Topics: Safe reopening of the international border; Avalon Airport; intention to list Hizballah as a terrorist organisation.
JUSTIN GIDDINGS: Hello everyone – I’m Justin Giddings; CEO of Avalon Airport, and I want to welcome Minister Andrews here today. The Minister is the Minister for Home Affairs, and obviously, Home Affairs is very important to us at the moment as we look to reopen to international visitors – which we’re very excited about. We haven’t operated international services for 20 months here at Avalon, and we can’t wait to bring everyone back, in particular the international students and also visitors to the region eventually and returning Aussies as well. It’s been a tough time for all airports really – particularly regional airports – but we’re very confident that we’ll bounce back as soon as we can and bring people into the region again. We’ve got great assets in terms of Geelong, the Great Ocean Road, Bellarine, but also easy access to Melbourne as well. So we’re primed. We’ve got this beautiful terminal, which has sat empty here, but we’ve maintained it and we’re ready to go as soon as we can.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you very much, Justin. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here at Avalon Airport. I’ve had the opportunity during my time here today to have a look at the airport and to be assured that this airport is ready to reopen and greet international visitors as soon as they possibly can. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet here with the Australian Border Force to see some of our canines in action – looking at our drug detection dogs; our cash detection dogs in action. But the important part of this is the announcement that the Australian Government has already made in relation to reopening of our international borders. Now, Scott Morrison, our Prime Minister, has made it very clear that our priority was Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents. So, we have made sure that our borders are open for vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of Australia. We have now taken the second step in reopening our borders so that from the 1st of December – for eligible visa holders – our borders will continue to be open to significant cohorts, including our economic cohorts. So we will be welcoming back eligible skilled workers; we will also be welcoming back international students; there’ll also be eligible humanitarian visa holders; refugees coming into Australia and temporary visa holders will be able to come into Australia.
This is a really important reopening phase for us. We’re expecting significant numbers of arrivals starting from the middle of next week. It’s important that our regional airports, including Avalon, are well equipped to make sure that they can make the process of greeting and welcoming people back to Australia as smooth and simple as we possibly can. That’s why it’s important that the Australian Border Force maintains its operation at all airports so that it is ready to step up to make sure that they are in a place where they are ready for more passengers to be coming through our airports.
The Morrison government is looking forward to greeting more residents coming back to Australia, more permanent visa holders, all of our visa holders. I would encourage people to have a look at our Home Affairs website – homeaffairs.gov.au – because that will list the eligible categories of visa subclasses for those people who will be able to enter the country without an exemption as of the middle of next week.
QUESTION: Justin, are there any specifics around which international airlines will be flying into Avalon and when those flights will commence?
JUSTIN GIDDINGS: So before the pandemic we had an airline called Citilink and AirAsia operating international services. We did about 450,000 passengers in 2019, and obviously 2020 it all came to a crashing halt. So the first priority is to get those airlines back as quickly as possible. They’re very keen, but at the moment they still have barriers in their country that we need to work through. But we’re very keen to get them. Prime Minister Morrison actually came over and we signed an MOU with VietJet, and we’re very keen for them to start flying flights into Vietnam. We’re also in discussions with other airlines as well. We really want to start flying to New Zealand. That’s a key. I know we probably can’t do that from the New Zealand side until next year, but I really want to get those services going so we can bring people into the region. You know, I was out the other night and there was a real lack of workers. There was a real problem, a real shortage, a skill shortage. So being able to open up the boundaries and the borders to be able to bring those people in what we desperately need. You know, Geelong is very much a university city. It’s got two major campuses – one in the middle and one outside of Geelong. And that just makes the city thrive. So, this is a really good announcement. It’s one that we’ve been waiting for, and we really are keen to take advantage of.
QUESTION: But there’s no specifics around when an international flight could land here yet? Is there a rough time frame? Are we thinking Q1 2022?
JUSTIN GIDDINGS: I definitely want to see it by Q1 2022. AirAsia would fly tomorrow, but it’s really the boundaries of their set place in Australia. At the moment Australians can’t fly to Malaysia, for example. So, they’re big barriers. But I want to do it as soon as possible. We’re ready to go – you can see the terminal, the staff here. And, you know, it’s really sad what happened, but we’re keen to bounce back. But they are certainly very keen.
QUESTION: Are domestic flights flying into Avalon at the moment?
