A Queensland minister has warned New South Wales Treasurer Dominic Perrottet to “back off” in a rapidly growing stoush between the two state governments over the future of Virgin Australia.
Both state governments are in discussions with the embattled airline over possible bailout packages, but both say any bailout is contingent upon the location of Virgin’s headquarters.
Virgin is currently headquartered in Brisbane.
Over the weekend, Queensland’s State Development Minister Cameron Dick offered Virgin $200 million in state assistance if the airline remained in Brisbane.
Mr Perrottet has told the ABC his Government is in discussions with Virgin over possible financial support, but it would be conditional upon the airline moving its headquarters to Sydney.
“Any decision that we make would need to be in the best interests of the taxpayers of our state,” Mr Perrottet said.
That prompted Mr Dick to fire a shot across the bow of the New South Wales Government, saying he was ready to “bring a bazooka to the fight”.
“Can I just say this to the New South Wales Treasurer — back off, back right off, just don’t go there,” Mr Dick said.
“If the world knows one thing it knows this, there is nothing more dangerous than Queenslanders with their backs to the wall.
“We have got nothing to lose, Queensland has got nothing to lose, because Virgin workers have got everything to lose.
“NSW might want to bring a peashooter to the fight, that’s fine, we’ll bring a bazooka and we’re not afraid to use it.”
The war of words comes after Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones revealed the coronavirus shutdown had already cost Queensland’s tourism sector $6.5 billion.
Massive hit to Queensland jobs
Ms Jones said the impact on Queensland tourism jobs had already been severe.
“We estimate at this stage, that the industry in Queensland alone has copped a $6.5 billion hit and it has affected around 70,000 jobs across Queensland,” she told ABC News.
The staggering economic impact on Queensland tourism has occurred in two and a half months – flights from China were halted on February 1.
Since then, even domestic tourism has shut down under border closures, bans on public gatherings and stay-at-home regulations.
Ms Jones said the impact on Queensland’s tourism sector will be far worse if embattled airline Virgin Australia fails.
“I think it is incumbent on all governments to really think hard about the history of the tourism industry when we last saw the collapse of a national carrier in our country,” she said.
Operators in tourism hotspots like Cairns fear it will take them years to recover from the coronavirus shutdown.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Mark Olsen said last week the northern region lost more than $200 million worth of bookings in March with the impact to the end of April estimated at $500 million in lost visitor spending.
What about the cruise industry?
With significant growth in the cruise industry in recent years, the sector had been expected to continue its upward climb.
In early March, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk donned a hard hat and fluoro vest to again inspected construction on the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal.
The new terminal, she said, would triple the capacity of Brisbane’s cruise industry to bring over 760,000 visitors each year.
But how many people will still be keen to set sail after weeks of almost daily stories on the spreading of coronavirus infection via cruise ships?
Five of the six Queenslanders who have died from COVID-19 were cruise passengers.
“It will take time before we see this industry rebuild,” Ms Jones said.
Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has gone further.
“Cruise travel, you would expect to be sitting right towards the end, if not the very last thing, that is reactivated again, given the difficulties Australia has faced with the cruise sector,” Mr Birmingham said.
Ports in Townsville and Cairns are being upgraded to accommodate much larger cruise ships.
The Gold Coast has also been seeking a slice of the action, with Mayor Tom Tate doggedly pursuing a cruise ship proposal for The Spit.
Ms Jones suggested that project might now face a delay.
“This is a decision that has been made by the Mayor of the Gold Coast. He has just recently been elected, I’m sure that will be top of his mind,” she said.
“My feeling is that a number of projects that were earmarked, will obviously be delayed if demand isn’t there.”