Topics: Gold Coast Airport terminal expansion; importance of sticking to the National Plan; Queensland Government’s border closures.
MINISTER ANDREWS: Good morning. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here at Gold Coast Airport. What I’m doing today is visiting to see what the upgrades are looking like and how progress is going. I’ve already seen enough to be very confident that as soon as we can get the borders open – domestically and internationally – Gold Coast Airport will be ready to welcome visitors back here to the Gold Coast.
This is a $380 million investment by the airport – supported by over $8 million in funding from the Federal Government – to make sure we are able to welcome passengers here to the Gold Coast in the best possible way. The upgrades are clearly well underway. We’ve already had the completion of Rydges Airport Hotel, which is up and running now and has now been operating for some time.
Here on the Gold Coast, we know the international and the domestic border closures have had a serious impact. What we need to do is make sure that the Gold Coast is ready and – of course – the Gold Coast Airport is leading that charge by making sure that as soon as the international and domestic borders are open, the Airport will be ready for all the activity here.
I understand that people are concerned about their health and safety but there is a real story to the border closures that is impacting so many people; not just here in Queensland; not just here in Australia; but right across the world. Every single day I get emails and messages from people who have not been able to see their families who are interstate or overseas. Now, for those people – particularly young families – it’s devastating when their children can’t see their grandparents. So there is a very human side to these border closures and we’re seeing it play out in a real way right here on the Gold Coast where we’ve got families separated by the border into New South Wales.
Internationally, the Federal Government is doing all that it can to make sure that borders will be ready to open as soon as it is safe to do so. We’ve already had the announcement by the Prime Minister that we are looking at reopening the international border in November. The Australian Border Force is working around the clock now to make sure that we will be in a position to welcome people internationally here to Australia.
What I don’t want to see – as a Queenslander – is that Queensland gets left behind. In terms of vaccination rates, we are almost the slowest rollout – alongside Western Australia. In the ACT, the first-dose vaccination is sitting at 95%, in New South Wales it’s 90% and yet here in Queensland it is sitting at 69%. I encourage Queenslanders to get out there, roll their sleeves up, get vaccinated as soon as they possibly can – because that means either you or your family or your friends will be able to meet up once again here in Queensland and as soon as those borders are open, we will be welcoming you into Queensland.
Now, I invite Chris Mills, who is the CEO of Queensland Airports Limited to speak specifically about the upgrades that are happening here at Gold Coast Airport.
CHRIS MILLS: Thanks, Minister. Last week on average we had about 800 passengers-a-day through the Gold Coast Airport, which compares to the 18,000-a-day which we used to see prior to COVID. So for the employees of Gold Coast Airport, for the businesses that depend on aviation, it’s been a very challenging time.
One of the positives is that we’ve been able to continue with our construction program through this period and a year ago the Gold Coast Airport Rydges Hotel opened and now the terminal, which has been progressing really well – thanks to the work by Lend Lease in the construction of this building – is really coming along. It’s a three-level building with the fixed links providing four aerobridges which will be installed in the coming months.
We’re working to have the terminal open in the middle of next year which we hope coincides with a real surge of activity for the Gold Coast – for Queensland – as domestic and international borders open up once again. We are doubling the footprint of the existing terminal. The old terminal, existing terminal joins up to the new terminal but with this, for the first time aerobridges, it will provide covered boarding facilities for the passengers who are using that part of the facility.
This really reflects – through what’s been a very difficult time for the airport – our confidence in the future. We prepare a 20-year master plan and while we’ve had almost two years now of challenging times, we’ve continued to build for the future. So with this terminal construction and various other projects that we’ve undertaken over the last three years or so, and over the next couple of years, there’s almost half a billion dollars’ worth of investment that our shareholders have put into this precinct. I’d like to thank the Federal Government and the Minister for her assistance with Border Force and the $8 million of funding that has been provided to assist with international processing.
So next year’s looking bright for us. We expect to have this terminal operational and open in the middle of next year and we are looking forward to welcoming thousands and thousands of passengers back, looking forward to welcoming new destinations, and bringing people once again through the Gold Coast Airport.
