Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has accused Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of closing her borders purely for political gain.
Joyce said the restrictions will cause a lot of small companies in Queensland “to go out of business”, adding that states with few coronavirus cases had no excuse not to open up.
Hours later, the premier fired back and said her decisions were taken to keep citizens safe. “I’m not going to bend to anyone,” Premier Palaszczuk said, seemingly in response to Joyce.
Joyce made the comments to reporters in a press conference after announcing Qantas’ bruising financial year losses of $2.7 billion, which he attributed to “the worst trading conditions in our 100-year history”.
He singled out Queensland for criticism after Premier Palaszczuk earlier hinted she wouldn’t consider lifting the borders to NSW, ACT and Victoria until there was no community transmission whatsoever and hinting they could go on for longer.
“Surely these decisions should be based on the facts and the level of cases that we’re seeing around the various states?” said Joyce.
“Otherwise it feels like there are no real base decisions. It’s just there to inform maybe the politics?
“In areas of Queensland and Tasmania and other parts of the country, 30 per cent of the jobs depend on tourism. If it’s safe to do it, it should be open.”
When asked more generally about states and territories closing their borders, Joyce said there needed to be a pre-planned national framework to give certainty to businesses.
“There are no rules around how borders are going to close and open,” he said. “Nobody has an issue with the international board has been 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 or when they will close.
“Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania – we’ve got closure there still with very low cases or no cases. And it’s been like that for a while and we don’t have any determination for when the borders will open.”
He argued that those states should be open “soon or now” in order to restart Australia’s tourism industry.
“Economies are depending on it,” Joyce said, adding that the country faces a problem when JobKeeper payments come to an end.
“Otherwise we’re going to have a cliff that’s going to be bigger than the financial impact that COVID-19 has already caused. 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.”
Hours later, in her own press conference, Premier Palaszczuk shot back at Joyce’s comments on implementing a national strategy.
“I think the national strategy needs to be focusing on Victoria to get all of their cases under control and NSW so that all of Australia can open up,” she said.
“That should be the national strategy. We will always take the advice of the chief health officer to keep Queenslanders safe. I’m not going to bend to anyone.
“It’s a tough time at the moment but Qantas is free to [operate] in Queensland and in the other states where the borders are open for interstate travel.”
Earlier this month, Australian Aviation reported that Queensland’s surprise decision to shut its border to Sydney caused Qantas to axe almost one-third of its schedule.
Chief executive Alan Joyce also said the airline is operating at 20 per cent pre-COVID-19 capacity, and not the 45 per cent it hoped to run before borders across Australia were hardened.
The news reflected subsequent numbers released by Sydney Airport, which saw passenger traffic almost doubled in July, due to a brief window when there was unrestricted travel between NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
The business said in a statement to the ASX that the increase from 140,000 in June to 276,000 in July proved there was a “pent up demand” for interstate travel.