Tourism Reels as Australian Leaders Bicker Over Closed Borders

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In Australia’s tropical north, Kate Agrums was hopeful her river-cruise business would get an influx of tourists eager to spot crocodiles when the coronavirus lockdown began easing earlier this month.

But instead of preparing to welcome holidaymakers who typically escape to Queensland from the cooler south at this time of year, she remains fearful for the future as the state government refuses to reopen the shuttered border.

“I’ve got zero bookings going into our peak season,” said Agrums, 43, who’s been forced to lay off six of her eight staff in the tourist town of Port Douglas on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef. “With the border closed, we’re not hopeful that we will get any visitors for months. There’s a lot of businesses here that won’t survive.”

With Australia closed to international visitors, domestic tourism is the only lifeline for an industry that’s been crippled by the virus.

But Queensland and other states such as Western Australia, which have largely contained the virus, maintain it’s too early to allow in visitors from New South Wales and Victoria, the two-most populous states that have been responsible for about 90% of Australia’s new infections in the past two weeks.

The engine room of the economy, the two states have kept their borders open, but are still trying to contain isolated outbreaks, such as recent clusters detected in a Sydney age-care home and a Melbourne meatworks.

The border closures have seen a war of words break out between state and territory leaders, who until recently had put aside political differences as they tackled the crisis in a National Cabinet led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Federal health officials have consistently said that the border closures aren’t necessary and the prime minister himself has called for unrestricted domestic travel under a three-stage plan to reopen the economy by the end of July. Ultimately, it’s an issue for state governments to decide.

After New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged her Queensland counterpart Annastacia Palaszczuk to remove restrictions to stop the nation from “falling off an economic cliff,” the response was curt.

“Let’s be very clear — on the border issue we won’t be lectured to by the worst performing state in Australia,” Palaszczuk said May 21. “There are 33 times the number of active cases in New South Wales compared to Queensland. So, New South Wales needs to get its act together and get its community transmission down and we’ll all be better off.”

She’s since toughened her stance, saying Queensland won’t reopen until Australia records no new cases for at least a month. The nation has reported just over 7,000 infections and a little over 100 deaths, and has successfully flattened the curve — but is still reporting a handful of new cases each day.

While Palaszczuk will allow people within the state to travel of up to 250 kilometers (155 miles), that’s no consolation to Agrums and her Lady Douglas River Cruise business, based about 1,700 kilometers north of the state’s capital Brisbane and its most densely-populated south-east.

The border closure has the travel industry up in arms. According to Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council, Queensland is a vital tourism cog that’s already lost an estimated A$9 billion ($5.9 billion) due to the lockdown.

“The memo was clear from the prime minister that domestic borders should reopen in July,” he said in an interview. “So there’s obviously now a disconnect between his government and the states.”

Queensland isn’t alone in dashing Morrison’s hopes.

Western Australia, which usually welcomes thousands of visitors at this time of year to destinations such as Broome, and South Australia don’t have a timetable to reopen. The Northern Territory, which is entering its dry season when tourists typically flock to world-famous national parks such as Kakadu, is currently virus free and wants to stay that way.

“I know that there are calls for us to relax our hard borders,” the territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner told reporters. “The danger of coronavirus is still out there and we need to keep it out there.”

The southern island state of Tasmania won’t consider reopening until at least July.

James McIntyre, economist for Australia at Bloomberg Economics, said that state border closures and intrastate travel restrictions during the looming peak season would have a devastating impact on many small businesses in the nation’s north.

But once they end, the industry will benefit from Australians seeking to holiday within the country instead of heading overseas, he said.

“The real benefit for the sector will come from re-capturing the A$66.6 billion of spending by Australians on overseas holidays,” he said, “This would more than replace the loss of tourism consumption in Australia from inbound tourists of A$47.4 billion.”

— With assistance by Victoria Batchelor

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Australia Senate Wants Answers Over $39 Billion Welfare ‘Bungle’

An Australian Senate committee will call on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to explain how the government overestimated the size of a jobs-rescue package by A$60 billion ($39 billion).

