The chief executive of Melbourne Airport has suggested Australia shouldn’t wait for a vaccine to open its international borders.
Lyell Strambi said in unreported comments on Friday that the country must “plan to live sustainably with the virus”.
“We cannot be sure when or if a vaccine will be available,” said Strambi. “We can’t even be sure how many among our community will access it once it arrives. It’s hardly a foundation for economic recovery.”
His comments jar with those made hours later by acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge, who appeared to suggest Australian borders may only open to the world when a vaccine becomes “globally available”.
Strambi’s intervention will be seen as hugely significant given the strength of his views and also his senior position within Australian aviation.
His statement was at pains to argue that opening the international border was not a “binary choice” that pits the economy before health, but instead that he two needs are interrelated. He also said opening them “still looks a way off”.
Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.
Talking on the controversial topic of state borders closures, Strambi said aviation has the benefit of being a form of transport that can be more tightly managed and one that facilitates track and trace measures. He echoed comments by Qantas chief executive Alan Jones that there needs to be a national consensus on the issue.
“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.
“Notably, [NSW] Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been clear and consistent that her state’s borders will not be up a minute longer than necessary.
“My hope is that as soon as Victorian can bring its outbreak to similar levels of control, these two great states can lead the nation on our long road of our economic recovery. Planning needs to start yesterday. There is not a moment to lose.”
On Friday, Australian Aviation reported how a plan to open all borders in Australia by Christmas has been agreed by all states and territories – except Western Australia.
However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that all states had agreed to a definition of what constitutes of a COVID-19 “hotspot”, which would be used to guide future closures.
Premier Berejiklian argued her state would therefore have no areas deemed a hotspot if the rules were enforced today.
“If you look at the specific definition which national cabinet is considering, at this point in time, there wouldn’t be anywhere in NSW as of today that would be defined as a formal hotspot,” she said.
“There shouldn’t be an excuse for any state to have a border that isn’t open with NSW.
“If the trends continue the way they are, I don’t think any state border should exist by Christmas – unless Victoria flares up again, which I hope it won’t.
“Even though some states are not as comfortable as others, I’m hopeful that, by Christmas, Australia will be a different place.”