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Exclusive: Poll reveals government could take election hit as ban on cruise ships is extended

An exclusive poll of more than 3,000 cruisers shows the federal government could pay a heavy price for failing to return ships to Australia.

Almost half (48 per cent) of those polled this week by Cruise Passenger indicated that the government’s stance on cruise will affect their vote in this year’s federal election in May, with a further 18 per cent unsure if their vote would be affected. A staggering 92 per cent called on the government to lift the ban now.

In 2018, 1.35 million Australians took a cruise, representing around 13% of Australia’s voting population.

The poll results came as the government announced the ban on international ships will continue for another two months until April 17, blaming the increased cases from the Omicron variant. Ostensibly, the time will be used to allow New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland to work out a plan for a cruise resumption.

National Cabinet met yesterday and put out a statement suggesting the states would at last be able to move. 

Prime Minister Scott said: “National Cabinet discussed the resumption of cruises in Australia, noting that there are shared responsibilities for the resumption of cruises between the Commonwealth, states and territories. National Cabinet agreed that, following a decision by the Commonwealth to lift the bio-security orders that currently prevent cruise ships from coming to Australia, states and the Northern Territory would then determine when recommencement of cruises would occur in each jurisdiction.”

In reality, the Prime Minister’s statement is no more than a recitation of the position that has been in place for two years. However, NSW’s energetic new premier Dominic Perrottet appears eager to press the case and could well produce some movement.

And April 17 will likely be during an election campaign – adding to the interest in Cruise Passenger’s poll results on how this might affect voter intention.

An unprecedented campaign over the past week has seen the tourism industry and businesses in Sydney, Queensland and Melbourne pile on pressure to break the impasse over a cruise resumption.

But without a clear national set of guidelines from the health authorities – the AHPPC committee is the governing body – it is impossible for the states to start cruising under the protocols agreed with the industry – namely cruising intrastate with state citizens only.

Mr  Perrottet addressed national cabinet in a bid to break the catch 22 that has so far cost $5 billion in revenues and put 18,000 jobs in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, as Cruise Passenger’s survey shows Australia’s cruisers are very keen to start sailing again.

The online poll received one of the biggest results of the last two years, with over 3,047 cruisers. Of those, 98% are double vaccinated and 86% triple vaccinated, with 93% believing full vaccination should be mandatory for local cruising.

Over 90% said they would cruise in 2022. 

Mr Perrottet said of the cruise ban: “It doesn’t make any sense that we can have Sydneysiders jump on a plane and go overseas for a cruise but you can’t go on a cruise from Sydney to Queensland.

“If the federal government allows cruises back from international borders perspective, we’ll look at it from a state perspective.”

 Shadow Minister for Tourism Don Farrell told Cruise Passenger: “We know that many Australians are keen to resume cruising and travelling as soon as practical. It’s up to the government to make sure they can do so safely.

“Since COVID-19 first hit, Labor has called for the government to deliver a clear, consistent, tourism industry-wide plan for surviving the pandemic and reopening. The Morrison Government has failed and the tourism industry and travellers have suffered.”

Mr Farrell said it’s up to the Morrison government to take responsibility for the mess of Australia’s tourism industry.

Tourism Minister Dan Tehan previously spoke up in support of cruising, telling Sky News: “My hope would be, over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be able to resume cruising.” 

A NSW government spokesperson said: “With the news that the Federal Government is set to re-open international borders to fully vaccinated air travellers from 21 February, it is important that Australia provides a clear pathway forward for the cruise industry as well. The decision to lift the ban on cruising sits with the Federal Minister for Health.

“The NSW Government is eager to work with the Federal Government and industry to support the safe resumption of cruising. The priority for New South Wales is to ensure strong safeguards are in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19, including to regional areas.”

The Department of Health also appeared to make clear that cruise’s fate currently lies with the federal government, and more specifically the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

This decision will be made by the Health Minister and be informed by the specialist advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

“The Government will continually review, on a monthly basis, whether the current restrictions on cruise ships can be safely lifted or amended.”

The Department of Health said that once this action has been taken, the government can work with states to resume cruising.

“Lifting the ban is just one step to operationalise the resumption of international cruises. Other factors include: Agreement and support from the states and territories for a process and timeframe for cruise operations to resume in Australia – & Ensuring state and territory health systems have the capacity to respond to outbreak events, and that appropriate health mitigations are implemented by both industry and jurisdictions.”

Joel Katz, Managing Director says NSW will play a particularly crucial role in the return of cruise.

“NSW will be critical given Sydney’s role as Australia’s gateway port, and it will also be important to make progress in Queensland which has more cruise ports than any other state and a new terminal in Brisbane. Others like the Northern Territory and Western Australia are vital for expedition cruising in the Kimberley and other northern destinations. It is important that all states and their health authorities take action to create a pathway forward for cruising.”

Dan Russell, General Manager of Clean Cruising and an advocate for the resumption of cruise throughout the ban says he views the issues as a lack of communication between the federal and state governments.

“Unfortunately the cruise restart is suffering due to the same lack of collaboration between state and federal governments we’ve witnessed throughout the pandemic. We’ve heard at various times from the Prime Minister, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan, the QLD Premier, NSW Premier and many more that they want cruising to return when it’s safe to do so.”

“The states have said they need a national set of guidelines from federal government but this appears to be a complete furphy designed to further delay. The pandemic has shown the states ignore any federal directives as it suits them and cruise guidelines would be no different.”

“In the federal camp, they say they need a state to first endorse lifting the cruise ban so it is apparent neither side has the courage to take the first step. This is simply not acceptable from elected officials.”

The Australian cruise industry welcomed government commitments to engage.  Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said it was hoped today’s extension of the cruise ban to April 17 would be the last before international cruise ships can return to Australia.

He also welcomed last night’s National Cabinet announcement that eastern states and the federal government will jointly develop plans for cruising’s revival, saying close cooperation with cruise lines would be essential to achieving a careful and successful resumption.

“We can now see hope for thousands of Australians whose livelihoods depend on cruise tourism,” Mr Katz said. “Australia is still the only major cruise market in the world without confirmed plans for cruising’s resumption, so it’s important that governments work in partnership with the cruise industry to achieve a swift solution.”