Transcript - Virgin Australia Press Conference

10.06AM

JAYNE HRDLICKA

Today is a great news story at Virgin Australia. We, a month ago, announced the introduction of 10 new aircraft and off the back of that we announced 380 new cabin crew members joining our team, many of whom have been part of Virgin Australia before and are now coming back to the team. So today was a day of family and celebration. We’ve announced an additional 250 jobs for Virgin Australia, which will be a combination of pilots, ground handling team and IT and tech services support. We’re really excited about what that all holds. Those 250 people are coming to join the team to help us stage another 700 weekly services across Australia. By the end of October, we will have five new destinations. That includes Adelaide and Perth to Cairns. It includes Sydney to Darwin and Melbourne and Sydney to Townsville, which is very exciting for our new services that are important to those communities.

It also means significant additional frequencies across Australia, which includes an additional 30 per cent of frequencies between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It includes a 40 per cent uplift in services to key local destinations in Tasmania and in Queensland. In Tasmania it’s Launceston and Hobart. It’s an additional 500 – sorry, an additional 50 weekly services to Tasmania. It’s an additional set of services to Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Hamilton Island, Whitsundays, Townsville and Cairns in Queensland. So, for Queensland and Tasmanian tourism operators, it’s fantastic news today. We’re really, really excited about what this means for everyone.

Today I also acknowledge that my comments on Monday were – received quite a lot of commentary. I absolutely understand my words taken in isolation were hurtful to some people. If I had my time again, I would make my point a bit differently, but today is really all about the future of domestic travel in Australia. I’d also like to make an absolute commitment that on Monday – I’d also like to state that on Monday when I spoke at QUT, the context was said quite clearly that the vulnerable need to be protected before international borders can be opened and if we want people to be vaccinated before international borders open, that should happen too. That has been our statement at Virgin Australia. It’s been my statement and it continues to be the case, and today is really exciting news because we’re focused on domestic tourism and all [indistinct] re-opening up jobs and activity across Australia.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

When I board an aircraft, which is usually almost on a daily basis, I have a flight attendant who gives obviously that safety instruction, whether it’s Amelia or Dominique, or one of the other wonderful crew, they usually tell us – they always tell us – that in case of emergency, a row of lights will appear to our nearest exit. Virgin Australia could have taken that emergency exit last year and made an exit from Australian aviation. Who would have thought about 12 months ago that Virgin Australia would be in the position it is today? Virgin decided not to take that emergency exit. It took some of the oxygen from one of the face masks that dropped from the plane, provided by the Australian Government, Australian taxpayers, sector-wide, so that not just Virgin but other airlines too could continue to fly. It had faith placed in it by new owners, by new investors and now, today, we are at this very exciting event at the Brisbane Airport celebrating more planes, new planes, more jobs, more opportunities, more routes, new destinations.

I say well done, Virgin, for having that faith in the Australian people. I say well done to the Australian people for having that faith in this great company. And it is a great company. It’s been well led by Jayne Hrdlicka. I’m proud of the fact that when I fly Virgin, I know I’ve got a friendly, reliable airline that has placed its faith in Australia and will continue to do so to those new destinations.

This is a great day as well, particularly for Queensland and northern Australia with so many of the flights, so many of the new routes that are taking place, the expanded routes, going into Cairns and Townsville and Darwin and other places besides – Tasmania as well. But right across the nation Australians can rely on Virgin and they can be very happy knowing that they can holiday at home and take advantage still of one of those half-priced airfares available via Virgin, available via the airlines that are taking part in it, that they can holiday at home and place their confidence in Australian tourism. The Australian Government has $4.5 billion of sector-wide support for the aviation and tourism industries. They are vital industries to our nation and I do thank Jayne and her leadership team. I thank Jayne for her leadership for making sure that they are recruiting, that Virgin are looking for more staff and I’m very delighted that the 6,000 staff who are currently on the books of Virgin have every confidence in the future of this great company.

