Life Travel ‘Very sad year’: Qantas’ plea on border closures

‘Very sad year’: Qantas’ plea on border closures

qantas border closures
Qantas says more state border closures would have a huge impact on its business – and the Australian economy. Photo: Brendan Esposito
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Qantas wants further “ad hoc” border closures ruled out as Australia’s vaccine program rolls out, warning of further redundancies if uncertainty continues.

“It’s been a very sad year,” Qantas domestic and international chief executive Andrew David told a parliamentary inquiry into the future of Australia’s aviation sector post-COVID-19.

Qantas took drastic action to reduce its workforce, grounded most of its fleet and last week posted a record loss of more than $1 billion for the first half of the 2020/21 financial year.

“If we saw state borders close again the impact is going to be huge,” Mr David said.

Quizzed about forecasts for 40 to 50 per cent of international business to return by November, just in time for Christmas bookings, Qantas said this is based on assumptions about the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

But the airline doesn’t expect to be back to pre-COVID levels until 2024, seeing no service for its A380s until the end of 2023

The airline wants the government to extend and enhance all aviation support packages at least until international borders reopen, but didn’t argue for the JobKeeper support payment to be extended beyond March.

Its plea came a day after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reportedly said he would back the airline’s push for states to give at least 24 hours notice before closing borders, to try to stop people being locked out of their home state.

Mr Andrews told the Nine newspapers on Tuesday that he had spoken to Qantas boss Alan Joyce about a national framework to govern how to get people home if state borders closed again. The Premier is expected to push for more backing at Friday’s national cabinet meting.

On Wednesday, Qantas group public affairs executive Andrew Parker called for national cabinet to focus on aviation so people had certainty about being able to get home if they travelled.

“At the moment there is enormous confusion,” Mr Parker said.

But the airline was slapped down for Mr Joyce’s no-show as two days of hearings began on Wednesday.

Labor transport committee member Senator Tony Sheldon said it was “disappointing” Mr Joyce hadn’t found time to speak to the committee, unlike the head of Virgin.

International Transport Workers’ Federation spokesman Scott McDine called for an “AviationKeeper” wage subsidy to replace JobKeeper, which ends on March 31.

“You’ve got to have a workforce that can respond post-pandemic,” Mr McDine said.

He agreed border closures had decimated once-lucrative routes in Australia and airlines faced an uncertain policy environment.

“Australia should be making it tailor-made, suiting our economy,” he said.

Mr McDine said it was also “gobsmacking” that Emirates-owned aviation services company dnata and its workforce were denied access to wage subsidies, unlike other parts of the world.

“What has happened to dnata workers in Australia comparable to other countries is an absolute disgrace,” he said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has hinted that measures are being considered for a range of industries, including the aviation sector, as companies continue to lobby for support.

“There has already been substantial support but the government recognises the need to retain a domestic sovereign capability in our aviation sector,” he said.

“We’re all very much focused on other initiatives that we may be considering with respect to aviation and other areas of need.”

The Business Council of Australia has urged the government to introduce targeted support for sectors still hurting from the ban on international travel.

The organisation also says restrictions should be eased in line with the vaccine rollout.

International Transport Workers’ Federation spokesman Scott McDine called for an “AviationKeeper” wage subsidy to replace JobKeeper, which ends on March 31, and shared data about 18 countries doing more than Australia to support the industry’s workforce.

“You’ve got to have a workforce that can respond post-pandemic,” Mr McDine said.

Regional airline Rex wants an extension of the federal Regional Airline Network Support program beyond its March 28 snapback to keep routes viable, and some form of assistance to keep airline crews available.

Rex has been accused by rivals of using federal handouts to fund an expansion into the market’s golden triangle, adding Australia’s busiest route between Sydney and Melbourne to its schedule this week.

“It’s certainly not true at all,” Rex deputy chair John Sharp said, arguing Rex was profitable and debt-free, owned its fleet, buildings, pilot training units, and had raised capital for its new operations.

He also welcomed extra powers given to the competition watchdog to monitor the behaviour of Qantas.

The Qantas motto is the “spirit of Australia” but he questioned whether that meant “beating up the little guy”.

Catering and cargo handler dnata Australia’s chief executive Hiranjan Aloysius said some of its remaining staff hadn’t worked since April 2020.

Excluded from JobKeeper because dnata is owned by a foreign government, he said he axed 2500 workers as revenue slumped by 90 per cent and another 1500 remained stood down and ineligible for JobKeeper.

“They are being treated differently to others in the aviation industry,” Mr Aloysius said.

“They pay their taxes, raise their families here and support their local communities.”

Committee chair and Labor senator Glenn Sterle said: “To see Australian workers, Australian taxpayers treated so shabby – it is nothing short, in my opinion, of a national disgrace.”

-with AAP

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