Interview with Ben Collins, ABC Kimberley
Vanessa Mills: Tourism is one of the Kimberley's big industries, and it's been a dramatic year and a half since the pandemic changed the world as we know it. A new grants program funded by the state and Commonwealth governments was announced at the weekend to help relieve some of the financial pressures on tourism businesses impacted by pandemic restrictions. But Federal Tourism Minister, Dan Tehan, told Ben Collins getting vaccination rates up is the key to long-term future of tourism in the Kimberley.
Dan Tehan: It's anticipated that three and a half thousand businesses will benefit from this program with, as you say, sole traders eligible for a grant of $2,000; $5,000 for those business who have a turnover of 100,000 to a million and then $10,000 grants for those employing businesses with an annual turnover between 1 million and 10 million.
Now, we've said all along that we will continue to work with the Western Australian state government on providing support to those that have been impacted by COVID-19, and we will continue to do that.
Ben Collins: Here in the Kimberley it's interesting because we're actually at least in part flooded with tourists, and the big issue for a lot of businesses is finding workers and housing those workers. Is there anything the federal government can do with those issues that a lot of the businesses are facing?
Dan Tehan: So, there is very much a mixed approach when it comes to Western Australian tourism. Some businesses will be eligible for this because they will have seen a turnover reduction of 30 per cent or more to be eligible. But there are other businesses as a result of domestic tourism that are doing very well and their biggest issue is getting access to staff. One of the things that we have been doing is working to make sure that we can bring in the staff that will be required to be able to fill these vacancies. And we continue to do that. We're providing greater access through ag visas, through working holiday maker, through the Pacific labour scheme. And the big issue is just making sure that we can get those people in outside the quarantine caps to be able to fill these labour gaps in the tourism industry, agriculture industry and in other places.
Ben Collins: In the East Kimberley many of the tourists come across the border from the Northern Territory and the big issue there has been uncertainty around snap lockdowns. What can the federal government do around that issue?
Dan Tehan: Well, what we've been doing is working through national cabinet to make sure that snap lockdowns become a thing of the past or something which is used very, very infrequently as our vaccination rates continue to climb. And a map has been set out that once we hit 70 per cent then border closures and snap lockdowns would be used on rare occasions. And then obviously when we hit 80 per cent vaccination rates we want life in a COVID-19 normal way to continue where you would have minimal, minimal use of border closures and of snap lockdowns because, obviously, we want people to be able to travel freely and not have to worry about this. And for our tourism industry in particular this is incredibly important.
Ben Collins: Because, obviously, getting remote community people in the Kimberley vaccinated is going to be one of the best things that can be done for tourism to be able to open up and prevent those lockdowns. The WA government says vaccinating people in remote communities is a federal responsibility. Currently reportedly at around 16 per cent of people had their first dose. Has the federal government let down tourism in the Kimberley with low rates of vaccination in remote communities?
Dan Tehan: No, we want to continue to make sure that we roll the vaccine plan out as quickly as we possibly can and make sure it reaches into the communities that need it. We want to work collaboratively with the Western Australian state government in doing this because we understand how important it is to the Western Australian tourism industry and for the Kimberley region in particular that we can get the tourists back, because it is an absolute key element for their livelihoods that they can get the tourists back. So, we'll continue to work with the Western Australian state government, with those remote communities, with the elders, to make sure that we can get those vaccination rates as high as we possibly can.
Vanessa Mills: Dan Tehan, the federal Tourism Minister speaking to Ben Collins. And a range of grants are now available for various businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic – chiefly tourism businesses. You can find more details through the state or federal government websites about eligibility.