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Border closures upped job losses, says Sydney CEO

written by Adam Thorn | October 14, 2020

A file image of Qantas aircraft at Sydney Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
A file image of Qantas aircraft at Sydney Airport. (Rob Finlayson)

Sydney Airport’s chief executive has claimed he wouldn’t have had to make so many roles redundant if state borders remained open.

Geoff Culbert instead argued that NSW’s alternative approach was the right way forward.

“The way that they’ve taken on the challenge – and it is a challenge – of keeping the economy open and not taking a zero-risk approach, really needs to be commended,” Culbert told the AFR. “I think that they’ve basically lapped every other state government in Australia on the way they’ve handled it.”

In August, the business announced it was to make 118 roles redundant, or around 20 per cent of its total workforce, following a half-year loss of $54 million.

It later emerged that domestic passenger traffic that month plunged nearly 70 per cent compared to July.


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. As the NSW-Victoria border shut earlier on 6 July, the figures suggest Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s decision was the crucial factor behind the drop.

“If the state borders in Australia had been open, then we would not have had to lay off as many people as we did,” said Culbert. “I’m sure that there are countless businesses around Australia that would tell the same story.”

The comments come after Culbert last month suggested Premier Palaszczuk was 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,” he said, referring to domestic border closures. “This is the moment we should all band together. We should have each other’s back.”

Speaking on the topic of state border closures at the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia virtual summit on Friday, Culbert added, “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.”

On Tuesday, Australian Aviation revealed Queensland’s decision to reshut its border to NSW bizarrely caused Brisbane to surge past Sydney to become the country’s busiest airport by a huge margin.

The knock-on effect of Premier Palaszczuk’s restrictions meant Brisbane clocked up 324,188 total passengers in August versus Sydney’s 129,000.

Significantly, the Queensland capital’s numbers were down only slightly from July (358,537) whereas the NSW capital’s collapsed 60 per cent (from 317,000).

“Brisbane is currently the busiest airport in the nation due to strong intrastate travel and an increase in domestic tourism,” said Australian Airports Association chief executive James Goodwin.

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Comments (6)

  • John Ford


    You surprise me.

  • Jeffrey Kaye


    Yeh and if we didn’t have a pandemic there wouldn’t be a million dead people around the world!

  • John


    Can people stop saying keeping the economy open. NSW’s economy is more closed than QLD and has experienced more shrinkage than QLD. QLD has done the right thing to open up the economy without restrictions

  • Steve A


    Geoff Culbert is once again blaming others for the losses at his airport. He must be spending too much time having lunch with Alan Joyce, because he always looks to blame others for the losses that he clocks up at Qantas too.
    We all know what COVID-19 is doing to the economy, so there is nothing to be gained from blaming Anastasia Palaszczuk for doing her job and protecting us Queenslanders from Victorians ignoring quarantine requirements.
    I don’t know all that much about Geoff Culbert, but certainly Alan Joyce could certainly benefit from looking inward at himself first and the billions of dollars that his mistakes have cost Qantas shareholders over his 12-year tenure

  • Jeff


    Why would you ask an airport CE about the policy for boarder closures?
    The virus is a health issue and should be managed health professions, not politicians or airport CE’s
    A bit rich to say the Premier is acting in self interest!



    Come on! come on! All Aussies CEO,s /Middle Management/Front Line Workers,Where all Australians,We can Dig Deep for our Families & the Future of Families & Hand in Hand with Businesses & Show Our Politians & Parties that we are Sick of the blame game!!! Come On! Come On! Lets be like Emergency Services Aussies/Fire Fighters/Police/Ambo’s/Farmers!!!
    Lets Get down & Put our Skills & Brains together & Show the World How to Fight this 100 Year Pandemic “AUSSIE STYLE’!!
    Lets All Pull Together & Get Aviation & All SEVEN STATES working together for JOBS! “And Federal Government that also means you with water tight unstandings of How Aviation is needed Larger Presence on the Fire Grounds!Support for All Businesses As Well,Medical,General Freight,Using RAAF Pilots & Resoures to Help our Farmers & Rural Australia & All Cities SMALL,& LARGE..Lets put Our Brains & Shoulders together & Not our Political Differences together!!
    Signed:-Little Aussie Bloke, Melb/Victoria. WE NO TOUGH in Victoria Young & Old….

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