So one of the things that makes it really difficult for us from a planning perspective is having certainty around when borders will open again. The sooner the airport, the airlines, everyone connected with the aviation industry and the tourism industry, has confidence and certainty around borders opening in accordance with vaccination targets, the sooner those businesses can stand people up and get things operating once again. So we’re very confident about the future of the Gold Coast, Queensland and Australia and that’s why we’re in-vesting in that future. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Can you just detail some of the features for us, obviously that’s the new part is going to entail?
CHRIS MILLS: It’s been a significant planning exercise from day one with the terminal works. Currently international facilities are up the other end of the existing terminal. All of those international processing facilities will move into this three-level terminal joined up to the existing terminal. So we have a great sense of arrival as you move into the new building. You have a departure lounge at the top level which provides fantastic views over the runway, out to the hinterland, and by doubling the footprint of the existing terminal, we’ve set ourselves up for many years of growth to come. So over time, as the airport continues to grow, we will be able to build on this expansion with further stages of construction over the years to come.
JOURNALIST: Chris, do you think we’re going to be seeing more direct flights from the Gold Coast to other places internationally now that you’ve got this upgrade here?
CHRIS MILLS: I think that one of the fantastic things with the investment in this precinct is that domestically – and internationally – people are re-looking at the Gold Coast. We have an airport hotel which has been open for 12 months now and a modern terminal facility with aerobridge and all of the smart gate and other processing facilities for international passengers. So international airlines, we’re already having discussions about opportunities we would love to see that this results in more new destinations connecting to the Gold Coast once borders open up once again.
JOURNALIST: Chris, just on the borders, is there concern that if we’re opening up behind WA and states like that, that we might lose holiday goers to destinations like Victoria and New South Wales?
CHRIS MILLS: It would be a shame if people from Sydney could – for example – fly to Fiji before they could fly to the Gold Coast. Sydney and Melbourne have been the biggest domestic markets for the Gold Coast Airport. I would hate to think from a tourism perspective that we would miss out on opportunities which other states and other countries are grabbing. So the sooner we get that certainty about opening up once again, the sooner we can plan and we can have those flights and those passengers coming into the Gold Coast – coming into Queensland – and spending money on local businesses.
JOURNALIST: Chris, we’ve heard over the past months some comments… India and Bali… the Government’s comments about ‘why travel to those places when they have such high COVID case numbers?’ I’m just wondering, what does rhetoric like that mean to you?
CHRIS MILLS: Well, this is a significant investment in the long term. So there’s no doubt that in the short term we’ve got some challenges as we wait to hear what he is going to happen with borders. But these facilities are going to be here for years to come. So we’re looking around the world. We’re seeing places opening up. We’re seeing activity in places like Europe and the US. We know that there are countries that are keen once the borders are open to connect once again with Australia. So while we know that the short term is going to continue to be challenging until we’ve got that clarity, we’re very confident about the long term with international traffic coming in and out of the Gold Coast. I think it’s early at this stage. Given that we’re still working on getting domestic borders open, we still don’t have Sydney and Melbourne traffic. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. But what’s encouraging though, is that there is activity overseas that Australia is well regarded – Queensland and the Gold Coast are well positioned – so it’s just a matter of getting that certainty, getting the opportunity to get together with the airlines and I think we’ve got some golden years ahead for our region.
JOURNALIST: How critical will this new design and everything be to attracting more people coming to the Gold Coast? As we’ve seen, Sydney’s open today and Melbourne will soon be opening with their vaccination targets. Is this going to be something that you hope will be a drawcard to help bring people in?
CHRIS MILLS: I think people come to the Gold Coast because of what the broader Gold Coast has to offer. There’s been a lot of investment of course; theme parks; beaches, it’s the hinterland; but there is investment in hotel product as well. This is really making sure that we’re providing the infrastructure to facilitate the amount of activity that can occur. So certainly the airlines and others will look at the Gold Coast Airport precinct and say this has everything we need. But it’s the broader Gold Coast region and northern New South Wales when that border opens, that’s what’s going to bring people into this area. So we’re simply making sure we’ve got the right infrastructure, the right facilities, to give everyone the experience they deserve.
