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IATA attacks Australia’s ‘repressive’ ban on citizens leaving

written by Adam Thorn | June 22, 2021

A Singapore Airlines A350-900, 9V-SHG msn 309, as shot by Victor Pody
A Singapore Airlines A350-900, 9V-SHG msn 309, as shot by Victor Pody

The head of world aviation’s biggest trade association, IATA, has attacked Australia’s “repressive” stance of shutting its international borders and not allowing citizens to leave.

“I find it incredible that people are satisfied or tolerating the situation where they’re locked in and not allowed to travel,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Willie Walsh.

Walsh’s comments on borders are arguably the most significant from a senior global industry figure since the start of the COVID crisis last year.

It comes after last month’s federal budget hinted Australia won’t fully reopen to the world until the middle of 2022, forcing Qantas to push back its plan to restart long-haul flights from 31 October to December.

Speaking to The Australian, the head of the International Air Transport Association is reported to have said the crisis is no longer a pandemic but a “crisis of government restrictions” and the decision to delay opening was “really excessive”.

He added it was “bizarre” that citizens were accepting the measures due to Australians love of travelling and experiencing other countries.

“The research we’ve done at IATA is that people remain tolerant [of restrictions] but they’re beginning to get impatient, they’re beginning to sort of say, ‘It’s unfair to prevent me from seeing my family,’” he said.


“I think that is repressive, given the vaccination rollout and the other mitigating actions you could put in place. I believe we are at a pivotal moment and the signs to me are positive for change, but Australia does seem to be taking a very, very risk-averse approach to me and that does surprise me.”

It comes after World of Aviation this month reported how IATA called on governments to drop quarantine requirements for vaccinated countries, and to many passengers who have received a negative COVID test pre-flight.

The organisation said nations must shift to making “data-driven decisions” and referred to research suggesting those who test negative are incredibly unlikely to spread the disease.

“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine — either hotel-managed or self-managed. This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector,” said IATA in a statement.

It also follows the industry body representing international airlines in Australia criticising what it says is the country’s absence of a “known plan” for reopening the borders.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) suggested the debate must shift to how much “risk” the country is willing to accept when restrictions end, which it said is “far more useful” than a binary argument of open or closed.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s international border restrictions are likely to be eased via a Europe-style traffic light system that will first be trialled on overseas students.

However, the PM also said any large-scale opening would not happen until the country has a better idea of the spread of variants of COVID-19 and their effectiveness with vaccines.

“The jury is out on that and it will be a while, I think, before the epidemiologists can have greater clarity on that. We have to be ­patient for the evidence and the science,” PM Morrison said.

The federal government’s continued downplaying of any immediate opening to international borders comes days after yet another shift in policy to now prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 60s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply. The British-created jab has been linked to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.

Currently, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of skilled visa holders are allowed to enter Australia.

Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, for which they have to pay up to $3,000.

While numbers fluctuate, NSW is currently taking the vast bulk of returned citizens, with Sydney quarantine hotels now accepting 3,000 entrants per week. The next highest is Queensland, taking 1,000.

Comments (21)

  • Vannus


    IATA can mind their own business.

    Our Fed Govt has the ‘say so’ on opening our borders, & it’s absolutely nothing to with IATA.
    Obviously overseas airlines are whinging to them in not being allowed to enter Australia, thereby having them lose money, & domino effect of IATA not getting fees from airlines.
    This complaining by IATA is just about MONEY, nothing else.

    • Nick


      Nevertheless, Australia is a joke. And ‘your’ federal government is a disgrace.

      • Vannus


        I’m sure the 1000’s of citizens’ here who haven’t died of covid, don’t consider Australia ‘a joke’.
        Very odd thing to say.

  • John Court


    Couldn’t agree more. A more acceptable policy would be to allow Australians to leave but make them subject to the current restrictions on return, just as current Australians overseas are having to deal with.

  • Fred


    Should be allowing people who are fully vaccinated against Corvid-19 to travel again and to enter Australia for Business and as tourists..

  • Peter Vears


    I believe the comments by IATA s Willie Walsh bizarre to put it mildly. We have Australia with government policy protecting Australians with unbelievable results….sometimes we need to think what is best for a community rather than just the purely economic benefits for one sector.
    Travel is great but not at the risk of thousands of Australians dying because of the profit motive of one sector!

    • Nick


      He’s in the pocket of the UK Government – after being head of BA for many years, he’s willing to do their dirty work for them. Don’t forget the amazing trade deal the UK has just struck with Australia, that’ll see an immense 0.02% increase in GDP for the UK over the next 15 years… you have to distract the (UK) plebs with a signal that Australia is open for business again.

  • Denis Wasley


    Who the hell does Willie Walsh think he is? Airlines were and are responsible for transporting people with Covid. Perhaps he should pay for all the economic damge this has caused. Its way too soon to open up genaral overseas travel.

  • Francois


    IATA is an out of date, out of touch, irrelevant institution and if this sort of uneducated and unwanted commentary is what Willy needs to make himself feel relevant then I take pity on him.

