Qantas CEO Alan Joyce wants Australia to establish a “national framework” on domestic borders to more clearly define when they should close – and equally, when borders should be opened back up.
The alternative, he said, is a continuation of inconsistency and confusion which is choking not just airlines and tourism but the country's broader economic recovery.
States and territories currently set their own rules for border openings, closures and quarantine, and have sometimes changed those requirements at short notice.
Some states such as Western Australia impose blanket bans on most visitors, including from states and territories with no community transmission of COVID-19, while others like Queensland once again have closures in place, such as for travellers from the ACT, despite the capital having no active coronavirus cases.
“Nobody has an issue with what happened with Victoria – those borders needed to be closed,” Joyce said today, referring to the 'second wave' of infections in the state.
However, he said “we still don’t understand why states with zero cases for a long time have borders closed to states with zero cases.”
“That doesn’t seem to make any medical sense, or match any (medical) advice that we’ve seen. Surely, these decisions should be based on the facts, the health advice, and the level of cases that we’re seeing around the various states.”
A better way to manage borders
Speaking to the media following Qantas' report of a $2.7 billion loss for the 2020 financial year, Joyce argued for state and territory governments to agree to a unified set of standards on borders.
Ideally, that national framework would define the standards for when borders should be closed, as well as when state borders should re-open, based on medical advice and a unified approach.
“That’s what we’re calling on, that’s what we need – otherwise, it feels like there are no rule based decisions, (they’re) just there to inform maybe the politics, and we think that eventually will cost jobs … and cause businesses to go out of business.”
“If it’s safe to do it, (borders) should be open," he stressed.
“We need to do that in a safe way, but at the moment, it’s not clear what those rules are going to be, and how they’re going to be applied – and I think that’s a problem for a lot of businesses, it’s a problem for our business, and eventually, it’s going to be a big problem for the economy.”
Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah later echoed Joyce's call, appealing to the National Cabinet to establish a clear set of rules for the safe reopening of borders.
"While timelines will be unpredictable, we need to better understand the criteria by which border decisions will be made by governments and the circumstances under which they will re-open or close again," Scurrah said.
Intrastate flights grow as interstate flights cut
Normally, flights between Sydney and Melbourne don’t only form Qantas’ most popular route: it’s the second-busiest city pair for air travel in the world.
But with Victoria in lockdown and travellers flying into New South Wales from Victoria bundled into 14 days of mandatory quarantine, the Flying Kangaroo has a new hero route: Brisbane to Cairns.
“Brisbane to Cairns is now the top route in Qantas’ network, and the traffic on that is bigger than the traffic we had pre-COVID-19,” Joyce says, highlighting that when travellers can’t fly interstate, they’re looking intrastate instead.
QantasLink’s Perth-Broome flights are also ahead of what they were before COVID-19, as is Sydney-Ballina, another intrastate route.
“This is going to be a choppy recovery, borders will open and then they will close,” Joyce admits.
“But, if you have a collection of experts coming together to make fact-based decisions on what are the criteria for borders opening and closing, and a rule basis that’s very clear to everybody, I think that (would) give you the certainty and the knowledge on how things are going to work in the future.”