So, today is a red-letter day and it should be. It’s an absolutely brilliant and bonza day not just for Virgin but for aviation, and I’m very excited to be here and very pleased to be standing alongside Jayne Hrdlicka and her wonderful airline, that are going to provide such opportunities and more jobs into the future.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, obviously with international borders reopening being pushed well into 2022, do you foresee that the Federal Government will have to do ongoing financial support for airlines such as Virgin?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, we will continue to look at it, as we have. We have put in place, of course, the Regional Airline Network Support. We put in place the Domestic Aviation Network Support. We added to it the Tourism Aviation Network Support. We’ve put in place the RANS, the DANS and the TANS and we want people to make sure that they take advantage of those half-price fares. And of course, we’ll continue to talk with the likes of Jayne Hrdlicka and other airlines as well to see what they need and we will, of course, continue to monitor, as we have done, through Austrade and other organisations to see where the areas of assistance is most needed and to tweak the various programs that we’ve put in place. We’ve extended the DANS and the RANS through the whole process. This has been a very challenging time not just for the aviation sector, not just for tourism, but indeed for the nation and we’ve provided that support. We’ve provided that measured support. It was always targeted. It was always very, very necessary and I’m glad that it’s kept so many people in a job.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister and several other ministers have had some quite strong comments off the back of Ms Hrdlicka’s comments earlier this week. What do you think about her explanation and what do you have to say in the wake of her apology?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m very satisfied with Jayne’s explanation. She’s clarified her comments and that’s good.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, I just ask you again on those comments, the Prime Minister was quite [indistinct] been quite honest today. Your thoughts on the comments when you first heard them and second of all without taking it too far out of context, [indistinct] the Government on the border closures, because these airlines can’t survive? We see Qantas announcing a number of job losses, wage freezes because they can’t fly and they want the Government to open the borders.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, indeed, and airlines are in a much better position now had they would have been had that assistance not been provided and that’s why we have put on the table $4.5 billion of aviation support right across the sector and whether it’s for the large airlines, whether it’s indeed for small regional airlines, charter companies, right across the system we’ve provided that necessary support to keep people in jobs, to keep planes in the air because we know that planes in the air means jobs on the ground. I appreciate Qantas has made commercial decisions and announced them today based on what they need to do to keep their company going. We want Qantas, Virgin, Rex, Alliance and other airlines to continue to provide the services that they do for Australians, domestically, regionally – particularly regionally. I know the support we’ve provided – and I’m a regional member – but for that assistance many of those regional communities, dozens in fact, would not have seen a plane land at all and that has been vital respiratory equipment, face masks, indeed, perhaps most importantly, front-line medical personnel arriving at those rural and remote places which they otherwise would not have been able to do so, but for the support that the Australian Government has provided. And certainly Jayne has made it clear about her comments and that’s right and proper for her to do so. And I know that we have followed the best possible medical advice all the way through. So, we’ve taken that advice from Professor Brendan Murphy. We’ve taken that advice from Professor Paul Kelly. We’ll continue to do so. We’ll continue to listen to that advice, to heed that advice and do the right thing in the national interest.

JOURNALIST

In terms of weekly caps on international arrivals, when will that figure increase? Can you put a month on that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course, we work with states as well and their capacity to be able to handle quarantine. We work with states and they run the public health, of course and all those quarantining and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue, of course, as I said before, to listen to the best possible medical advice.

JOURNALIST

So, should the Government consider international flights to Toowoomba so the Wellcamp proposal can go ahead?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again happy to receive – and I’m sure the Prime Minister is as well; he said so – a submission or proposal by the Queensland Government. I know that we’re working very diligently and professionally, as you would expect us to do, with the Victorian Government. They’ve got proposals on the table too. We’ll look at those as they come in.

JOURNALIST

Would you say, Deputy Prime Minister, the vaccine rollout [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’re getting on with it: 3.1 million Australians have been vaccinated. I encourage Australians to roll up their sleeves and to get that jab. Of course, we just opened it up to over-50s. I’m glad that today Minister Greg Hunt the Health Minister has announced that pharmacies – and I’m looking forward to going to the pharmacy conference on the Gold Coast this afternoon. We’ve got 56 new locations opening up with primary health being able to also provide those vaccinations. So, I urge and encourage Australians, it’s very, very safe to get that jab and to make sure that they do so not just for themselves, not just for their own families but for that stranger they’ve never met. To be able to get that community vaccination happening is so, so important.