  • Gavin Springett


    He doesn’t live in the best country in the world, hence why he doesn’t realise why we aren’t that fussed about leaving it.

  • Wee Willie was bad news for BA, they couldnt wait to get rid of him…so now he pops up in IATA and is talikng here without any knowledge of our local situation. Someone should tell him how many COVID deaths we have had here, compared to the UK…or indeed the rest of the world.
    He must be friends with the MEL CEO….they have the same business first, world health a poor second idea of life.

    • Ashley


      Strambi’s only concern is for his own job.

  • Ben


    As an dual Australian EU citizen -My human right to have access to my country of citizenship is being breached by the ruling regime.

  • Td


    Every Aussie that leaves has to or wants to come back and there in lies the problem. It also increases our chances of every other Aussie being exposed to a leak of Covid from quarantine putting jobs and health and lives on the line. All lockdowns have been courtesy of inbound aviation movement s other than a cruise ship bungle.
    It’s understandable Willy Wannabee wants his way along with all the other CEOs voicing their opinions (so as not to be seen weak amongst their peers) but the reality is back off and let’s get on with doing what works for now and the future without Willy Winging!

  • Wanttomoveon


    The reason why Aussies are tolerating these travel bans is because the government threatens to imprison people who dont abide by the bans, many struggling small businesses are permanently ruined by the covit bans hence jobs & all the butterfly affects afterwards, people dont want to add to the nightmare of being put in a jail cell with a convicted murderer, for something that use to be a human right.
    It’s a load of hoowey that the government is only letting Australian citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of skilled visa holders to enter Australia, infact …
    Senator Nick Mckim stated in parliment that the government are letting the rich & famous come & go out of Australia as they please, while family’s still remain to be seperated by travel bans bestowed on them “indefinately”, as a result some of the members of these affected family’s are developing symptoms like for example anxiety, depression & agression.
    All the other countries are doing their best to get on with life, why cant we?
    One tv commercial in particular gives being vaccinated as the very reason to travel but . . .
    What’s the point of getting vaccinated if we still cant travel oversea’s! It starts to make one think that maybe the vaccine doesnt work at all & only the government knows it.
    So 15 months later, Most Aussies are actually feeling like our human right to travel freely has been abused in the name of “staying safe”.
    Australian’s have complied to every rule & ban bestowed on us, we know how to stay safe, we dont need our lives to be constantly dictated & told what we have no choice but to do or be imprisioned, treating us “as if” we are misbehaving children.
    Many people are saying that it feels like we are becoming the next North Korea.
    Australia is ready to move on & get back to normal lives.

    • Terence


      Yet some fools still attend in huge groups at parties etc, so until THEY realise this is not on during a pandemic, the rules will stay in place.

      This virus is continuing to mutate to worse types,& will be in the world for years’ to come.

  • Ben


    Willie would do well to do some reasearch of his own before he opens his mouth instead of bowing to his wallet driven members.

    Australia’s restrictions have served us well, we along with NZ are the envy of the world. He should look at the state of his own back yard before espousing how borders should open. The UK and Europe sold their souls for a summer holiday last year, and are set to do it again. Completely ignorant of the fact that the vaccine is designed to prevent severe illness and death. It does not prevent catching COVID and transmitting it (although it does help somewhat in the latter). The longer we keep this virus alive to bow down to the economic pressure the more chance it has to mutate into something the vaccines can control.

    The restrictions on leaving are purely because we have limited flights, limited ability to offer repat flights and limited quarantine facilities. There are already tens of thousands of Aussies overseas that were too slow to head the warning to come home and have been stuck for months. I fully agree that we should not be adding to that list by letting people leave. Unfortunately we aren’t allowed to declare that it’s a one way trip if you leave. He should understand the vaccine program in this country, which is a joke since our PM went all for the glory of locally made and put all the eggs into one basket, which then turned out to have a real big hole in it.

    To be clear I am fully aware that this is a s*** position that people are being placed in. But we must protect the 27M of us here, that means inconveniencing a few thousand in the process. Those that elected to move half a world away from their families suddenly have a burning desire to see them… unfortunately that’s not going to be possible for a while yet. As someone who spent a few years in a remote Pilbara town, I understand… but I also worked within the bounds of the situation. Christmases on Facetime were not ideal, but I couldn’t leave work, so I had to stay and make do!

  • ShiviJ


    Covid is here to stay. Does that mean borders need to remain shut forever? It is the government’s responsibility to manage the situation. All they are doing is keeping us imprisoned in this country with no end in sight and burying their heads in the sand.

  • Mark


    Boy some very angry people reading this article

  • Andy Russell


    I’d like to know how Australia gets away with having their international borders closed when free movement is an enshrined human right, when no other countries in the free world are doing so.

    • Warwick


      …..and my fellow countrymen, & I, have ‘an enshrined right’ to be protected from a pandemic.
      Totally agree with our borders to remain shut until the situation is better under control.

      Literally, where on Earth would you want to travel to, where there isn’t the virus ravaging, & killing 100’s of 1000’s of people currently?
      Antarctica is the only continent not infected.

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