This weekend marks two years almost to the day since cruising was halted in Australia. It also marks yet another fudged decision by the federal government.
On Friday, National Cabinet had a cruise restart on the agenda. Three eastern states backed lifting the ban so foreign flagged vessels can sail around our coastline. So did a huge majority of the Australian people.
Yet once again the government refused to authorise what Cruise Lines International Association Australasia describes as a “phased resumption”.
Why? All prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his statement late on Friday night was: “National Cabinet noted positive progress by the eastern states and the cruise industry to develop appropriate health protocols and common guidelines to support a safe return to cruising in their jurisdictions over the coming months.”
Cabinet won’t meet again until June – after a federal election. But Greg Hunt can still lift the ban and allow the three states now championing the industry’s restart – NSW, Queensland and Victoria – to get on with mapping out a safe return to cruising.
Here’s what he told us in December, three months ago: “The Government continues to work constructively with the cruise ship industry, with whom we remain actively engaged alongside state and territory governments to enable a phased resumption of cruising in Australia on the basis of medical advice. As part of this work, the Government will continually review, on a monthly basis, whether the current restrictions on cruise ships can be safely lifted or amended.“The measures in place under the Biosecurity Act 2015 can be repealed or amended at any time prior to the end of the human biosecurity emergency period and it will be continuously reviewed as a priority.”
Before the pandemic, Australia had the highest popularity of cruising anywhere in the world, at over 5 per cent. Yes, even higher than America, where cruising first started. We had a proud fleet of homeported ships, and just about every line around the world visited our ports.
Today, over six million passengers have already returned to cruising in over 86 countries – including neighbours like Singapore, where cruising has been gaining in popularity for the past 18 months.
On board, all passengers are double vaccinated, and all crew are fully vaccinated. Hospital facilities are almost on par with those on shore, and plans to make sure populations around ports are not put at risk are almost military in their precision.
Before Friday’s meeting, most in the cruise industry were positive about the chances of the ban on foreign flagged vessels being lifted. Admittedly the floods, continuing COVID cases, the war in Ukraine and an upcoming election made for a heavy workload. But it was still hoped that the arguments in favour of taking that first tentative step back to cruising would make the decision almost a rubber stamp.
After all, the evidence from America, Europe and Asia that cruising was safe is overwhelming. And with all passengers tested and jabbed, cruise is safer than a hotel or resort, and on par with air travel – all of which are now approved.
We are welcoming foreign tourists and foreign students. And there is a strong economic argument – 18,000 jobs, around $5 billion in revenue and the fact that Australians are now, increasingly, taking their pandemic savings and spending them cruising in Asia or Europe.
Even the upcoming election should not have been an impediment. Cruise Passenger recently conducted a poll answered by over 3,000 readers. A staggering 92 per cent said they would support a government that approved a cruise resumption, and almost 50 per cent said they would vote for a government that said yes to cruising.
What could go wrong?
Well, perhaps a clue might lay in the news this morning that NSW Health officials are recommending the reintroduction of indoor masks, density limits, singing and dancing bans, and a return to working from home because of a rise in COVID cases.
Thankfully Health Minister Brad Hazzard has overruled them.
But that’s the point. It is the health officials’ job to ensure we know of worst case scenarios and what we need to do to avoid all possible risks. It’s our political leaders’ job to ensure that we can still enjoy our lives in relative safety.
Given the evidence from overseas, and the fact that we are allowing foreign travellers into Australia almost unrestricted, it’s time we allowed cruise ships and their heavily regulated crews back into Australia.
Labor has already come out in support of the industry. Carol Brown, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism, told us: “There can be no doubt that the cruise sector is important for the Australian tourism industry including tour operators, accommodation and hospitality providers, suppliers and travel agents. Equally, it is clear that what this sector needs is certainty, but this is being hampered by the ongoing failures of the Morrison Government. Our cruise industry and tourism sector deserve better.”
The government should heed the voices of the people, follow the example set by 86 other nations and let cruising begin.