ACCI chief executive James Pearson said one in six businesses’ trading conditions are significantly disrupted by border restrictions and more than half have been disrupted by both domestic and international travel restrictions. The ACCI is Australia’s biggest business network.
“Opening our international borders is a critically important step in economic recovery for a trading nation like Australia,” Mr Pearson said.
“Our domestic markets, disrupted by restrictions on the movement of people and goods and gatherings of people, will not be able to sustain high employment and living standards by themselves.
“We urge the government to provide assurance that the conditions under which borders will reopen are better known so that business can have more certainty.”
He said there needed to be a clear plan on how – and when – the borders would open in a safe and controlled way.
The current limit is for 4000 people to arrive in the country on a weekly basis until at least October 24. To compare, in August 2019 there were 820,000 international arrivals and 950,000 returning Australians over the month.
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox, representing more than 60,000 businesses, is also pushing for international travel bans to be replaced by recommendations to allow companies to head overseas to look for business opportunities, negotiate deals and build relationships.
“The ban on Australians travelling overseas may have made sense as an early emergency measure but it is today a barrier to business that can be easily and safely removed,” Mr Willox said, warning rejections to travel exemptions for businesses could cost jobs.
“Safely loosening outbound business travel restrictions would be a good start to getting business going again.
“At the very least, the Government should signal a firm date on which such outbound travel restrictions will be reviewed and lifted.”
BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the nation’s success was built on being open to the world, in terms of attracting skilled migration and exporting products and services.
As a result, Ms Westacott said “we should safely ease travel restrictions as soon as we can”.
“Business and governments must continue to work together to get the right national system in place to manage and suppress the virus, open ourselves back up and get on with creating new jobs to fuel our recovery,” she said.
The BCA represents chief executives from major companies employing more than one million workers, including the major banks, Coles, Woolworths, Wesfarmers, Telstra, AGL and BP.
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham declined to comment, however said on the weekend the “cautious approach” would remain important into the future as the restrictions helped Australia manage the crisis.
“We continue to review all of the health advice including as it relates to travel circumstances,” he said.
“But we can’t and won’t put just random timelines in terms of advice as to when borders might reopen.”
However, the international border situation may rely on the future of a vaccine. A report from Lowy Institute senior fellow John Edwards released on Thursday warns in a post-COVID world it would “take time” before business plans could be implemented and travel could resume.
“The resumption of mass foreign travel, unimpeded by quarantine, awaits not only the discovery and approval of a COVID-19 vaccine but also its distribution in millions of doses,” Dr Edwards said.
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Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.