JOURNALIST

It’s a great day for Virgin with these jobs being announced. [Indistinct] wage freezes?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Oh, I feel for them. I know what it’s like to have lost a job. I know what it’s like to not be certain of your future. I appreciate it very much. I’ve been in their shoes. But if you can look at where we were 12 months ago with the aviation sector, whether it was Virgin – Virgin was facing complete collapse. Qantas was facing a very uncertain future. Their future is looking much rosier today thanks to not just to the support of the Federal Government, $4.5 billion of sector-wide assistance, but also the Australian people taking advantage of those half-price fares made possible through that $1.2 million TANS assistance. We’ll continue to that. So, I say to those people who have lost a job I feel for you; yes, I do. And we’ll continue to provide the assistance to aviation but also to all sectors of the economy. I know that there are jobs out there and if the aviation sector is something that they can’t get back into, then there are a lot of jobs in regional Australia at the moment and sometimes people do have to remake themselves and remodel themselves to take a job that is available. It mightn’t be their dream job, but it could be the job that keeps them, you know, in good stead until that potential opening comes up in the aviation sector as it strengthens as we get more international bubbles opening up and more travel with other countries and indeed as regional and domestic routes expand and enlarge into the future.

JOURNALIST

Just a question for Jayne on all these new services, how much does it hinge on the borders staying open and particularly Queensland? We’ve got Townsville and Cairns there. We’re known for slamming them shut at any moment. How much does it hinge on these borders staying open?

JAYNE HRDLICKA

Well, we’ve done a fantastic job as an airline in moving capacity up and down as border movements require and these announcements are assuming that borders stay open; we expect that we can continue to do a good job in keeping the community safe and keeping the domestic borders open. That’s the underlying assumption that all our announcements today are predicated on.

JOURNALIST

Of the new jobs that were announced, how many are existing employees that were furloughed and how many are new positions?

JAYNE HRDLICKA

That will play out over the course of the next several weeks as we go to each of the work groups and redeployment lists and put out offers.

JOURNALIST

Have you been concerned about the slow pace of vaccine rollout because it really does hinge – the international border reopening really does hinge on the full vaccination program?

JAYNE HRDLICKA

It’s really important that the vaccination [indistinct] and Australians embrace the process and [indistinct].

JOURNALIST

If the rollout isn’t completed and the international borders don’t open by this time next year, can you survive?

JAYNE HRDLICKA

We’re principally a domestic airline so we’re just fine without international borders opening up. We speak on behalf of all of the people in the community who are really hungry for borders to open up, but remember a third of Australians were born overseas. They’ve got family and friends that live offshore, not just Australians wanting to come, but wanting to get out to see family and friends. Before you ever think about the business case, which is all about the economics of opening up, there’s a human factor here, which is really important [indistinct] and that’s what we stand for.

JOURNALIST

Was today’s announcement planned or has this come off the back of your comments on Monday that led to public outcry. You’ve got to remember I think it was Tuesday, “Boycott Virgin” was trending on Twitter.

JAYNE HRDLICKA

Today’s announcement has been planned for several weeks. It’s not easy to get into the Deputy Prime Minister’s calendar, so to have today planned, have the space planned in the hanger and to have Michael’s time available, that’s been in the works for some time.

JOURNALIST

People are wanting vaccines, wanting people to get vaccines. What’s the threshold for you to [indistinct] international flights?

JAYNE HRDLICKA

It’s really not for me. It’s up to the health authorities and Government to make those calls. What we’d encourage people to do is do their bit to protect the community.

JOURNALIST

Would you be confident to say financial impacts –

JAYNE HRDLICKA

Sorry, I can’t hear you.

JOURNALIST

Would you be confident enough to say that most of the financial impacts on Virgin from the pandemic is behind you?

JAYNE HRDLICKA

As long as domestic borders stay open, the worst of the pandemic is behind us. What’s happened off the back of the [indistinct] there is that Australians have gone out and getting out and reconnecting with your life and all the fantastic experiences you have encourages you to do the next one and the next one but also makes you feel more comfy going back to the office. Going back to the office makes you feel more comfortable for [indistinct] colleagues [indistinct] industry, which is rising very sharply as people are going out and to fly and to feel comfortable again. Running around this great country [indistinct].

10.12AM

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