Doctors say Flight Centre should ‘pull its head in’ after legal threat to WA borders

Medical professionals have lashed out at Flight Centre’s threat to launch legal action against the Western Australian government’s ongoing border restrictions, calling on the company to “pull its head in”.

Flight Centre is claiming it will sue if the state’s domestic and international borders don’t reopen in line with the national plan, when Western Australia reaches 70 to 80% vaccination targets.

Flight Centre’s chief executive, Graham Turner, said he believed his legal team had a “reasonable chance of success” and he would know his course of action by the end of the week.

“The economic fallout is one thing – if you look at tourism, hospitality and travel, airlines have been badly hit, farmers have been hit,” he said.

“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.

“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.”

Turner said he’d been contemplating a legal course of action for “some time” but had been waiting for Western Australia to announce its reopening plan before deciding the “best course”.

Under premier Mark McGowan’s transition plan, the border will remain closed until at least late January, when 90% of people aged 12 and above are vaccinated. McGowan has said the threshold, which depends on a further 250,000 West Australians getting vaccinated, will save 200 lives.

Turner said his legal team would have a greater chance of success than billionaire Clive Palmer’s failed high court challenge, which attempted to draw upon section 92 of the constitution to argue interstate movement should be “absolutely free”.

Last year, the court unanimously agreed the border policy was not discriminatory and was justified by the level of risk associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Western Australia announces plans to lift Covid border restrictions at 90% vaccination rate – video
Western Australia announces plans to lift Covid border restrictions at 90% vaccination rate – video

Turner said his challenge would be “different to the Palmer case” as he would lead a judicial review in federal court to prove the border directions were unreasonable, and circumstances had changed since the vaccination rollout.

“We have other backers in travel and tourism … and we believe we can act along to get things moving. The state has to open some time, whether it’s 80% or 90% that doesn’t make a difference, and our experts will be able to show that,” he said.

West Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association president, Mark Duncan-Smith, said if Flight Centre were to take legal action against the Western Australian government, he would “never [step] foot in another store again”.

“The threats constitute a company that has a focus on profits and not people, and would damage their business reputation in Western Australia immeasurably,” he said.

“The arrogance that the people who run Flight Centre think they know better than the government, when they have all the modelling, is to me unbelievable … they need to pull their head in.

Duncan-Smith said while there could be some “nuances” with respect to the state’s reopening, he was broadly supportive of the West Australian government’s roadmap.

“We would see excessive disease and deaths from opening at 70% or 80% … and that’s consistent with ANU and UWA modelling which showed, aspiration-wise, you should only open up at 90%,” he said.

“We have the lowest number of public hospital and intensive care beds of any state or territory, a medical system with no reserves. We will be more easily overrun than New South Wales or Victoria, who are already tinkering on the edge of being overrun.

“The fewer cases we get the better, hundreds of cases a day, not thousands or our medical system would be overrun.”

While the Doherty Institute’s modelling is based on vaccination targets of 16-year-olds and above, Western Australia’s reopening requires 90% of people aged 12 and over to be vaccinated before reopening.

“We haven’t had a single community death, we’re effectively Covid free … things are booming,” Duncan-Smith said.

“We’re inviting a killer disease into the state. Of course we have to eventually, but we’re going from completely normal life to restrictions, that has to be understood.”

McGowan said he acknowledged some people would be “frustrated” they wouldn’t be able to reunite with family over Christmas.

“But as difficult as it is, it’s for the right reasons,” he said.

“The difference in easing border controls at 90% rather than 80% is 200 West Australian lives are saved.”

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