Qantas is stepping up its long-running campaign to get borders within Australia re-opened. Border closures imposed by regional politicians are causing widespread chaos in Australia, not least among the airline industry. With Qantas generating the bulk of its revenue from domestic flying, border closures are hampering the airline’s ability to resume normal operations after COVID-19. Now Qantas is on a mission to get those borders open again.
Qantas boss argues for border closures on health rather than political grounds
Qantas boss Alan Joyce has long been critical of the lengthy border closures within Australia.
“Nobody has any issue with the international borders being closed – that’s protected Australia,” he said in August. But he’s criticized interstate border closures that are primarily driven by political rather than health imperatives.
“Some areas of Queensland, Tasmania, and other parts of the country, 30% of the jobs are dependent on tourism. If it’s safe to do it, it should be opened.”
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There have been 26,513 cases of COVID-19 on Australia and 788 deaths, with the bulk of both occurring in Victoria. Australia’s powerhouse state, New South Wales, currently has 145 active cases and has averaged just seven new cases a day over the last week. Except for Victoria, most other states and territories are recording just a handful of COVID cases, if any.
Despite the low rates of COVID, the majority of Australia’s eight states and territories have kept their borders shut. Qantas’ normally bustling domestic flying is running at 20% of regular capacity. Against this backdrop, Qantas argues most interstate borders should re-open.
Qantas targets politicians from recalcitrant states
Rather than political expedience, on Wednesday, Qantas called for border closure decisions to be based on medical risk assessments and a standard definition of what constitutes a COVID hotspot. They’ve asked their employees (more than 20,000 of whom have been stood down since April due to border closures) to sign a petition calling for the borders to get re-opened.
Also, Qantas has written to state and federal politicians who represent constituents in states which did not agree to develop a road map out of hard border regimes following a National Cabinet meeting last Friday.
In the firing line are politicians from the states of Queensland and Western Australia.
“Qantas is united with other tourism stakeholders, not only in your electorate, but around Australia in calling for a nationally consistent framework that is balanced and proportionate, with defined thresholds informed by medical advice for the safe reopening of internal borders, excluding hotspot areas as determined by health authorities,” the letters said.
“Arbitrary border restrictions are having a profound economic and social cost to communities, businesses, supply chains, and jobs.”
Qantas takes the diplomatic route
Qantas is doing okay flying passengers within Queensland and Western Australia. Both are geographically large states. Queensland, in particular, has a decentralized population. It’s the interstate trunk routes these border closures are impacting. It’s also stifling transit traffic from regional areas onto interstate destinations through capital city airports. Qantas argues that Queensland banning entry to residents of Canberra, where there hasn’t been a COVID-19 case for two months, is absurd. The airline has a point.
“We have a situation where there are large numbers of states and territories that have had zero cases, and they’re not even open to each other. Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland. Tasmania, we’ve got closure there still with very low cases, no cases, and it’s been like that for a while, and we don’t have any determination of when the borders will open,” Mr Joyce said last month.
Qantas is taking a relatively diplomatic path here. But Mr Joyce isn’t afraid of a barny or direct action. Canceling the Chairman’s Lounge memberships of a few recalcitrant State Premiers and senior public servants might prove a more effective way of bringing them around to their senses.