Interview with Fauziah Ibrahim and Johanna Nicholson, ABC Weekend Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: ‘Holiday Here This Year’ tourism campaign, Support for the tourism sector, Travel restrictions with New Zealand, Australia-China relationship, New Zealand Trade Minister comments.

Fauziah Ibrahim: The Government is today launching the next stage of Tourism Australia’s ‘Holiday Here This Year’ campaign, promoting domestic travel and support for the tourism industry.

Johanna Nicholson: The campaign will encourage Australians to visit regions that have suffered most from the border closures, and, also, from bushfires. Let’s speak now to Dan Tehan, who is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Minister, welcome, and thanks for joining us this morning. Just take us through what this $5 million is going towards.

Dan Tehan: It’s going towards a marketing campaign. Everyone’s got the kids back to school, they’re back at work, and there’s no better time to plan your next holiday and what we want is for all Australians to holiday here, at home. There are wonderful, wonderful destinations right across our nation, and there’s not a better time than now to book that next holiday here in Australia and by doing that, you’ll be supporting 660,000 jobs and an industry which is a hallmark of our nation. International tourists flock to Australia every year, obviously, COVID’s put a stop to that at the moment so we want all Australians to explore the wonderful tourist destinations we’ve got right across our nation.

Nicholson: I’ve spoken to a lot of people, and many of them feel that they are due a holiday at the moment. But, there’s a lot of reluctance about booking a holiday. We’ve all seen the scenes of the snap border closures that have caught people off guard, and the chaos that that’s caused. And, the reality is that COVID-19 is still very much present in Australia, and there’s a risk that holidays could be cancelled, or at least delayed.

Tehan: Look, what we want to do is really encourage people to think about that next holiday and to make that booking. We’re working with states and territories to make sure that there’s more consistency and more continuity around border closures, because we know that’s so important that people get that certainty ...

Nicholson: … Like what, for example?

Tehan: Well, for instance, I met with the Victorian Tourism Minister where we discussed how we could work together to get a consistent approach right across the nation. I’ll be meeting with my other state and territory tourism ministers to see whether we can get a uniform approach to that but what we need is people to think about the tourism industry, and to think about what’s good for them. We all know, as we’ve got the kids back to school and we’re back at work, that we need to start planning that next holiday. People have been doing it within their own state or territory and we’ve seen very strong rebound when it’s come to regional tourism and people travelling within their own state or territory. And, what we’re encouraging people to do through this is also look beyond their state and territory borders, and to think about that next holiday and some of the deals will involve people being able to give you refunds, if something did happen. But, just explore the wonderful destinations and opportunities that we have here in Australia and think about how you can book that next holiday.

Nicholson: This campaign is obviously designed to get people out and spending, to boost the tourism sector, which, of course, has been struggling, as you say, due to the coronavirus. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has asked for an extension to JobKeeper, particularly for the tourism industry, because of how much they are struggling. What’s the chances of that from the Government?

Tehan: Well, we’ve said that JobKeeper will end at the end of March but I’ve been in discussions over Christmas and the New Year with the tourism industry about whether there could be support that we could provide them. We’re looking at the data to see what impact, especially the loss of international tourists, has had on various regions, and trying to work out — with the rebound in regional tourism — how you work out what regions have been most severely impacted by the loss of international tourism. And, the other thing we want to do is we want to make sure the states and territories play their part, and the Queensland Premier, along with other state and territory leaders, could really play an influential role by getting a consistency around hotspot definitions and border closures. If the Queensland Premier could play her part in that, that would be wonderful for the Queensland tourism industry. And, if we could get that consistency, that would provide certainty to the sector. And, I’ve got no doubt we’d see a strong rebound, strong rebound right across the tourism sector here in Australia.

Nicholson: Still on travel, what’s the latest on the suspension of the New Zealand-Australia travel bubble?

Tehan: So, we’re taking the expert medical advice on when we’ll reopen the border. The way that we’ve dealt with the coronavirus so successfully is that we’ve listened to the medical experts, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. So, we will …

Nicholson: … Is the suspension due to expire this afternoon, though?

Tehan: Well, we’ll take the expert medical advice on that. That’s under consideration and as soon as we’ve got the advice on that we’ll obviously let New Zealand know, because we want to be doing everything we can to encourage New Zealanders back to Australia. We had that one-way travel bubble operating and we would like to see that open and New Zealanders returning, because that was helping our tourism industry. But, we’ve got to take the advice of the medical experts on that, and as soon as they’ve made their next decision we’ll be informing New Zealand of that.

