Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Border closures, Tourism and aviation support package, Support for the tourism sector, Carbon border tax permits.
11 March 2021

Kieran Gilbert: Let’s go live now to Sydney. The Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment Dan Tehan joins me. Minister, thanks very much for your time. What’s your message to the state leaders, the premiers, when it comes to the borders? Because your plan is only going to work if they keep the borders open.

Dan Tehan: That’s right. What we need is our premiers and territory leaders using border lockdowns as a last resort. And, what we want to see is confidence given to Australians to get out and travel, and that’s why we’ve announced 800,000 discount tickets to get interstate travel up and running again, because we know if we can drive that visitation and people spend when they visit, that’s going to support, not only the wonderful tourism attractions we have right across this nation, but also the pubs, the restaurants, the venues where people will also visit when they take a holiday. So, I say to the state and territory premiers, leaders, ‘please, use those shutdowns, use those border lockdowns, as a last resort’. Let’s give confidence to people to travel and let’s get people going to our capital cities, going to our regions and exploring the wonderful destinations that we have here in Australia.

Gilbert: What’s your response to those in the industry, like Simon Westaway – he’s from the Australian Tourism Industry Council – he says the package is too narrow. What’s your response to that? That it should have been broader, direct cash going to business too?

Tehan: Well, we’ve worked with the airlines, and obviously we’ve liaised over the last couple of months with the tourism industry to make sure that we get a package that works for both aviation and tourism. When I was in Queensland and I was talking with the industry there, there was a comment that was made to me which really struck a chord and that was that, in the end, what the tourism businesses want is tourists, and that’s what we’ve delivered through this package today.  800,000 discount flights to get people moving again and, importantly, giving people the confidence to travel. We know from surveys that have been undertaken that the biggest thing holding people back from travelling at the moment isn’t COVID-19, it’s border lockdowns. So, we want to make sure that we’re giving people the confidence to travel, and that’s what these 800,000 discount flights is all about.

Gilbert: Is it too focussed on the regions? Have you missed the capital cities where there’s some 80 per cent of the market from international and corporate markets is in Sydney and Melbourne? Have you overlooked the capitals, the big cities?

Tehan: No, not at all. We sat down and we had discussions with the aviation industry, and if you have a look at the moment, you’ll see that there are very good cheap discount flights already between capital cities – between Sydney and Melbourne at the moment, you know, fares are as low as $60. What this is about is making sure that we disperse the traveller, but also, in particular, we focus on those regions which have been heavily impacted as a result of international tourists not being able to visit there. And, we’ve made it very clear, very clear, that the first destinations are not set in stone. We’ll continue to work with the airlines where we think we need to see additional demand, where we need to see additional services, then we will modify the program that we put in place. So, this is flexible, but we think that the approach at the moment is about delivering tourists to those areas that have been particularly hard hit by the lack of international tourists.

Gilbert: There’s been a similar criticism, though, from those, the Accommodation Association, saying that those job providers in the capitals need direct assistance, and also from small business operators in the tourism sector, that the loans aren’t necessarily what they need. That, in the words of Simon Westaway, he says, ‘The plan is not touching the immediacy of the problem right now to get people through to that, sort of, the vaccine rollout ending and we enter into somewhat of a normality again.’ Do you get what they’re saying there, that they need direct cash?

Tehan: So, there’s a couple of points to make there. One is, is the states and territory governments have stepped in. There’s been announcements in the last few days about vouchers for accommodation in capital cities, and we want to continue to work with the states and territories. We obviously launched last week a significant marketing campaign on behalf of Tourism Australia to get people back visiting our cities. As you know, Kieran, football season is just around the corner. We know that drives visitations to our capital cities, whether it be the AFL or the NRL or rugby union. So, there’s many things that will be happening which will get that visitation back into our capital cities, including, you know, state governments saying that it’s fine for workers to go back into the capital cities, and that’s much needed and we want to work with them on that and then, when it comes to more broadly, just making sure that we disperse visitation right across the nation. You’ve got to remember, we’re taking a national government approach. We want to make sure that there’s interstate travel that’s occurring, and when it comes to intrastate, we want to make sure that the states and territories are stepping up there, as well. So, this is a package, it’s a broad package – 800,000 discount tickets and, the most important thing is, if I could say to all Australians is, when you travel, make sure that you dip into your pocket because you’re getting value with your airfare. So, that enables you to spend more at your pub, at your restaurant or at your club, and really help support the 600,000 jobs in the tourism industry.

