Qantas boss Alan Joyce, business groups slam approach to state borders during coronavirus pandemic
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, tourism and business groups express their growing frustration over blanket state border closures they see as driven by politics not health advice.
Speaking after the release of his company’s annual financial results, which showed a $2 billion loss due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Joyce expressed his frustration at how decisions to close state borders, or keep them closed, were being made.
“At the moment there are no rules around how borders are going to close and going to open,” he told reporters.
“Nobody has an issue with the international borders being closed — that’s protected Australia. Nobody’s had an issue with the borders to Victoria being closed.
“But it’s very clear that we don’t have clear guidelines for when the borders will open, when they will close.
“So we have this situation where there are large numbers of states and territories that have zero cases and they’re not even open to each other.”
Elections and polls ‘driving decisions’
Jenny Lambert from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the feeling among businesses has been that many premiers and chief ministers are making border decisions for political, not health, reasons.
“There are decisions being made on the basis of what they perceive the community wants”, she told a federal Senate committee hearing, noting upcoming elections in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
“We’ve seen even opinion polls driving those decisions so, whether it’s an election or whether its opinion polls, premiers or first ministers are making decisions which for tourism businesses are immensely frustrating because they don’t understand the health reasons.
“They absolutely get that risk management is exceptionally important, but they cannot understand at all why some of these borders are closed in a one-size fits all sledgehammer approach.”
It is a sentiment shared by Simon Westaway, the executive director of the Tourism Industry Council.
“We have to get super serious about how we’re going to address this border conundrum that we are now facing,” he told the same committee.
“We have the NT poll this weekend, if we have to wait until the Queensland poll so be it.
“[But] I don’t think we should be dictated to by public polls [or] elections in terms of whether or not we have open border arrangements.”
State border closures ‘will cost jobs’
Mr Joyce is also concerned that regional politics is trumping both health and the economy, with around a million jobs dependant on tourism.
“It feels like there’s no reality based decisions, it’s just maybe the politics, and we think that, eventually, will cost jobs and [causes] businesses, particularly a lot of the small businesses in Queensland, to go out of business,” he said.
“We need to get people back in jobs, otherwise we’re going to have a cliff that’s going to be bigger than the financial impact that COVID-19 has already caused.”
In pointed comments that appeared directed at Tasmanian Peter Gutwein and Queensland’s leader Anastasia Palaszczuk, who recently said that their state’s borders were unlikely to open until December or after Christmas respectively, Mr Joyce noted that around a third of jobs in some areas of their states were dependent on tourism.
“Blanket comments that say, ‘The borders will not be open’, even if Victoria gets down to no cases or New South Wales gets back to no cases, is that still the situation?” Mr Joyce asked rhetorically.
“Surely these decisions should be based on the facts, the health advice and the level of cases we’re seeing around the various states.”
Palaszczuk won’t ‘bend to anyone’
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk responded, saying she would not “bend” to demands from the Qantas boss on her decision to close the state’s borders to NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
“The national strategy needs to be focusing on Victoria to get all their cases under control, and NSW, to [let] all of Australia to open up,” she said.
“We’ll always take the advice of the chief health officer to keep Queenslanders safe. I’m not going to bend to anyone.”
But when asked whether he supported Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge to Western Australia’s blanket border closure, Mr Joyce said he would rather a more cooperative approach.
“Our preference would be that National Cabinet, the states and the premiers, the chief medical officers, the Federal Government can define a plan that everybody agrees to, I think that’s the best way of doing these things,” he responded.
“I think you’d rather do this with everybody wanting it to happen and everybody working to get a scientific-based solution.”
Mr Joyce said transparent, evidence-based decisions were all businesses were asking for.
“If it’s safe to do it, it should be open,” he said.
“I think a lot of businesses would be very happy if it was science-based and very clear.
“If there is an explanation about why states that have zero cases are closed to states with zero cases then let’s get that on the table.”