Interview with Glen Bartholomew, ABC NewsRadio Mornings

  • Transcript
Subjects: Tourism and aviation support package, Support for the tourism sector, SME Recovery Loan Scheme, Border closures
12 March 2021

Glen Bartholomew: Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan's on the Gold Coast in Queensland selling the package this morning. Minister, thanks for your time. The package has received, I guess, a mixed reaction from parts of the tourism and travel industry – some suggesting that the list of destinations is a bit too small. Will we see others added? And, if so, when?

Dan Tehan: Yeah, we want to consider adding other destinations. We worked with the airlines to come up with the original 13 destinations, and we always said if there is demand met on those destinations and there's a need for us to add others, we would do that and that will be under active consideration over the coming weeks.

Bartholomew: Certainly, some locations are pretty keen to be included. We've had people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia express a bit of dismay about not being included, while other capital cities are annoyed that the flights go out of them rather than to them.

Tehan: You'll always get people who look at the glass half empty. Wouldn't it be great if everyone just jumped on board like Virgin have, for instance, and put their own discount flights on as well to match what we're doing. Qantas is out there promoting these discount flights – 800,000 discount flights, 46,000 a week. And if we can get people moving and travelling and spending what they save on their airfare at the destination in a pub, at a restaurant, going to a wonderful attraction, that will be wonderful for the 600,000 jobs in our tourism industry, and that's what we want to see.

Bartholomew: The airlines are certainly happy with it, and it has, of course, been claimed that it's more of an aviation assistance package. There is a lot of support for the airlines, but, but not that much for many other industries. Does it rely on a trickle-down effect? I hope that other parts of the industry will benefit.

Tehan: So, there are some other specific measures as part of this package. There will be another $130 million for our travel agents because we know they're also doing it hard because of the lack of international tourism in particular, and they're hanging on to those bookings for people and changing them. We want to make sure we're helping and supporting them. There's extension of the Business Events program and an extension of the very successful Zoos and Aquariums program. So, we think we've got the balance right but the best thing we can do, and this is the message I heard loud and clear when I went around and spoke to the tourism industry before and after Christmas, is what they want more than anything else is tourists. And, what this package has already done has seen a spike in people looking to travel and, if we can make sure state and territory leaders keep those borders open, I'm very confident that we will see a huge spike in demand in domestic tourism, and that will help our tourism sector across the board.

Bartholomew: The travel agents will welcome any assistance. They do still have some concerns. They say that people really don't use them to book domestic flights. That's pretty true, isn't it?

Tehan: Look, they, if they package things up, we're confident that people will use the travel agents to make sure that they are packaging not only their flight, but their accommodation and all the wonderful attractions you can see right across Australia. So, we will continue to make sure we're supporting our travel agents and I say to all Australians, if you do get the opportunity to book through your travel agent these discount fares and your hotels and your destination, that would be wonderful.

Bartholomew: You mentioned hotels. Hotel operators say they're dealing with record low occupancy levels in cities, in particular. Simon McGrath, the CEO for hotel group Accor in the Pacific, the biggest hotel chain in the country, says this won't be enough to save all the jobs in his sector. Are you happy to see those jobs go?

Tehan: No. We want to try and save and protect every single job, that's why we put in place JobKeeper and it's been such a resounding success. And, one of the things I'm calling on is state and territory governments to back in what the Federal Government has done, and they could really step in and support the local accommodation sector, especially in the capital cities, by putting in place vouchers. Some state and territory governments have done this already, and if they could look at building on the back of what we've done, that would be absolutely terrific. What we want is everyone putting a shoulder to the wheel to help and support our tourism industry at this time and if we could all work collectively together, all get behind what we've done, I think we can make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect jobs right across the nation.

Bartholomew: Speaking of JobKeeper, the Government will pay the airlines, Virgin and Qantas, retention payments to keep about 8,600 jobs. There are hundreds of thousands of tourism workers still on JobKeeper, for the next few weeks at least. Is it reasonable for the Government to support jobs in the airline industry, but not others elsewhere?

Tehan: Well, as part of our aviation package, it has got a big, big tourism focus, and that is to make sure that we're getting people moving again, especially moving interstate, and giving them the confidence to travel. And, we're confident, if we give people the confidence to travel, that they will go out there, they'll explore all the wonderful destinations across our nation and support our tourism industry. And, as I've said before, the one thing that the tourism industry have said to me since before Christmas is what they want more than anything else is tourists, and this package is designed to give them tourists. And, I call out to all Australians, please, please book your discount flight, travel, support our tourism industry and spend like you would if you were travelling overseas. We tend to spend more overseas than when we travel domestically. So, we really need people sticking their hands in their pockets and spending big here in Australia because that'll support jobs here in Australia and ultimately, support our economy across the board.

Bartholomew: But, some of those businesses are worried they won't have their doors still open, they won't have many staff left by the time some of those passengers or tourists arrive in their areas. We've heard from adventure groups and others saying, listen, they're laying off people left, right and centre. You're offering low or no interest loans for other businesses in the industry. But, wasn't there only about a seven per cent take up of those offers in the past? And, isn't it the point that businesses, really, some of them, just don't want to take on any more debt?

Tehan: So, the important thing about these loans is that it also offers businesses the opportunity to refinance, and in refinancing, also get interest free holiday of up to 12 to 24 months so it enables them to back themselves and build that bridge, especially those businesses that are heavily reliant on international tourists, and that's why the loan package is a key component of what we've announced.
Bartholomew: But, the take up's been very low, hasn't it?

Tehan: So, that's why we've changed the approach that we have taken this time. The Government is offering a greater guarantee. The banks are very positive that what we'll see is greater uptake of these loans now.

Bartholomew: Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, has conceded it does, of course, depend on the borders staying open. It was suggested on this program yesterday that this move doesn't do anything to address that consumer confidence in travel. Big and small businesses warn the flights won't help if the borders keep slamming shut.

Tehan: Well, what we've seen already is Australians voting with their feet. The interest yesterday in people searching on Google for flights to destinations spiked. We've seen an uplift in share price of travel companies. We've obviously seen the airlines come out and offer their own discount flights because, as the Virgin CEO has said, they saw a huge demand in enquiries about people taking flights. So, what we've seen is a huge injection of confidence into the Australian people for their will and want to travel. Now, what we've got to see is state premiers ensuring that they use border closures as a last resort. They've got their testing in place. They've got their contact tracing in place. We're rolling the vaccine out. Let's make sure border closures are a last resort. Give people the confidence to travel, and if we do that, we're already seeing, following yesterday's announcement, people want to travel and they want to spend, and I think this will be a huge injection for our tourism industry.

Bartholomew: There is that concept of supply and demand. Can you give an assurance that airline tickets won't rise in the face of this extra subsidy and extra demand?

Tehan: Well, I take my hat off to the way that the aviation industry has engaged with the Government on this program. We've put in place integrity measures which we'll monitor to make sure that that's not occurring, that the discount prices will be there for everyone and the aviation industry have already shown that they too want to support getting people moving. It's important for them as well that people have the confidence to fly. So, I'm very confident what we'll see is very good discount flights. We're already seeing them, and if people want to travel before 1 April when the discount flights come into place, please do so. Book your flights now because the airlines have got some wonderful offers in place already and if people get that confidence, I'm sure that the state and territory governments will play their part in not slamming borders closed unnecessarily.

Bartholomew:  Confidence from the Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan, speaking from the Gold Coast, where he's continuing to sell that tourism package.

Media enquiries