JUSTIN GIDDINGS: Yes, they are. So, we were grounded for domestic for around six months earlier and we started again in early December. I expect that we’ll actually be to about 80 or 90 per cent by Christmas. So, I expect domestic to really bounce back, especially around the eastern seaboard. You know, Queensland eventually, but New South Wales we’re flying to now. So I’m very optimistic about the growth in domestic. But international is what we really want. You know, that’s the sexy thing. That’s the thing we really want to bring in. This is why we built this terminal and, you know, that’s what we’re here about today.
QUESTION: And what about this airline, Bonza? Is that another one you’re in talks with?
JUSTIN GIDDINGS: Yes, we’re in talks with them. So are probably about 30 other regional airports around Australia. They’re super keen. They are a low-cost carrier. They meet our market and our terminal structure, so we certainly are having meetings with them, like everyone else. It’s a matter for them for when they start, but I know they’ve got the aircraft, and it would be great to get another domestic carrier in the market.
QUESTION: Yeah. I noticed as well last week you announced proposals about the relocation of this terminal to the other side of the freeway I understand. Since that proposal was made public has the state government indicated any support or has the Federal? Is there any sense that the proposal is closer to reality?
JUSTIN GIDDINGS: That was the whole vision, about moving the terminal over. But really stage 1 is what we’re really pushing for at the moment, which is a link from a new station directly into the airport. That would allow people from regional Victoria in particular – so Warrnambool, Geelong – to be able to catch a train, go to Avalon Airport itself and then come across in a bus making it so much easier. The V/Line network around our state is very, very cheap, very affordable. So it’s an easy way to get people to the airport. So that’s what our first stage is. And certainly we’re having lots of discussions with both the federal government and the state governments about that. And we’re very keen to see that first stage come to fruition.
QUESTION: Okay. Minister, I’ve got a few questions for you, if that’s okay. With the decision to make or to declare Hizballah a terrorist organisation what impact that will that have on Australia’s ability to deliver aid to Lebanon?
KAREN ANDREWS: So, the decision to list the entirety of Hizballah as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code was a decision that was not taken lightly here in Australia. I have taken advice from our security agencies – most specifically ASIO – in terms of making that decision. We were aware that there may well be some implications in terms of the way that we have connected with Lebanon in the past. But we are confident that we will still be able to work with Lebanon and provide the support that they need. But our priority was to make sure that we were listing Hezbollah in its entirety, because it met the thresholds to be listed as a terrorist organisation.
QUESTION: But when you make a listing like that and the organisation is also the government, I mean, isn’t that going to have an impact on what kind of aid you can provide to the government given you’ve listed them as a terrorist organisation?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, but the priority for Australia was to make sure that if an organisation reached the threshold to be listed as a terrorist organisation, we have an obligation quite frankly to do that. Now, that will mean that in the case of Lebanon we will have to look at what our options may well be in continuing to liaise and connect with them. We are committed to doing that. But I am very confident that the decision I have made to list Hizballah in its entirety was the right one for Australia to take.
QUESTION: But it’s probably a decision that might have an impact on some of the people on the ground who, you know, are living in poverty or need Australia’s aid, right? This is a decision that has major flow-on impacts.
KAREN ANDREWS: Hizballah is a terrorist organisation. So I make no apology for my intention to list them.
QUESTION: Okay. On a separate matter, the Senate is today examining your department’s involvement with the private business proposal put forward by Quarantine Services Australia. Can you confirm if you or your office has ever briefed the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s Office about that proposal?
KAREN ANDREWS: All decisions in relation to that particular organisation were dealt with by the Secretary of the Department, and he is already on the record making those comments, and there is nothing further that I can add to that.
QUESTION: What’s been your involvement with that proposal?
KAREN ANDREWS: I have had a briefing in terms of what that organisation may well be able to offer. I have also spoken to many industry organisations. I’ve spoken to the Business Council of Australia, amongst others, about what the options would be at the time that we needed to look at increasing quarantine capability here in Australia. I’m very confident every discussion that I have had, that it has been in the best interests of Australia and all Australians.
QUESTION: Do you think it will be necessary? Now we’re allowing double vaccinated people into the country without quarantine requirements, is an organisation providing those services needed now?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, it may not be. But that’s a commercial decision for that organisation. They have certainly not been contracted by the Australian Government to provide quarantine services.
Thank you all very much.