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It’s un-Australian to shut states, says Sydney CEO

written by Adam Thorn | September 21, 2020

Australia's domestic carriers at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
Australian domestic carriers at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

The chief executive of Sydney Airport has appeared to suggest Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is keeping her border shut to NSW purely for “self interest”.

“The behaviour we are seeing at the moment from certain states is inconsistent with what it means to be Australian,” said Geoff Culbert, referring to domestic border closures. “This is the moment we should all band together. We should have each other’s back.”

His intervention comes after Australian Aviation revealed on Friday that Queensland’s decision to reshut its border to NSW caused the airport’s domestic passenger traffic to plunge nearly 70 per cent, from 276,000 in July to just 91,000 in August.

Queensland opened up to NSW on 10 July but closed to Sydney on 1 August and then to all of NSW and the ACT just a week later.

Speaking on the topic of state border closures at the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia virtual summit on Friday, Culbert said, “We need a consistent nationwide set of definitions and metrics that determine a hot spot and what the triggers are for opening and closing borders.

“Importantly, these can’t be too conservative; they need to be realistic and achievable.”

He added that the nation’s current approach is “fragmented and inconsistent”, in a likely swipe at state premiers, including most notably Palaszczuk and WA’s Mark McGowan.


His support for a national consensus echoes those of many in the industry, including the chief executive of Melbourne Airport, Lyell Strambi.

“With reliable data demonstrating that we are now past the peak, we need to look over the horizon to what comes next,” said Strambi. “At present, Australia’s national businesses are working on a state-by-state basis, adapting to the local COVID situation and restrictions.

“It must be a nightmare. We need to be joined up. Our island nation can’t afford to be a collection of states isolated from one another.”


Last week, Queensland announced it would relent and open up to the ACT on 25 September – but would still keep in place restrictions for those travelling through NSW.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet attacked the decision and quipped the northern state was “turning the Newell Highway into the Berlin Corridor”.

“I don’t understand their position,” he said. “This is not State of Origin, what we should be focused on is a national approach.”

The decision to open to the ACT only means Canberra residents will be forced to fly, and not drive, across the border to avoid travelling through a designated ‘hotspot’.

Culbert’s attack comes weeks after Sydney Airport announced it was making 118 roles redundant, or around 20 per cent of its total workforce.

Then, Culbert said in an email to staff, “We’ve fought hard for every job and we hoped we would never be in this position, but the circumstances have overcome us and for that, I’m truly sorry.”

The business this year revealed a half-year loss of $54 million – with passenger numbers down 96.6 per cent in the second half of 2020.

Comments (21)

  • Juri Strante


    It’s also very Un-Australian to allow highly possible infected Covid-19 people enter a relatively unaffected Covid-19-free Queensland as well.

  • This approach by certain leaders of state ALP administrations sets a dangerous precedent. What if next time around they were to use, say, the pretext of an (alleged) high crime rate in an adjacent state as justification for closing their border indefinitely. This is a slippery slope…

  • Gregory Bradley


    If anyone is acting out of self interest, I would thing the chief executive of Sydney Airport was the most obvious contender.

    Every jurisdiction that has followed the stupidity of a “containment” strategy has been subject to a second wave.
    How do you “contain” a disease that, as we saw in Victoria, can go from a couple of cases escaping to thousands infected and hundreds dying in a month?
    Those that have followed elimination strategies, while having had set backs, have been able to return to much freer conditions than those locked into ongoing community spread trying to contain.

  • AndyR


    I get the commercial imperatives and frustration, but each state has a duty of care to its citizens. There is a precedent for this as Qld shut its borders early last century. It’s not un-Australian to try to control the spread of a pandemic, but a lot of the behaviour we’ve seen over the last 6 months by agitators and panicked mob mentality is very un-Australian indeed.

  • Ben


    Exactly what credentials do Mr Culbert or Mr Strambi have in health, specifically epidemiology and control of infectious diseases? This is why Chief Health Officers are in charge of such things, not Tresurers or CEOs. The partisan nature of these comments are becoming laughable… amazing that everyone is piling on Palaszczuk and McGowan (Andrews gets a pass for now) and seem to ‘forget’ that Marshall and especially Gutwein have locked borders too. Apparently border controls are only bad when the state is held by the ALP.

  • Darren


    I’m sure the airlines will reply to conservative states decisions to shut the border by higher airfares to QLD, and WA than to other cities, to recoup the losses.
    Like the situation in UK, Don’t blame the airlines when the airfares are raised to cover governments flippant, thoughtless decisions.

  • Peter Hodgkinson


    The CEO of Sydney Airport seems to ignore the fact that Australia is not one single nation, but six nations and two half nations. Therefore it is entirely in character with this set-up that these nations should bicker with one another and, yes, close their borders against one another when it suits them. The current shemozzle, however, demonstrates the weakness of the current federal (conservative) in pulling these warring nations into line. Years ago, one of the very few progressive governments in Australia (the Whitlam Labor Government) tried to advance the idea of regional governments to replace the warring nations, but its efforts were laughed off by the then conservative opposition. God help Australia!