Treasury initially said the JobKeeper plan, which pays coronavirus-impacted companies a subsidy to keep workers employed, would cover 6.5 million people and cost A$130 billion. The initial flood of applications seemed to validate the government’s estimate, but Frydenberg acknowledged on Friday that hundreds of firms had incorrectly filled out forms, and that the program was now expected to cost A$70 billion.

Frydenberg has insisted the error is “good news” because the budget won’t come under as much pressure as anticipated. But the Labor opposition has seized on the issue, calling it a “A$60 billion bungle” and is demanding further answers.

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Opposition Senate Leader Penny Wong told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday that Frydenberg would be called before a Labor-led committee that’s examining the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

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“Josh Frydenberg hasn’t fronted up and taken responsibility,” Wong told the ABC’s Insiders show. “He should do that and we will give him the opportunity.”

Labor is demanding the Jobkeeper program now be extended to include casual workers.

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Fitch Downgrades Australia’s Rating Outlook

Fitch Ratings downgraded Australia’s rating outlook citing the impact the global coronavirus, or Covid-19, pandemic on the economy and public finances.

The rating agency affirmed Australia’s sovereign ratings at ‘AAA’ but lowered the outlook to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’.

Fitch said “Growth will fall sharply in 2020 and government spending in response to the health and economic crisis will cause large fiscal deficits and a sharp increase in government debt/GDP.”

GDP is forecast to fall 5 percent this year due to the coronavirus containment measures. Although these measures contained the spread of the virus, they also weighed on household spending, business sentiment and investment.

A gradual recovery is expected to begin in the second half of the year and GDP is seen expanding 4.8 percent next year.

The agency noted that exports would be affected if China’s recovery were to falter.

The government has unveiled three fiscal packages recently to cushion the impact of the coronavirus shock. The general government deficit is forecast to rise to 6.9 percent of GDP in the fiscal year ending June 2020 and to 9.0 percent in FY21 from 1.2 percent in FY19.

Fitch forecasts Australia’s gross general government debt to jump to 58.2 percent of GDP by FYE21 from 41.9 percent at FYE19 on the back of the wider fiscal deficit.

Nonetheless, the ‘AAA’ rating reflects Australia’s strong institutions and effective macroeconomic policy framework, which has supported a long record of stable economic growth prior to the current exogenous shock.

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Australia Concerned by Reports of China Barley Tariffs

Australia is “deeply concerned” by reports that duties may be levied on its barley exports into China, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said.

“Our barley producers operate in a competitive global market without any trade-distorting subsidies and price their products in an entirely commercial way,” Birmingham said in a statement on Sunday, calling any imposition of duties “unjustified.”

Australia’s barley exports to China were worth A$1.4 billion ($915 million) in 2017, according to the government. The two nations entered a free-trade agreement in December 2015.

Australia has stoked tensions with China in recent weeks by calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, worrying businesses in the most China-dependent developed economy. Beijing has pushed back, labeling calls for the probe “politically motivated” and warning of a potential consumer boycott of Australian products.

Read more: EU Backs Independent Probe Into Origins of Coronavirus

The Australian government has worked with its grains industry “to mount the strongest possible case against China’s anti-dumping investigation,” Birmingham said.

“We will use the remaining time before China finalizes its decision to continue our efforts to resolve this matter satisfactorily and will seek to uphold the integrity of our world-leading barley producers,” he said.

Asked by a reporter in Canberra on Sunday whether he thought the reports could be a seen as China using reprisals over diplomatic tensions, Birmingham said the investigation had been running for 18 months and was always due to conclude this month.

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Beer By Mail: The Hot Gift For Drinking Buddies Under Quarantine

Greg Kurbis lives in the Cradle of Craft Beer—Albany, Ore.—an hour from Portland and not far from Bend, both of which rank among the cities with the most breweries per capita in the U.S.

Some of his friends, spread out across the country, aren’t as lucky. So a few months ago, Kurbis decided to give one of his dearest long-distance drinking buddies a taste of home in the form of a beer subscription box. “I have a cherished friend in Ohio, and she’s unable to get some of the best beers in the West,” he says. “I signed up to send her a gift box every month. Then I decided to join.”

For years, beer subscription boxes—care packages of hard-to-find beers from small breweries delivered to your door—have been a godsend for beer lovers looking for a great gift idea or a special treat for themselves. But now that the Covid-19 pandemic has shuttered bars and taprooms, spawned long lines at liquor stores and bottle shops, and completely nixed all beer tourism, the service has become essential, and not just for thirsty consumers.

