Scott Morrison has declared reopening borders crucial to saving aviation jobs, urging premiers to nominate a date for restarting interstate travel.
The prime minister wants state leaders to outline a July date for relaxing restrictions to give the coronavirus-battered sectors certainty.
Virgin Australia’s administrators have raised concerns bidders may pull out unless the federal government extends support beyond September. But Mr Morrison insists state governments have the power to provide a boost for airlines under immense pressure because of restrictions.
“If we’re concerned about Virgin employees, it is very important that we open up the domestic borders in this country,” he told parliament on Wednesday.
“We need to get planes flying around Australia. If you want to see planes flying around Australia, Mr Speaker, we need to open up these domestic borders.”
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has copped the brunt of criticism for a hard line approach that could see borders open as late as September.
Liberal governments in SA and Tasmania are also keeping borders shut, along with WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan.
The prime minister denied it was a partisan issue.
“It is in Virgin’s interests, it is in Qantas’ interests, it’s in the aviation sector’s interest that we move to opening up travel in Australia as soon as possible,” he said.
Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said no one wanted restrictions to remain in place for a day longer than needed.
“But you also don’t want to forget the whole reason that you did this in the first place was to prevent a pandemic running amok throughout the country in the way that it has in so many other countries,” he told the ABC.
The opposition argues the Virgin administrators’ call shows Australia’s second airline was in serious jeopardy.
Aviation workers rallied outside parliament to call for extended wage subsidies for the beleaguered sector.
The Transport Workers’ Union is calling for JobKeeper to be extended for aviation workers beyond the September cut-off.
But Mr Morrison has left the door open to removing other sectors from the wage subsidy scheme early after childcare workers were shifted to transition payments.
“Where there is a better way to do things, we won’t step aside from doing them in a better way,” he said.
He said Australia was now on the road back from the economic storm, signalling government support would be decreased rather than ramped up.
Treasury is due to hand its JobKeeper review to the government in late June, but a final decision won’t be made until the July 23 economic update. Labor argues the findings won’t be released until after the July 4 Eden-Monaro by-election.
There have been 102 deaths from coronavirus in Australia.