Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles has hit out at Qantas over its pressure for states and territories to reopen their borders.
Qantas has taken another step in pressuring state and territory leaders to reopen their borders by launching a petition the airline hopes thousands of employees and suppliers will sign.
The petition – which is also open to the tourism industry to support – is calling for a common definition of a COVID-19 “hotspot” to be used when making border closures.
According to the airline, the petition calls for “decisions on domestic border closures to be risk-assessed against an agreed set of medical criteria and a shared definition of what constitutes a COVID hotspot”.
The airline has also written a letter to state and federal MPs to outline a medical-based framework for reopening borders.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to work with states and territories to try and have borders reopened by Christmas.
But speaking on Sunday morning, Mr Miles said Qantas needed to show more compassion to Australians trying to return from overseas.
“These companies and their chief executives obviously have a right to further their economic interests of the companies, but the government has a responsibility first and foremost to take care of the health and the jobs of Queenslanders, and that is what we will continue to do,” he said.
“Can I just say, if the boss of Qantas wanted to do more and show compassion for Australians, then he wouldn’t be gouging them tens of thousands of dollars just to come home.
“He would be working with the government to get them home, rather than attacking us on the front page of the paper.”
However, Qantas has not operated international commercial flights for several months now and its repatriation flights were sponsored by the federal government.
Mr Miles said the Queensland Government would not reopen borders just because of pressure from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the state opposition.
“Let’s not forget that every state has some of border restrictions in place right now,” he said.
“The NSW border is closed to Victoria. Victorians aren’t permitted to travel, so there are borders in place right around the country.
“The one thing I would agree with the Prime Minister on is I would like to see the borders opened, too, by Christmas, but only if the health advice says that that is safe, not just because of a political campaign from the LNP, not just because it is what Scott Morrison wants.
“I want to see them open, too, but only if the health advice says it is safe.”
The petition comes weeks after Qantas group CEO Alan Joyce said the border closures had caused “upheaval and uncertainty” for customers, and also for the airline to recover in the domestic market.
“We’ve been hit by another set of border closures,” he said last month at the airline’s FY20 results meeting.
“It shows how important it is to have a national framework for domestic borders – so that there is clarity and consistency. At the moment, there are no rules around how borders are going to close and going to open.
“Nobody has an issue with the international borders being closed – that’s protected Australia. Nobody’s had an issue with the borders to Victoria being closed. But it’s very clear that we don’t have clear guidelines for when the borders will open, when they will close.”
Qantas said COVID-19, and in particular the associated Queensland border restrictions, have contributed to an 82 per cent drop in the domestic tourism spend.
“Now is the time for Australians to visit Australia,” the airline said in a statement.
“Arbitrary border restrictions are having a profound economic and social cost to communities, businesses, supply chains and jobs in Queensland.”
The airline’s petition, titled “Safely Reopen Our Borders” is housed on the airline’s website and comes as the airline has already laid off 6000 staff due to the COVID-19 downturn this year, with more than 20,000 stood down.
But according to the Australian Financial Review, some MPs have already rejected the lobbying petition for a national hotspot framework.
“Anybody can lobby, and anyone expresses their views,” Labor MP for Cairns Michael Healy, whose seat is marginal, told the AFR.
“But they’re (Qantas) a publicly listed, commercial enterprise. They are pushing for a relaxation of the border restrictions because it would suit them and their business.
“The Government will make its recommendations and decisions based on the best medical advice, not commercial interests.”
State Labor MP for Townsville Scott Stewart agreed with his North Queensland colleague.
“We’ve been able to keep our economy open only because of our strong health response,” Mr Stewart said. “A weak health response would risk Queensland’s economy.”
Meanwhile, following Virgin Australia’s decision to exit a number of domestic markets, Qantas will launch new flights from Brisbane to Port Macquarie. The airline will also look to backfill capacity on other regional routes.
QantasLink CEO John Gissing said the new flights will be welcome travel options for regional communities and drive much-needed tourism to smaller towns.
“As the national carrier, and the country’s largest regional airline, we have an important role to play in driving tourism and helping the industry get back on its feet,” Mr Gissing said.
“We also know how important air travel is for regional communities, for residents and business travellers. We’re pleased to be able to support customers with ongoing connectivity where there is demand.”