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Open border before vaccine, says Melbourne CEO

written by Adam Thorn | September 7, 2020

Qantas A380 takes off from YMML (Phillip Gelling)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.”

Comments (13)

  • OVTraveller


    As a recreational traveller I can fully endorse the comments of the CEO of Melbourne Airport. Living in that part of Melbourne that allows me to view take offs and landings from Tullamarine, the current situation is dreadful. I cannot wait to commence travelling again, regrettably to all those cancelled 2020 destinations. The current dire situation for all aspects of the travel industry is heartbreaking. All aspiring travellers need to become politically active to reverse current state and national boundary bans. It means that potentially we may see the total demise of a fabulous infrastructure and the hundreds of thousands who found employment in it.

  • Paul


    Good luck with opening up international flights. With each state having different rules airlines would have a difficult time creating schedules to match state rules.

  • JP


    Yes, we do need to open ALL borders. This is past ridiculous. Are we going to pay for Sco-Mo to insist EVERY arriving PAX is vaccinated? Are we going to pay for all departing PAX to be vaccinated? At the airport? Or will airlines/agents be the ones determining if someone is able to travel?
    Kamala Harris, running for US VP on Joe Biden’s ticket, said she won’t take a vaccine recommended by President Trump, so would she be allowed to visit Australia? What about any other foreign visitor who chooses not to vaccinate against a virus that 99% of the population survives with a vaccine perhaps 50% effective?
    Australia needs to wake up and vote OUT the representatives who do not listen to the people they are hired to represent.

    WE pay THEM.

  • Douglas


    As an Australian citizen, I don’t want to see borders opening up until COVID 19 is fully under control. This disease isn’t something we can allow to fester. There most likely will never be a fully successful vaccine. One only has to look at Brazil and the USA to see the results of open borders.

  • Pvk


    Typical CEO, it’s all about their profitability, their bottom line and ultimately their bonuses. Their opinions unamazingly change when the virus affects them personally.

  • James Scott


    Alan Jones the CEO of Qantas huh?

  • Gregory Kennedy


    Don’t worry about international borders opening because the federal government couldn’t even open a can of beer yet alone a border. Our fearless leader PM Scott “Slo Mo ” Morrison has about as much effect as Viagra on a eunuch. Some months ago he sprouted we can not hide under the doona forever well it appears he has every doona in the shop over Australia. I’m sick and tired of hearing one thing from this government and the total opposite happens. We were told to lockdown until we had the capability to cope with outbreaks. Well we bought this time for our health services it’s time now to make way for “border opener “if our PM needs another catch phrase.

  • Out of the country


    Yep what insightful advice from a CEO who is personally responsible for an entity dependent on unrestricted travel. He is not responsible for managing any outbreaks or the long term impacts on some people who get C19 and either die or suffer the permanent debilitating damage from this. How many people that have returned and were detected in quarantine with C19 that would have spread this in community if there were no restrictions?

  • Flavian


    To Douglas above……

    You may like to listen to medical experts’ before you state wrong information.

    Viruses’ in the human population NEVER get ‘fully under control’ as is your ‘want’.
    The plague rears its’ ugly head now & again, & it’s been around since the Dark Ages!
    This current virus is related to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919, also to SARS of 2003-2004.
    A vaccine, will be formulated, but it only ever protects to a certain level, at any time.

  • davidh


    The US has not had open borders. Entry has been restricted. But neither have they had a functional national government response to Covid, unlike Australia. Qatar I believe is requiring a test 96 hours before flying long haul. This could be coupled with a test on flying and a test on arrival into Australia with those testing positive put into quarantine or care. This would be manageable. The fiction that Australia can live with zero Covid cases will cost the economy and lives too much. Covid is here to stay whether people like it or not; it is a matter of trying to live with it and minimise risk. Open the borders but put sensible and workable measures in.

  • DavidByrne


    Unbelievable. It ‘s one thing learning to live with the virus, but quite another to propose sweeping away all border controls. The aviation industry is NOT more important than public health. Thankfully he’s not a givernment minister.

  • Russell Wynn


    Have you ever wondered about living under a Communist regime?
    What our govts are doing to us, IS communism!!!
    Cant do this, must do that ! I thought Australia was a free democratic society! Our politicians are so power hungru! Especially that twit in Qld.
    Go figure!

  • Nikita


    Totally agree.
    Virus will never dissappear
    We need to live with it. All decisions now made by politicians not doctors!!
    Open borders!!!

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