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Exclusive: Tourism Minister Dan Tehan hopeful cruise ban will be lifted by March 17 – here’s how that can happen

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan has thrown some confidence behind the return of cruise, telling Cruise Passenger that he’s hopeful the cruise ban can be lifted by March 17 for the Northern Territory cruise season.

The sudden impetus is about removing the ban on foreign flagged vessels before the federal government goes into “caretaker mode” for the next general election, expected to be called after the federal budget at the end of this month.

A survey of over 3,000 by Cruise Passenger showed almost half (48 per cent) of those polled 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.

An astonishing 92 per cent called on the government to lift the ban now.

Mr Tehan said: “The Federal Government wants to see the resumption of large scale cruising to get our cruise sector back on its feet and to support the jobs and businesses that rely on the industry. I’m hopeful the cruise ban will be lifted by March 17 to ensure the resumption of the Northern Territory cruise season.

“We are working closely with the state and territory governments to set a date on when cruising can resume.”

After a strong lobbying campaign led by Cruise Lines International Association Australasia chief Joel Katz, the federal government has at last started to swing the dial in favour of a resumption of cruising in Australia.

Having spent months claiming nothing could be done until the powerful federal health committee led by Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly agreed, the Department of Health outlined what exactly needs to happen for cruise ban to be repealed, stating it’s in the hands of Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt.

There has been significant communication and work underway with the industry to support the safe resumption of cruising, following the agreement at National Cabinet that the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland will implement new protocols to enable cruising to return.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care, will consider public health advice to determine the timing of the repeal of the cruise ship ban. The decision when to lift the cruise ship ban will be based on public health advice, and it will be lifted as soon as it is safe to do so. States and territories will determine the timing of recommencement of cruises in their jurisdictions. There are discussions currently with some states, the cruise industry and medical experts on the conditions for cruising to safely resume,” says the Health Department.

The NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet would only reveal that they are waiting for the ban to repealed. “The decision to lift the ban on cruising is a matter for the Commonwealth. The cruise ban has been extended to 17 April 2022.

“The NSW Government is leading work with the Federal Government, Victorian and Queensland Governments and industry to support the safe resumption of cruising.”

At a Tourism Round Table organised by The Adelaide Advertiser with travel agents from around Australia, Mr Tehan said if all states could commit to relaunching cruise this March that “no one would be happier than me.”

Federal Finance Minister Senator Simon Birmingham was also in attendance and echoed Mr Tehan’s thoughts: “We are eager to get cruising moving, [but] the states have to say it clearly and publicly as ships need ports, and the states control the ports.”

Mr Tehan stressed that the world needs to know Australia “is open for business.” 

“We’ve got get a lot more continuity domestically and then match that up with the international experience as well because we’ve got to be sending a strong signal that we are open for business.

“We want people to come, and the more seamless you make it, the more people will come. And if you don’t make it seamless, they’ll look elsewhere.”

The travel agents in attendance shared their stories on how the pandemic and cruise ban have ravaged their businesses. Phil Hoffman from Hoffman travel said that his company had bottomed out to eight percent of pre-COVID levels and he had lost 150 staff members. Dennis Bunnik of Bunnik Tours said his business had lost 97% of its revenue and half of it staff.

Mr Hoffman said: “While it’s fantastic that international travel in and out of Australia is starting up again, it’s going to be many months before we see pre-COVID patterns. There is a six to nine months lag in revenue from time of payment through to final payment to the travel business so we are in for a long, hard 2022.”

“On top of the international travel ban, the suspension of cruise and the stop-start domestic border situation, we are effectively entering our fourth year of significant business impact. We had to refund almost half our revenue in 2019 for travel that couldn’t be undertaken in 2020. We have had a hard lockdown of 700+ days as a result of Australians not being able to travel internationally, further aggravated by the various domestic border closures.

“We need the ban on cruise to be lifted so that ships can start returning to Australian waters and we need ongoing support while we recover so that we have the support we need to keep supporting travelling Australians.”

Ryan Thomas of Ignite Travel made the point that major cruise lines need to make deployment decisions well before they can actually send ships over, meaning unless the cruise ban is lifted soon, ships will still not come to Australia. 

The agents made a plea for financial support, a restart of cruising and highlighted their concerns for future job security for them and their employees.

Mr Tehan and Mr Birmingham said they will relay these concerns to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and cabinet.