“Before, it was a great selling tool,” says Casey Bloyer, head of distribution and marketing for Launch Pad Brewery, a small outfit in Aurora, Colo., that ships its beer through the subscription service Beer Drop. “Now that people are stuck in their homes, they can be like, ‘I remember that brewery I liked,’ and through Beer Drop, they can get that beer right to their house.”

Since the virus hit, Bloyer estimates the volume of Launch Pad beer that’s going out of state via Beer Drop has jumped 100%. Many subscription services say they’ve seen an uptick in business over the past month. Which makes sense: Who couldn’t use a beer right about now?

Like the beer in these boxes, the services come in a wide array of styles, and they’re only available in certain areas, as alcohol shipment laws are in constant flux. Here’s a menu to find the right pint for you.

Beer Drop: The place to get small-batch and taproom-exclusive cans and growlers from Colorado, the other American craft beer mecca. Tailor your preferences as you go; upper-tier members can substitute beers they don’t want. From $39 per month

Hopsy: For barflies who miss the taste of a fresh-poured draught, this might be the answer. Instead of cans and bottles, Hopsy ships 67-ounce mini kegs of craft beer that can be used only with its countertop SUB Home Tap system. It’s $200 to get started with the home tap, but watch for deals that include the hardware at a discount. $100 per month 

The Original Craft Beer Club: Choose between monthly, every-other-month, or even quarterly delivery of 12 beers, in four different styles from two featured brewers. Your shipment comes with a newsletter detailing the story of each beer along with tasting and pairing notes. $43 per month

The Rare Beer Club: One of the granddaddies of this business, founder Kris Calef actually offers five different clubs. (Others include the Microbrewed Beer Club and the Hop Head IPA Club.) The Rare Beer Club is the place to score bombers (750-ml bottles) of uncommon barrel-aged stouts, sours, and Belgian-style ales from all over the globe that will class up any connoisseur’s cellar. From $39 per month

First Sip Brew Box: Even if shipping laws prohibit you from ordering alcohol in the mail, you can still get a taste of craft-brew culture—and support small breweries—by ordering beer gear through First Sip. Its monthly boxes are packed with branded glassware, koozies, shirts, and more exotic fare, such as oatmeal stout beer jelly. From $25 per month

In the U.K.

Beer 52: Beer has always been a big deal for Brits, so it reasons that the craft beer craze would eventually make its way across the pond. This Edinburgh-based service provides subscribers in the U.K. with 8 to 10 of the best beers from all over the world every 28 days. £24 per month

In Australia

Bucket Boys :  This service gives drinkers Down Under their choice of four subscription boxes that vary depending on the level of Aussie craft-brew nerdom. For instance, the Beer Expert Box ships strictly the most interesting labels from around the world, while the Beer Geek Box throws in swag and books. A$89 per month

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Police to Start Criminal Probe into Virus Cruise Ship

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Police in Australia’s New South Wales state will start a criminal investigation into a cruise ship that allowed people on board to disembark in Sydney last month after some passengers had reported flu-like symptoms, Commissioner Mick Fuller said Sunday.

Homicide detectives will be involved in the probe into the circumstances surrounding the docking of the vessel, Fuller said. Ten of the ship’s passengers have died of Covid-19, while hundreds more cases have been linked to the cruise. About 2,700 people were allowed to disembark in Sydney.

The investigation will cover all parties involved in the docking of the ship including Carnival Australia, the operator of the vessel, Fuller said. “From my perspective there are many unanswered questions,” he said.

Carnival has notified the New South Wales premier that it will provide any necessary information, Fuller said.

Carnival Australia has seen the police commissioner’s announcement and will willingly participate in the investigation, a spokesman said in an emailed statement. The company will vigorously respond to any allegations “of which there must now be full disclosure and the basis for them,” the spokesman said.

The criminal investigation was earlier reported by Sky News Australia.

NSW police this weekend led an operation in Sydney Harbour to restock five Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ships with food and medical supplies so they could leave local waters, also shifting 1,300 crew members between the ships on tenders. All the vessels have now departed.

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