MONDAY, April 19
As planes begin freely flying passengers between New Zealand and Australia for the first time in 400 days, the government is eyeing more deals with neighbouring countries.
Asian travel hub Singapore has been floated by senior members of the government as the next potential destination for Australians, along with countries in the South Pacific.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack this morning said “early, preliminary discussions” were already underway, and that Singapore was at the top of the government’s list.
“Whether that’s Singapore next or … one of the Pacific Island nations — we’re in those discussions,” he said.
“As vaccine rollouts happen, both here and elsewhere, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Murmurs of plans for a travel bubble with Singapore are almost as old as the New Zealand plan, which was in development from the middle of last year.
At various times in recent months, Australia has been in discussions with countries including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan about future travel arrangements.
Travellers to New Zealand express excitement to see family and friends again.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said he was hopeful the government would continue to expand Australia’s travel footprint.
“We’re still hopeful that maybe there’s a potential for travel bubbles like New Zealand,” he said.
“Whether it’s the Pacific Islands, Fiji, Noumea. Whether it’s the places in Asia that have low prevalence of COVID like Taiwan, Japan, potentially Singapore and Korea.”
Mr McCormack stressed that any travel bubble arrangement would be subject to Australian medical advice.
The resumption of international travel with New Zealand today marks the first time in 400 days since Australians have been able to travel overseas free of restrictions.
If they wish to travel to the rest of the world, Australians still need an exemption to leave the country and will face quarantine when they return home.
Many countries around the world also require Australians to quarantine on arrival.
But Mr Joyce said that as state and territory borders relaxed, a “pent-up” demand for domestic travel was becoming clearer.
“We did make an announcement last week that from July onwards, Jetstar will be at 120 per cent of its pre-COVID levels, Qantas at 107 per cent of its pre-COVID levels,” he said.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has overturned a decision to strip honours from a group of Australian soldiers who served in Afghanistan.
Last year the Chief of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), General Angus Campbell, recommended the meritorious unit citation be revoked for the Special Operations Task Group, in the wake of the Inspector-General of the ADF’s Inquiry report into war crimes.
The group served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, and included around 3,000 personnel.
General Campbell announced the move while handing down the explosive report which found Australian special forces murdered at least 39 prisoners and civilians during the Afghanistan war.
The decision was met with significant criticism within defence and veterans circles, as well as the government.
As a result, General Campbell walked back the idea earlier this year, saying he did not want to “be at odds” with the government’s position on the issue and to avoid “negative public attention”.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton says people found guilty of war crimes will still be stripped of the honour.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)
Today, Mr Dutton told Nine Radio the decision would be reversed given the vast majority of ADF personnel did nothing wrong.
“Those people deserve our recognition, our praise, our honour, because many of them have lost mates,” he said.
“Families this Anzac Day should proudly wear that medal in honour of their loved one who passed away in the service of this country.”
But Mr Dutton did make clear anyone found to have committed a war crime would still lose the honour.
“My judgment was that we shouldn’t be punishing the 99 per cent for the sins of one per cent,” he said.
Two men have died after a Tesla vehicle, which was believed to be operating without anyone in the driver’s seat, crashed into a tree on Saturday night north of Houston, authorities said, according to Reuters newsagency.
“There was no-one in the driver’s seat,” Sergeant Cinthya Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 said.
The 2019 Tesla Model S was travelling at high speed when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the roadway, crashing to a tree and bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV said.
After the fire was extinguished, authorities located two occupants in the vehicle, with one in the front passenger seat and the other in the back seat, the report said, citing Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman.
Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The accident comes amid growing scrutiny over Tesla’s semi-automated driving system following recent accidents, and as it is preparing to launch its updated “full self-driving” software to more customers.
The US auto safety agency said in March it had opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles. At least three of the crashes occurred recently.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in January that he expected huge profits from the company’s full self-driving software, saying he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year”.
The self-driving technology must overcome safety and regulatory hurdles to achieve commercial success.
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