  • Steve A


    Yes, here in Queensland we look South and say to ourselves, “whatever they’re having, we don’t want any thanks ”
    We get sick and tired of CEO’s of Australian airports like SYD and MEL, and Alan Joyce chewing us out because we won’t allow them to make profits for their businesses by transporting COVID cases into our state.
    Instead, go and talk with some of the victims families who have lost loved ones. Doesn’t Geoff Culbert, Lyell Strambi, and Alan Joyce actually care about the people dieing?
    Yes, we need a consistent strategy for deciding on border closures, but the real reason why we have Queensland borders shut to some states, is because of those other states’ failure to handle the pandemic effectively. Go and ask your Premier in NSW, or in Victoria, why they have failed in their duty to get the problem under control.
    So Lyell Strambi, your state’s failure is the real problem.
    And Geoff Culbert, your state’s failure is the real problem.
    And Alan Joyce, I just wonder in amazement as to how you have managed to remain as Qantas CEO for 12 years. Add your losses and profits together during your time at Qantas, and no other Australian CEO has been paid $100 million over 12 years to produce almost a combined billion dollar loss during your tenure. Add to that the asset-stripping and asset-ageing, and the real loss to shareholders is much greater than a billion dollars. If your opinion actually mattered, then maybe we would listen to you.
    And apart from the misery that you have inflicted upon QF shareholders, what about the misery inflicted upon QF staff?
    Do the right thing! Stand up on your soap box and announce that you are standing down.

  • Denis


    poor choice of analogy. It’s Un Australian to NOT shut the gate. Landowners leave their gates open or closed depending on whether they have stock in the paddock or not, or for security reasons. They have the absolute right to shut the gate if they have the need to do so. The Qld premier is doing what she thinks is best for her state.

  • John


    No cases in Queensland. No cases in WA. Trying getting from one to the other. This is getting beyond stupid.

  • Douglas


    I agree with what Juri and Ben above have said. Airport cEO’s, and many others advocating for state borders to reopen have either extremely little, or no medical training. The last thing Australia needs, is for state borders to reopen, and for COVID to run rampant, which is what would happen. One only has to look at Europe, and to look at the new lockdowns that are occurring there. The current COVID crisis, is far worse, and more serious than many of these business men either realise, or acknowledge.

  • John Hogan


    So long as this is just bleating away for the share holders, knock yourself out mate. Closed Borders are Unamerican! I mean un-Australian! But carry on too much and questions will be asked about what you’re doing heading an organization that only exists due to scrupulous human factors.

  • Ben


    All the states need to do their part.
    NSW is taking the vast majority of overseas passengers. Constantly fighting small outbreaks and has been all over it. Seems to me that the other states don’t have faith in their own health care systems to be able to pounce on an outbreak when it pops up. Close the door and turn away tourism and business. The real heroes are the states that are on top of it and handing out GST revenue to the states not doing their part, and destroying families and business in the process.

  • Here we go again big business putting ”big business” before health. I think though, the major airport CEOs are being pushed into making these ridiculous statements by share holders or board members, where they are only thinking of themselves, to hell with everyone else. This is a time for all AUS state premiers, our PM, all to be banding together, to reduce this scourge that has arrived on our doorstep, and every other countrys’s doorstep as well.
    There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than our health and well being.

  • Doug Bright


    This self-interested moron needs to be in WA to appreciate what it is like to live in arguably one of the most virus free places on the planet. Most of us are happy to have 2.5M sq.km for our 2.5M people without swarms of undisciplined, selfish, contaminated fruitcakes trying to prise our borders open for their own interests and to hell with anyone else.

    Heck, it’s even part of a song now Got to hand it to this gal!


  • Rob


    The AHPPC are the experts, and they have never recommended the closure of State borders.

  • Linda Weaving


    Culbert is saying that the Queensland Premier is ‘keeping her border shut to NSW purely out of self interest’ out of pure self interest. HYPOCRITE!

  • Robert


    Currently Qld as of today has more cases to report than NSW. Therefore NSW should be closing its border with Qld. One thing you all forget: The Australian Constitution guarantees free trade and access between the states. Therefore any State Government closing its borders to any other Australian is BREAKING THE LAW. The Federal government should bring them all into line quickly – particularly Queensland run by a selfish Premier just wanting to capture the headlines and get herself re-elected

  • Robert


    Any State Government closing its borders to any other Australian is BREAKING THE LAW. The Federal government should bring them all into line quickly – particularly Queensland run by a selfish Premier just wanting to capture the headlines and get herself re-elected

  • Bill O'Really


    Robert, you are obviously no lawyer. Constitutional law is far more nuanced and complex than shouting out in capital letters that you know something deeper and more significant than others. So chill, it will all work out. The state leaders have the right, nay, the obligation to take care of the health of their residents. This small hiccough of inconvenience that we all have to go through for the greater good will pass eventually and life will return to normal. The necessary border closures are working and are for the greater good of all. Not the good of Cuthbert or Joyce’s shareholders, or bonus schemes. Which is what their bleatings are all about. And as stated above, Joyce telling the elected state governments, which he most certainly is not, what to do, while taking more than $100 million in pay for running Qantas and their staff into the ground. All the while enjoying champagne and caviar himself, which is emblematic of avarice by business at it’s finest. The greater good is being done, and once vaccines are available all will be reasonably normal again. How would these bleaters cope with a WW2 like situation, where everyone had to pull together for the good of everyone else? Bit of sacrifice is necessary some times.

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