Virgin Australia’s CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has joined a chorus of airline and business leaders calling on the Australian Government to re-open the country’s borders sometime this year. Speaking at a business function in Brisbane on Monday, the Virgin Australia boss took aim at the Australian Government’s mid-2022 timeline to re-open borders.
Australia needs to learn to live with COVID says Virgin Australia boss
As Australia’s vaccination program continues, Ms Hrdlicka said Australia needs to learn to live with COVID-19 and accept the challenges it might bring.
“We need to get the borders open for our own health and for the economy,” the Virgin Australia CEO said. “We forget the fact we have learnt to live with lots of viruses and challenges over the years, and the government has to learn to live with this and sooner than June 2022.”
“We’re all going to be sicker than we ever have been in the past because we’re not exposed to the viruses and challenges that the rest of the world is dealing with.”
Ms Hrdlicka said as a consequence, people might die. But the CEO said those numbers will be smaller than the numbers who die each year from influenza. Jayne Hrdlicka argues the Australian Government lives with that yearly outcome.
Calling Jayne Hrdlicka’s comments “insensitive,” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, “I’m not going to take risks with Australians’ lives.”
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Australian Government hardens stance on border reopening
Jayne Hrdlicka’s contribution to the increasingly polarised border debate comes in the wake of the Australian Government recently indicating it was comfortable keeping Australia’s international borders closed until mid-2002. That is despite growing indications the vast bulk of the Australian population will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
A recent poll reveals 73% of Australians are content to see the country’s borders stay shut until mid-2022. 21% of the poll respondents said the border re-opening should tie in with the vaccination rollout. But the Government has its eye on winning the next election. It doesn’t give a toss about a small percentage of the population upset because their annual trip to Aspen is off the cards.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce is reluctant to openly criticize the Australian Government. But he has long said he’s keen to see Australia’s borders reopen as soon as safely possible. He argues a combination of vaccinations, digital health passports, and the judicious use of quarantine can facilitate that.
Qantas is keen to restart its normally extensive international operations. These days, Virgin Australia is solely a domestic airline. However, the airline is planning to resume some flights to New Zealand later this year. To date, Virgin Australia has refrained from joining the debate surrounding the border closures.
As a purely domestic airline, with Australian’s kept onshore and redirecting money normally spent on international travel over to domestic travel, Virgin Australia’s bottom line arguably gets a bounce from the international border closure.
But as Jayne Hrdlicka said at the Queensland University of Technology business event, keeping Australia’s borders shut unnecessarily has significant broader economic consequences that will come back to bite her airline over the longer term.
Australian Government says the priority is keeping Australians safe
The Virgin Australia CEO’s comments align with what a growing number of medicos, business leaders, and dissenting politicians say. But the Australian Government seems happy to choose its own path.
“Our primary responsibility as a government is to keep our people safe,” said Australian Government Minister David Littleproud on ABC radio on Tuesday morning. “We are in no hurry to open up borders until we can get that surety.
Referring to Jayne Hrdlicka’s comments, Mr Littleproud said, “The Federal Government will take its advice from the Chief Medical Officer, not from CEOs of corporate companies.
“If you look at us (Australia) in comparison to the rest of the world, I would not want to be anywhere else at the moment.”
Airline bosses like Jayne Hrdlicka and Alan Joyce are playing to one audience. The Australian Government figures it is playing to another, much bigger audience. The government figures it has the numbers.