But he says “first and foremost” Australian states must open up to one another as great progress is being made.
His comments came as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced some “safe and steady steps” in unwinding the restrictions for locked-down Melbourne.
Senator Birmingham said opening up an international border with New Zealand would be a “great step” and work is being done to make sure this can be done in a safe way.
“We’re making sure we have all the work done, all the preparations there so that we can safely achieve that bubble with New Zealand,” the minister told ABC News Weekend Breakfast.
“It’s up to them as to whether they choose to open up to Australia, but we’re certainly making sure that we’re prepared and I’m hopeful that could be this year.”
The Australian government also announced $250 (US$175.7) million to boost tourism and infrastructure in Australia’s regions which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions.
This includes $50 million for a regional tourism recovery initiative to assist businesses in regions heavily reliant on international tourism.
A further $200 million will be injected into the Building Better Regions Fund to boost infrastructure in regional communities, $100 million of which will be dedicated to tourism-related infrastructure.
“We want to make sure that our tourism regions are in the best possible shape on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senator Birmingham said.
Meanwhile, Premier Andrews reported just 16 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths in Victoria, taking the state’s pandemic death toll to 784 and the national figure to 872.
He said the target was to get to a rolling 14-day average of between 30 and 50 cases when in fact it has now dropped to 22.1 cases.
“We are ahead of schedule … but that doesn’t mean this is over,” he said at a press conference on Sept. 27.
By Colin Brinsden