Rex’s deputy chairman John Sharp has said Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka put “both feet in her mouth” with her controversial “some people may die” border comments last week.
However, speaking on the Australian Aviation Podcast, Sharp expressed sympathy for his counterpart, who he said had suffered “vicious” criticism despite other figures expressing similar views previously.
The Australia-based head of Rex was speaking on Friday ahead of the show’s release later this week, where he will for the first time talk about the airline’s extraordinary last 12 months that saw it transition from COVID-induced crisis to launching domestic services.
When asked his views on Hrdlicka’s comments, Sharp said he was surprised to hear her say such a thing.
“She certainly is ham-fisted in the way she addresses these things,” said Sharp. “You could say she suffers from foot in mouth disease. And in this case, she managed to put both feet in the mouth. But you know, she has suffered a great deal of criticism.
“Others have been able to say similar things without suffering criticism. And I think one of the lessons that Jayne will need to learn is that she needs to refrain from making comments that aren’t thought through before she makes them because the reaction she’s had from this has been quite vicious. And it’s been going around for days now.
“And it continues to bounce around, and it will bounce around for probably the next two or three weeks. Because every shock jock, every journalist that writes on the topic has picked it all up and using it to sort of lead into the discussion.
“Not the best and smartest thing I’ve seen.”
Jayne Hrdlicka sparked a national debate when she suggested a vaccinated Australia should open its borders, even if it could potentially lead to some people dying. She later said she accepted her comments were hurtful and would “choose different words” if she had her time again.
“We are a domestic airline that is committed to keeping the community safe,” she added.
She said in a memo to staff that she meant opening the borders “Only when vulnerable members of our community have access to the vaccines they need” to ensure the hospital system is protected.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison branded the Virgin CEO “insensitive”, arguing he was “not going to take risks with Australians’ lives” and would maintain a regime “that has so far avoided the loss of 30,000 lives”.
PM Morrison said, “I would encourage people to know 910 Australians lost their lives. Every single one of those lives was a terrible tragedy, and it doesn’t matter how old they were.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also appeared to also criticise Hrdlicka’s views by arguing that “no death is acceptable” when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID.
“We’ve worked hard in New South Wales to protect life, to keep community safety and that’s what we will do,” Premier Berejiklian said.
She did receive support from Flight Centre’s chief executive, Graham Turner, who said her words “don’t sound callous to me” and argued her comments were “quite well said”.