JOURNALIST: When you talk about certainty from the State Government, what would you like that to be? Is it just the vaccination rates or would you like some dates and game plans?
CHRIS MILLS: At the moment, there is a national plan. What we don’t know is when we hit 80 per cent of the population double vaccinated above the age of 16, does that mean Queensland will open? I’m not looking necessarily for a date because that can shift depending on vaccination rates. It’s just really what is the vaccination threshold, what is the target that we should all be aiming for? I think that will help people as well to know that when we hit a certain target, things open up. We can travel once again. We can see our families. Airports are the places where you start and finish journeys, where families come together and one of the fantastic things last year when borders were open for periods of time, we’re seeing families get back together again after such long absences. So just knowing what the plan is and what the targets are, not looking for a date, but it gives us something to work towards.
JOURNALIST: Obviously Christmas will be a massive drawcard for you guys and it will be a massive amount of people flying into the Gold Coast to see family; are you concerned that the borders won’t be open then? That’s going to be a huge loss to not only the airport but also the wider community?
CHRIS MILLS: Yeah, look, I’d be very concerned if the Gold Coast missed out on another holiday period. Really, since December 2019/January 2020, we haven’t had a good holiday period. So that’s coming up to two years now of holiday periods where families can’t get together and people can’t come to the Gold Coast. So, yes, I would be very worried not just for the airport but for all the businesses that depend on the airport and all of tourism operators around the region who really would be looking to the influx of tourists coming from Melbourne, Sydney and other parts of the country.
JOURNALIST: Have you seen a drop in travellers from states that are open to us, like WA?
CHRIS MILLS: At the moment, states or destinations that are connecting with the Gold Coast, Hobart, Adelaide – there are intrastate flights as well to Cairns – what we’re seeing generally across those interstate markets is that confidence isn’t as it was, say six months ago. In April, May, June, there was some very good levels of activity through the airport. We were approaching about 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels. We’re back to less than 5 per cent of pre-COVID levels now, and part of that is because travellers from Adelaide or Hobart or other areas are concerned that they will be caught on one side of the border or the other; they’ll have to invest in a 14-day hotel quarantine. So understandably, confidence isn’t there at the moment, even with the states that are open to Queensland. That will come back once again when people know that the border will stay open at certain levels.
JOURNALIST: Minister, I just wanted to ask you a bit about the general concern from the public. We just don’t know when everything is going to open up? Is it the vaccination rate? Is it a date? Both? I guess maybe first domestically, do you any views on when you think Queensland should be opening up?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Queensland needs to be very clear about whether or not it’s going to stick to the National Plan; they’ve raised some uncertainty about whether or not they will continue to support the National Plan, but they need to be very clear and very open and upfront with Queenslanders here. When there is an 80 per cent double dose vaccination rate in Queensland, is the Queensland Premier going to make sure that our borders are open?
Here on the Gold Coast we have been hit holiday season, after holiday season where we haven’t been able to get the tourists in that we need. The businesses here need certainty; the people who live here need certainty. They need to know when they’re going to be able to see their families and see their interstate friends. The big risk is that Queensland is being left behind and that as the New South Wales borders open up – particularly internationally – you will see an increase in international flights going into Sydney. That immediately disadvantages Queensland amongst other states, because tourists, skilled workers will be coming into New South Wales and not into Queensland. It means that visitors will come into New South Wales, not into Queensland. Queenslanders – if they want to catch up with people – will need to leave the state and that’s not a good outcome for us. Then – of course – they face the risk that they won’t be able to get back in when they leave; they will be shut out of their own state. So businesses and people, families; all need certainty. They need to know what the commitments are from this Government here in Queensland.
JOURNALIST: When do you think they need to make that announcement?
MINISTER ANDREWS: They should make it today. Thank you very much.