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Qantas boss pleads for national plan on state borders

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Qantas boss Alan Joyce has taken a swipe at Australia’s closed state borders as he revealed the airline’s $4 billion hit to revenue from the pandemic.

“Surely, these decisions should be based on the facts, the health
advice, and the level of cases that we’re seeing around the various states,” he said on Thursday.

“I think that’s what we need. Otherwise it feels like there is no real base decisions. It’s just there to inform – maybe [down] to politics.”

He urged national cabinet to form clear rules for state borders, warning of the ongoing hit to jobs and business from hard closures such as in Queensland and Western Australia.

“Otherwise we’re going to have a cliff that’s going to be bigger than the financial impact that COVID-19 has already caused,” he said.

Borders are on the agenda for Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

Earlier, Jenny Lambert from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said many business also believed that premiers and chief ministers were making border decisions for political, not health, reasons.

“We’ve seen even opinion polls driving those decisions so, whether it’s an election or whether its opinion polls, premiers or first ministers are making decisions which for tourism businesses are immensely frustrating because they don’t understand the health reasons,” she told a federal Senate committee hearing, noting upcoming elections in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

“They absolutely get that risk management is exceptionally important, but they cannot understand at all why some of these borders are closed in a one-size fits all sledgehammer approach.”

But Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was unswayed.

“I think the national strategy needs to be focusing on Victoria to get all of their cases under control, and NSW, so that all of Australia can open up,” she said.

“That should be the national strategy.

“We will always take the advice of the chief health officer to keep Queenslanders safe. I’m not going to bend to anyone.”

qantas virgin international grounded
Empty check-in terminals at Brisbane Airport in April. Photo: AAP

Qantas said on Thursday that – with the possible exemption of a trans-Tasman bubble – international flights are unlikely to restart before July 2021.

“We know this crisis is taking a toll. There’s been a lot of upheaval and uncertainty,” Mr Joyce said.

“Just as we thought domestic flying was in recovery mode, we have been hit by another set of border closures.

“It shows how important it is to have a national framework for domestic borders so that there is clarity and consistency, and we bring certainty to the tourism industry and the travel industry.”

Qantas reported a net loss of $1.96 billion for the 2019-2020 financial year on Thursday, down more than $2.8 billion from last year’s $840 million profit.

Mr Joyce said the second half of the year was the toughest set of conditions the national carrier had faced in its 100-year history.

“The impact of COVID on all airlines is clear,” he said.

“It’s devastating and it will be a question of survival for many.”

However, Mr Joyce said he remained optimistic about the longer-term prospects for the airline.

“We know that travel is at the top of people’s wish lists, and that demand will return as soon as restrictions lift.”

The airline had scored a $771 million pre-tax profit in the first half of the year before things fell apart.

“[The results] reflects a strong first half of the year, followed by a near-total collapse in travel demand and a $4 billion drop in revenue in the second half due to the COVID-19 crisis and associated border restrictions,” Qantas announced.

On a pre-tax basis, the overall loss was $2.7 billion, including aircraft writedowns.

The airline said about 4000 of its 6000 planned job cuts would be finalised by the end of September. It continues to stand down 20,000 employees.

Qantas’ A380 aircraft are in long-term storage in the US and its 747s have been retired six months ahead of schedule.

Mr Joyce acknowledged that the coronavirus’ huge effect on the US meant it was likely to be some time before flights resumed there – “we have parked the A380 for at least three years”, he said.

But he remained positive about the outlook for Qantas and its Jetstar subsidiary.

“The Flying Kangaroo wings are clipped for now but it’s still got plenty of ambition and we plan to deliver on it,” he said.