrate their efficacy in this world, that we are totally committed to it."
Originally published as Fortress Australia: Borders to stay closed to the world