Nicholson: You’re the Minister for Tourism, but you’re also the Trade Minister, as well. And, you’ve written to your Chinese counterpart. Have you heard back from him yet?

Tehan: No, I haven’t. I wrote a very detailed letter to my Chinese counterpart. We were appointed trade ministers at roughly the same time, just before Christmas, and, I’ve said that there’s very — there are a lot of ways that we can constructively work together. So, now, I’ll wait patiently for that reply. But, one of the things we’re able to do is still work together in multilateral forums like the World Trade Organization and I was on a hook-up with other trade ministers, with my Chinese counterpart, on Friday night, where we were discussing reform of the WTO. So, we’ll continue to work very proactively. We’ll continue to work to make sure that the approach we take is very principled but, also, where necessary, we’ll be patient in dealing with all the different countries that we have trading relationships with, as necessary.

Nicholson: Obviously, that tension still remains, and Australia was given some advice on our relationship with China this week by the New Zealand Trade Minister, who said that Australia, the Australian Government, needs to show some more respect when it comes to dealing with China. You have spoken to the New Zealand Trade Minister since then. What did they have to say?

Tehan: The New Zealand Trade Minister rang me to explain his comments. He then put out a clarifying tweet, and we’ve agreed that we’ll meet this coming week and we’ll have a bilateral meeting. My hope is — and I think it will be — this coming Friday. That will be the first bilateral meeting that I’ve had as Trade Minister — formal one, and I’m looking forward to having that with my New Zealand counterpart. Our friendship is, obviously, an incredibly strong one, and our trading relationship is an incredibly strong one so I look forward to working cooperatively with him.

Nicholson: Is there something to his comments?

Tehan: Look, he said that, in his tweet, that we all pursue our national interests according to our own interests and New Zealand does that, Australia does that and the best thing that we can do is make sure that we understand that each nation pursues its interests according to what’s best for that nation and that’s what he said in his clarifying tweet. I was grateful that he rang me. I was grateful that he put out that clarifying tweet, and I look forward to having a very good discussion with him this coming Friday when we go through all the areas that we can work collaboratively together.

Nicholson: It is challenging, though, to pursue Australia’s interests, if you’re not even receiving a letter or a reply back to your letter that you sent to the Chinese Trade Minister. So, what is the way forward? Particularly if the relations continue to deteriorate and they keep affecting trade, for example, on China’s imports of iron ore. You know, if you do not hear back from China, what is your plan forward?

Tehan: Well, the plan is to be incredibly proactive. The plan is to …

Nicholson: … But, if you’re not hearing back from them?

Tehan: I mean, just because we’re not hearing back doesn’t mean we stand still. There’s free trade agreements with the United Kingdom and the EU to pursue. There’s a huge market with opportunities with India, which we need to continue to explore. Once again, we’ll need patience in doing that, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be proactive. We’ve got very strong trading relations with Japan. We’ve got very strong trading relationship with Vietnam, and they’re just going to continue to grow. There’s a new Biden Administration in the US, so we’ve got to pursue the opportunities there, and work collaboratively with them. APEC needs to really rebound. Malaysia did a great job in hosting it during the pandemic, but we want to get those face-to-face meetings going when it comes to APEC and then the World Trade Organization really needs reform, and one of the things I’m very keen to push and work with like-minded colleagues on is how we can reform the World Trade Organization, because that’s who implements and makes sure all the rules around trade are adhered to by countries. So, there’s a lot for us to do. And that’s why, I’ve said, we’ll be proactive, we’ll be principled, but, where necessary, we’ll be patient.

Nicholson: So, are you saying that what it looks like, what proactive looks like, is, essentially, diversifying?

Tehan: Well, we’ve always got to be diversifying. Every nation wants to diversify, as much as it possibly can, its trading relationships because, as we all know, if you put all your eggs in one basket, commodities go up and down, and markets go up and down, so one of the things we’ve always sought to do is make sure we’ve got strong diversification in our trading relationships, and that’s something that I’ll continue to push for as our new Trade Minister.

Nicholson: Minister Dan Tehan, thanks for joining us this morning.

Tehan: Been a pleasure, thank you.

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