Qantas boss Alan Joyce believes Australia’s international border will open in December even though the government says it will stay closed until mid-2022.
Last week’s federal budget papers assume the vaccine rollout will be complete by the end of the year and the borders will open in the middle of next year.
But Qantas has only pushed back its international flight schedule from October to December, assuming that international travel can ramp up by Christmas.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce has urged Scott Morrison to open the international borders in December once every Aussie has been offered a Covid-19 vaccine
‘We’ve adjusted our expectations for when international borders will start opening based on the government’s new timeline, but our fundamental assumption remains the same – that once the national vaccine rollout is effectively complete, Australia can and should open up,’ Mr Joyce said in a trading update on Thursday.
‘That’s why we have aligned the date for international flights restarting in earnest with a successful vaccination program.’
Mr Joyce warned that Australia would be ‘left behind’ if it refused to open up to the world as three in four Aussies support keeping the borders closed.
‘No one wants to lose the tremendous success we’ve had at managing Covid but rolling out the vaccine totally changes the equation. The risk then flips to Australia being left behind when countries like the US and UK are getting back to normal,’ he said.
‘Australia has to put the same intensity into the vaccine rollout as we’ve put on lockdowns and restrictions, because only then will we have the confidence to open up.’
Government backbenchers are supporting Virgin boss Jane Hrdlicka’s calls for the nation to open its borders before mid-2022. Pictured: Travellers in Brisbane
The airline, which has been smashed by Covid lockdowns and border closures, expects a $2billion loss this financial year.
Several hundred international cabin crew are expected to take voluntary redundancy packages.
The company is also instituting a two-year wage freeze to the next round of enterprise agreements across the group, with two per cent annual increases after that compared with three per cent pre-Covid.
Management will be subject to the same wage conditions.
Ninety per cent of redundancies associated with some 8,500 job losses already announced are complete, with the remainder to be finalised by the end of June.
The airline forecasts a total pandemic-related revenue loss of $16 billion by the end of fiscal 2021.
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka
But Mr Joyce said he was hopeful the airline has turned a corner as it starts to reduce its debt, which peaked at $6.4billion in February.
‘We have a long way still to go in this recovery, but it does feel like we’re slowly starting to turn the corner,’ Mr Joyce said.
‘The fact we’re making inroads to the debt we needed to get through this crisis shows the business is now on a more sustainable footing.’
On Monday Virgin boss Jane Hrdlicka also said the borders should open once most Australians, including the most vulnerable, are vaccinated and said we must learn to live with the virus like flu.
‘Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu,’ she said.
Nationals Senator for Queensland Matt Canavan said the CEO had ‘put it starkly’ but agreed with her position, saying it was ‘about time’ the nation talked about opening the borders again.
‘Eventually when we open up, eventually when we ease some restrictions, there will be the unfortunate situation that some people, even with the vaccine, may get sick and ultimately die just like they do with the flu and other diseases,’ he told Sky News.
Borrowing a phrase Prime Minister Scott Morrison used to announced the easing of lockdown in May 2020, he added: ‘We can’t stay under the doona forever.’
Senator Canavan is among a group of backbenchers, including Jason Falinkski, the member for Mackellar in Sydney’s northern beaches, who support a faster re-opening.
But government ministers are being cautious as three in four Australians support keeping the borders closed.
‘We will listen to the advice of our health experts not business CEOs,’ Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to reveal the benchmark for reopening the international border. Pictured: Travellers arriving at Sydney Airport
Mr Morrison has refused to reveal the benchmark for reopening the international border, saying only that restrictions will remain in place until it is safe to do anything different.
‘It’s not safe to take those next steps right now, it’s not. But we’ll keep working on what the next steps are,’ the Prime Minister said on Monday.
He condemned Ms Hrdlicka’s comments on Tuesday, saying: ‘I regret that those comments were somewhat insensitive.
‘And so, no, I find it very difficult to have any part of what was said there.’
Business leaders also want the borders to reopen, concerned about the economic consequences of keeping them sealed for another year.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet agrees, and has warned against letting populism determine public policy.
‘It’s the role of political leaders not to be following the polling or looking at what focus groups are saying,’ Mr Perrottet told Sky News.
‘The job is to lead and communicate and bring Australian people with us.’
Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said Australians must learn to live with coronavirus and be prepared for the disease to spread in the community when international borders reopen.
Dr Coatsworth said reaching zero cases of coronavirus in Australia was ‘perhaps unattainable’ and suggested vaccination rates of 90 per cent may be needed to control coronavirus within the community.
According to a Newspoll on Monday, only 21 per cent of voters believe the country should open up when everyone has been offered a vaccination, a view supported by several health experts including former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth.
Speaking on the Today show on Monday morning, Dr Coatsworth said Australians will have to get used to the virus circulating in the community next year.
‘I think it’s completely reasonable for three-quarters of Aussies to not want the borders open right now.
‘What we have to start a conversation with the community about is, what do we do in 2022,’ he said.
‘What do we do when the majority of Australians are vaccinated and immune, safe from hospitalisation, safe from death from Covid-19 but there’s still critical events going on that people want to attend around the world.
‘Do we still put them in hotel quarantine in 2022 at their own expense?
‘This is a conversation we need to get the community involved in. There will be Covid-19 circulating within the community in the future.’
Dr Coatsworth made similar comments in a speech at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons on Sunday in which he called eradication of the disease a ‘false idol’.
‘It is clear we will not have our borders closed indefinitely,’ he said.
‘We will not have quarantine stations in perpetuity while we aim for the false idol of eradication.’
‘At a point in the future when a significant majority of our community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open our borders. We must not resist that. In fact, when the time is right, we should be leading the calls for it.’
The federal budget assumes the borders, which have been closed since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will open in mid-2022. Pictured: Sydney’s Coogee Beach in November