Scott Morrison met with Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong to discuss the travel bubble on his way to the G7 summit. The pair discussed the ground rules for the travel arrangements but Mr Morrison warned it was still some months away.
"There is still some time before we reach that milestone," he told reporters in Singapore. "But there is nothing impeding us getting on with the job of putting systems in place that will enable such a bubble to emerge between Singapore and Australia." Cabinet minister Peter Dutton hopes the travel bubble will be established as soon as possible. "It's not going to happen tomorrow, but let's work toward it as quickly as we can," he told the Nine Network on Friday.
"Singapore is a great partner to work with, they are very reliable, they have a great health system and are a great tourism destination, as has Australia for those tourists that want to get out of Singapore and come to a great country like Australia." Once the two-way travel ties are established, priority will be given to students from Singapore to return to Australia to complete their studies. "That's a big industry for Australia," Mr Dutton said. "International student numbers have dried up so to see that start again will be important and there are many Australian jobs that hang off that industry."
The Singaporean prime minister indicated the travel bubble would not be approved until the majority of populations in both countries had been vaccinated. Australia lags behind Singapore in the vaccination process, having administered about 5.4 million vaccines. Just under half the 4.7 million-strong adult population in Singapore has been fully vaccinated with both doses. Over the past week Singapore has recorded an average of just four local COVID-19 cases a day, with its vaccine rollout well underway, restrictions easing and rapid test kits about to go on sale.
Mr Morrison said systems would be put in place to enable the two countries to open up in a similar way to the Australia-New Zealand bubble "when we are both in a position to do so". Mr Lee said at the joint media conference the world was now moving into the "next phase of the fight" in relation to the pandemic. He said the travel bubble would start with mutual recognition of vaccine certificates. "When ready then we can start small with an air travel bubble to build confidence on both sides."
The two leaders signed a memorandum of understanding on health care and health technology and agreed to start talks on financial technology deal. A green economy agreement will also be negotiated, alongside greater collaboration on hydrogen and other low-emissions fuels. Beyond the pandemic, Mr Morrison and Mr Lee discussed regional security, which will also be the focus of talks in Cornwall, London and Paris.
Daniel McCulloch and Paul Osborne - AAP