Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, has compared Western Australia’s ongoing border closure to the totalitarian state of north korea.
Speaking on 3AW on Friday, Joyce lamented there wasn’t a plan in WA for when the state would re-welcome domestic travelers after the initial reopening date of 5 February was scrapped indefinitely last month.
“You can’t even travel around your own country… it’s starting to look like North Korea,” he told presenters Ross and Russel.
“We thought we had a date for that border to be opened… but that was stepped back from, it’s disappointed tens of thousands of people that had booked to go to WA.
“I think we should all be a bit outraged by it… we’re supposed to be all Australians.”
North Korea – officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – is widely considered to hold the worst human rights record in the world and has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, the European Union and the Human Rights Watch.
In response to the pandemic, North Korea’s leadership ordered soldiers on the border with Russia and China to “unconditionally shoot” on sight anyone entering the state without permission.
Citizens were banned from nearly all international travel, and almost all trade was limited to the movement of essential personnel and goods, preventing foods and other essentials from reaching the country and causing a shortage of basic necessities.
“North Korea used Covid-19 restrictions to further oppress the North Korean people while igniting a crisis over access to food, medicine, and other essential goods,” Lina Yoon, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.
But Joyce said the ongoing closure of Australia to some tourists and business travelers defied logic in light of the nation’s Omicron wave and was comparative to a dictatorship like that of North Korea.
He said Qantas had lost “millions of dollars” in flight cancellations when McGowan made the decision to keep the borders shut to interstate travellers.
“When you look at the detail of it, we have higher per capita cases of Covid than a lot of these countries… the UK, the US, most European countries,” he said.
“We ask people to be fully vaccinated, so they’re less likely to end up in hospital… I don’t get the logic, and I think we should be opening up the borders… as soon as possible.”
Australia’s international border is open to residents and some visa holders including student backpackers and skilled migrants, however tourists and business travelers from most countries remain unable to enter the nation.
Since late November, 56,000 international students have arrived in Australia and more than 50,000 overseas student visa lodgements have been made.
Around 28,000 Working Holiday Maker visas have been approved since the reopening of the border to some travellers, with a 17% increase in arrivals in the past week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he would like to see the international border fully operational “well before” Easter of this year.
But Joyce said the continued closures were causing significant damage to businesses and the tourism sector.
“It is very confusing here for a lot of people, and it is very hard for a lot of people,” he said.
“We should be getting on and living with Covid like we are in the eastern states today… the fact that we can travel to London but we can’t travel to Perth, I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the federation if that’s happening.”
Earlier this week, Perth Airport announced it would close terminal 1 from Monday due to low passenger numbers. All Virgin services will move to terminal 2.
Some business leaders including Qantas chairman Richard Goyder are relocating to the east coast in response to the prolonged border closure.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said it would be “irresponsible” to allow the borders to fully reopen on 5 February in light of the Omicron wave, and said rules would be reviewed in the coming weeks.
“It would cause a surge in cases, a surge in hospitalisations, and result in thousands of people not being able to work or go to school. We know that bad health outcomes lead to economic pain,” he said.
Some 91.77% of eligible Western Australians had received two vaccination doses, while 838,933 people had received their booster shot.
The state recorded no new cases of community transmission on Friday and two new cases detected in hotel quarantine.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism