• Canberra Airport has launched legal action over the ACT’s mask mandates
  • Masks no longer required at shops, pubs, nightclubs but necessary at airports
  • CEO Stephen Byron described mask mandate as unjustified and discriminatory
  • ACT health officials were asked to scrap rule or explain why it needs to stay

An Australian airport has launched legal action to fight ‘appalling’ mask rules still in place inside their facilities despite them being scrapped elsewhere. 

Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron said on Tuesday the mask rule was ‘discrimination’ and has no public health basis in fighting Covid. 

‘We’re not (seeking) damages, it’s just to make it clear that this is illegal and it is beyond the Human Rights Act,’ Mr Byron told ABC Canberra.

‘It is a discrimination with no legal basis, there’s no health basis, there’s no data or evidence that requires this, everyone knows and agree (with) that.’

Mr Byron previously gave the ACT’s chief health officer Kerryn Coleman a deadline of 5pm Monday to revoke the mandate or explain why the strict rules must stay.

The mask rules is no longer in place in cafes, bars, pubs, gyms, cinemas or retail settings but it is still enforced Australia-wide on all aircraft and inside all airports. 

On Monday morning, Mr Byron said he was still waiting for answers from the ACT government after the airport’s lawyers issued a letter last week threatening legal action.

‘There is no evidence the airport terminal is any more infectious than going to any nightclub or shopping centre in Canberra,’ Mr Byron told Daily Mail Australia.

‘The mandate is appalling, unnecessary, completely discriminatory and not based on any scientific evidence.’

According to a 2021 study by Stanford and Yale Universities, masks did reduce the spread of Covid-19 in community settings.

However, there is no evidence to support airport terminal buildings are an increased risk – a person walking through an airport can then immediately go to shop or pub where no mask is required.

Canberra Airport chief executive Stephen Byron (pictured) described mask mandates inside the airport terminal as appalling and completely discriminatory
Canberra Airport chief executive Stephen Byron (pictured) described mask mandates inside the airport terminal as appalling and completely discriminatory

Mr Byron stressed he was not asking for masks to be scrapped on aircraft, just within airport buildings.

‘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.

He has also reached out to Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly to get his support.

Anyone caught not wearing a mask when required in the ACT faces an on the spot fine of $1000 or up to $8000 for more serious incidents.

The ACT began enforcing mask-wearing at Canberra Airport in January 2021, before Covid vaccinations were available for Australians.

The ACT has relaxed mask rules in most settings, including nightclubs, shopping centres and strip clubs. Pictured, people in Canberra

The ACT has relaxed mask rules in most settings, including nightclubs, shopping centres and strip clubs. Pictured, people in Canberra

Canberra’s vaccination rate over the age five is now 97.2 per cent,’ Mr Byron said.

‘Our industry was hardest hit by the pandemic when the borders closed.

‘We should have been one of the first when restrictions eased.’

The airport has argued the mask mandate in the terminal is a breach of human rights.

Solicitor Andrew Corkhill, of Quinn Emanuel lawyers, is acting for Canberra Airport.

‘The mandate creates a tangible stigma around attending Canberra Airport, sending the false message to would-be travellers that visiting the airport carries a greater risk than visiting other ACT premises that are not subject to mask mandates including pubs, nightclubs, strip clubs and brothels,’ Mr Corkhill wrote in the letter to the health department. 

‘If you refuse to revoke the face mask mandate or otherwise provide a sufficient explanation for it, adversely affected airport workers and travellers may be compelled to commence legal proceedings against you in the ACT Supreme Court under the Human Rights Act.’

Mr Byron said an ACT government solicitor had promised a response would be provided ‘shortly’ but said the 5pm Monday deadline remains.

The government says the mask mandate in place for Canberra Airport and on domestic flights into and out of the ACT, is in line with a nationally consistent approach agreed to by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the Australian aviation industry.

‘While it is up to each jurisdictional government to implement the legislation to enforce these rules, they are currently consistent for passengers on all flights and in all airports across the country,’ a spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia.

‘ACT Health will continue to assess the need for mandates in different settings in line with the most up-to-date information and advice.

The government confirmed Dr Coleman received correspondence from Capital Airport Group. 

‘This has been handled by the ACT Government Solicitors Office. As this is a legal matter, we have no further comment at this time,’ the spokesperson added.

Mask mandates remain in place in the nation’s capital on public transport and in high-risk settings such as hospitals, aged care homes and jails.

Mr Byron acknowledged ACT would become the first state or territory to overhaul mask wearing rules at airports if his demand was met.

‘I don’t think any airport terminals in Australia should have mask mandates,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

The Australian Airport Association is also fighting for mask rules to be eased, saying it was not only confusing for passengers but an impediment for airport tenants trying to rebuild post-Covid.

Source – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10891879/Canberra-Airport-follows-challenging-health-department-mask-rule.html