Lawyers acting on behalf of Canberra Aiport will launch legal action as early as today against the ACT Government for continuing to impose a mask mandate in airport terminals.
They will argue this is in breach of the ACT’s Human Rights Act as it’s a burden on travellers and workers that can no longer be justified given the COVID-19 restrictions imposed in other settings.
Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron said he was “heartbroken” to go down this path.
“We will advise our lawyers to file the paperwork because we have no other choice and we have a responsibility to the aviation staff and customers to fix this,” he said.
“It’s not like we haven’t tried asking nicely and even persistently and waited and waited, patiently and impatiently.
“We have asked for justification but there is none because there is no health reason for it to remain.”
Mr Byron said it was particularly disappointing given the airport had worked closely with the ACT Government throughout the pandemic, including working with ACT Health to facilitate a vaccination hub and testing centre.
But now he found himself at his wit’s end, saying continued mandates sent a message to the public that air travel was in some way dangerous.
“After all of the damage that was done to the aviation industry with border shut downs through COVID-19, the last thing we want to be doing is telling people air travel and tourism is more dangerous than going to the shops, footy or the pub,” he said.
Furthermore, Mr Byron said people found it both annoying and perplexing, and staff were fed up with having to enforce it.
Masks are currently mandatory in the ACT in settings defined as high-risk such as aged care, disability services, correctional centres and the hospital.
They are still required on public transport.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said no one was contesting the airport’s right to bring a legal challenge against the ACT Government, but he would prefer a “nationally consistent approach”.
“Why is Canberra Airport so different from the rest of the country?” Mr Barr asked in response to Mr Byron’s calls.
“In practical reality, you still need to wear a mask when you’re on the plane … so it becomes a question of when you need to put your mask on,” he said.
However, Mr Byron disputed this argument.
“Nothing in COVID-19 worked on a nationally consistent basis. Nothing ever did. It’s never been nationally uniform on any day of the last two years,” he said.
“If the east coast was going to wait for Western Australia, we would have been in lockdown until the end of February.
“It’s a joke.”
The Chief Minister told reporters earlier this week that the public health advice around airports was different from the rest of the community because they were regularly exposed to international and interstate travellers.
He also noted there would come a time when the mask mandates would be lifted but said that was a question and decision for Chief Health Officers around the country to make.
“I have made the observation that mask mandates are at their most effective when they do actually make a difference and are logical,” he said.
“But the question of whether or not it is the right time to make this change is one the health professionals are reluctant to move on at the moment.”