Gilbert: What’s your response to the Rex, Regional Express Airline deputy chair John Sharp? He says this is a Qantas bailout, basically, to benefit the big players like Qantas.

Tehan: So, all airlines will benefit from this package. So, destinations that Rex fly to benefit from this package. So, we’ve made sure that it’s all airlines that benefit from what we’ve announced today, and that will include Rex. So, I look forward to all Australians looking and saying, ‘Okay, where do I want to go? Where do I want to travel?’ Having the confidence to travel, booking their flight, and let’s get Australia moving again. Let’s get Australians going to the wonderful tourism destinations we have in our backyard, and let’s make sure we’re supporting those 600,000 jobs in the tourism industry.

Gilbert: And, you’ve said that it’s not locked in stone, essentially, that this is the initial list. Matt Canavan, I spoke to him earlier, and he’s saying that he’s had feedback along the lines of, why do people in Brisbane and Sydney get cheaper holidays, what about people in Rocky and Tamworth and so on?

Tehan: Yeah. So, it’s not set in stone, and we want to make sure that we’ll be there supporting the routes that need supporting, and we’ll continue to work with the aviation sector in that regard, remembering initially it’s about helping those destinations which have been hard hit by the lack of international tourists. And, you take Cairns, for instance, it’s an iconic location for international tourists and it’s been hard hit by the closure of the national border. So, we obviously wanted to support Cairns in Far North Queensland and there are other areas similarly, right across the nation, that we’re doing the same. And, if the aviation sector, if the airlines come to us and say, ‘look, we’ve really got demand going on this route, but we could really do with some help with this route,’ then we can do that. But, we also have to remember as part of this package, there is also support for regional airline routes and there’s also support for domestic airlines routes through the RANS and DANS programs – so, they’ve still continued on, as well as this new program which we call TANS, which is all about tourism. So, there is still support there for regional routes and for other domestic routes.

Gilbert: Before you go, I want to ask you about the European Parliament backing, they’ve passed this support for a carbon border tax. This relates to, well, basically, they’re calling it a carbon border adjustment mechanism for those producers from heavy industries and from nations that might not have a trading scheme, an emissions trading scheme. What’s your reaction to this development from the European Parliament? They’re talking about this tax coming into force, this border tax coming into force, as early as 2023.

Tehan: Look, it’s deeply concerning. We don’t know how they’re going to make it WTO compliant. There are serious exemptions given in the European Union to heavy industries there. Their industrial sector gets free passes on this – about 90 per cent of their industrial sector. They obviously have subsidies already in place, so how do you account for those subsidies. From an Australian point of view, we think a much more positive approach to take is one where we look to liberalise trade in environmental goods, in environmental services. That’s how you get a positive approach to emissions reduction. We are absolutely committed to meeting our Paris targets, we’ve met our Kyoto targets, and that’s something that many members of the European Union didn’t seem to understand. I’m happy to tell them today, we did meet our Kyoto targets and we are on track to meet our Paris targets, and what we want to do is have a positive approach, a trade liberalisation approach. Let’s cut tariffs on environmental goods. Let’s make freer trade in environmental services the way to go, so all countries can benefit from all approaches to reducing emissions right across the globe.

Gilbert: Minister for Trade and Tourism Dan Tehan, thanks.

Tehan: Pleasure, Kieran.

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