Flight Centre, Australia's largest travel retailer, has renewed its threat to take the Western Australian government to court over Covid border closures.
Over the course of the pandemic, the company has been forced to shut hundreds of stores across Australia to handle a near complete closure of the domestic and international travel industry.
Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner had previously voiced his intent to challenge the McGowan government, but the Premier’s release of the re-opening roadmap on Friday prompted Turner to look more seriously at legal action.
“We had a conference on Friday morning with our legal team and a QC,” said Turner, in relation to the travel ban. “But we have been working on this for some time. We are looking at going to the Federal Court for a judicial review.”
The transitional plan released by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan revealed that the state’s borders will remain closed until 90% of the state’s population (over 12) have been fully vaccinated. McGowan further clarified that this was not expected to happen until February 2022.
Flight Centre remains adamant that it will sue if domestic and international travel is not resumed at 70-80% vaccination figures.
“The economic fallout is one thing. If you look at tourism, hospitality and travel – airlines have been badly hit, farmers have been hit,” added Turner.
“But the other aspect is relatives […] the people with family interstate who can’t visit for Christmas, it’s a long time waiting. Australia has a constitution for a good reason. We’re a democracy, we should be able to travel freely.”
Minister for Health Roger Cook said that the Western Australian government was ‘up for the fight’ against the travel company.
“We’ve had legal challenges in the past and we’ve faced them all. Our objective is to keep Western Australia safe in the context of a public health emergency,” said the Minister for Health.
“People can have their legal challenges, but we are up for that fight. We are very confident of the decisions that we’ve made and the legal framework under which we’ve made them. This situation I no different. If people want to challenge these decisions, they are at liberty to do so, but we are confident of all the measures that we have put in place.”
Flight Centre has said that they will not initiate a challenge unless they are confident of winning. The company is subject to several border restrictions from other state governments, but have decided to begin with Western Australia.
“We are focused on Western Australia because they seem the most unreasonable,” said Turner.
“It’s just one of the states, but it represents quite a big business […] it has an impact on us, as it does on a lot of businesses.”
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) president for Western Australia weighed in, commenting that he would boycott Flight Centre if they proceeded with the challenge.
“The threats constitute a company that has a focus on profits and not people, and would damage their business reputation in Western Australia immeasurably,” said Mark Duncan-Smith, WA president of the AMA.
“The arrogance that the people who run Flight Centre think they know better than the government, when they have all the modelling, is to be unbelievable. They need to pull their head in.”
Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner pointed out that the state has to open eventually.
“We have other backers in travel and tourism […] and we believe we can act along to get thing move. The state has to open some time, whether it’s 90% or 90% that doesn't make a difference, and our experts will be able to show that.”