Interview with Mike O’Loughlin, 89.3 LAFM Tasmania Talks

  • Transcript
Subjects: Tourism and aviation support package, Support for the tourism sector, Car hire manufacturing, Border closures, Opening of international borders, Vaccine passport
12 March 2021

Mike O'Loughlin: I've got Minister Dan Tehan on the line. Dan Tehan's the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Minister, good morning. Thanks for calling in.

Dan Tehan: A pleasure, Mike. Wonderful to be with you.

O'Loughlin: Hey, listen, you heard that last caller. Now, it's interesting, isn't it? Because we can talk about a $1.2 billion tourism support package unveiled by the Federal Government, but then you can fly here, but you can't get a car. It's …

Tehan: … Yes. It's fascinating, and what we'll need to do is try and find out what's happening, because we want to make sure that holiday destinations are affordable, and we need to make sure that people will come and will travel, and hire a car and visit the wonderful destinations you've got there in Tasmania, and spend money, because that's the best way we can support Tasmanian jobs in the tourism industry.

O'Loughlin: Well, it, Minister, it all sounds so good, doesn't it? And, yet, all of a sudden, I'm concerned about the transparency in the flights. I'm hoping that, yes, they're half price, half priced flights, but they don't suddenly up the price a little bit, make it, you know, half price a little bit more expensive, if you know what I mean?

Tehan: Yeah. No, look, we've thought about this and so we made sure we put in place an integrity measure to prevent that from happening —so they've got to be discounted by 50 per cent from the prices that they were offering in February, and we'll be making sure we're working with the airlines to make sure that they don't jack the prices up. And, I've got to be fair to the airlines, they've been fantastic to deal with. They understand how important it is to get Australians moving again, to get bums on seats and people travelling right across the nation. And, what we've even seen from Virgin today is they're going to, they've announced additional cut fare prices to be in place, even before we start ours, which is wonderful.

O'Loughlin: How was, may I ask, how the destinations were chosen?

Tehan: What we looked at, and we did this with the aviation sector, were those routes that really needed some additional capacity added to them. Plus, we looked at the impact of where international tourism, the loss of international tourism, has really hit destinations hardest. As we've said right along, these aren't set in stone. We'll continue to work with the tourism industry and liaise with them, and if we have to add additional routes we'll do that.

O'Loughlin: Also, in that, I was reading Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said, flagged, more locations might be added depending on how the scheme goes. Where would you be looking at? I mean, it's been interesting because even in Tasmania we've had concerns about Hobart not getting it when we've got three in the north.

Tehan: Yeah. Look, that's right and look, we do want to work with the airlines. Where they say they need help in adding additional capacity, that's what we'll do. So, we've had every destination across Australia, obviously, wanting us to help and support them. But, from a Federal Government point of view, one of the key drivers of this approach was to put confidence in people's want and will to travel, and we've already seen that. We've seen a huge spike in Google searches for flying to destinations, which is exactly what we wanted. And, if we can make sure that people have the confidence to travel, we know states and territories will close borders as a last resort, use their contact tracing and testing as a first resort, then Australians will visit everywhere across our wonderful nation, and that's what we want. This is, in part, about driving confidence and we've already seen that occurring now, which is wonderful.

O'Loughlin: Minister, an issue that people have, and okay, we've got the vaccine, etcetera. But, what's the point of booking a trip if state borders could close again so quickly? Because people, there's a lot of nervousness in that regard.

Tehan: There is, and that's why we're calling on state and territory leaders to use state border closures as a last resort, because if they do that people will have the confidence to travel, and that is at the moment the biggest block to people travelling – is their fear that state borders will close. Now, we've got the vaccine rolling out, we've got these discount flights out there, and we've got our contact tracing in place, we've got our testing in place, so let's see border closures used as a last resort and people getting the confidence back to want to travel because, if that happens, Australians will all be going everywhere to visit the wonderful destinations right across this nation.

O'Loughlin: Look, it's interesting because I have concerns about that. When different state premiers close the borders, we should probably have, maybe the Federal Government looking after the borders, but that's probably another, for another moment, I think, Minister.

Tehan: That's right. That'll require some constitutional change which might take a little while. What we need is just a Team Australia approach, everyone putting their shoulder to the wheel. Let's do this together. We want the states and territory governments to back this in through their own voucher schemes or whatever other measures they're putting in place and, if we see that happen, I can tell you, Australians, having been through the pandemic, are looking for a holiday, looking to travel, and I think we'll see people travelling again in enormous numbers, spending big, and that's what we want because that supports 600,000 jobs in our tourism industry right across the nation.

O'Loughlin: And, Minister, it sounds like to me, it can be a bit of a sweetener with the end of JobKeeper wage subsidy coming to an end later this month. So, the Government throwing this out there, it seems it's certainly a bit of a sweetener. Is that possibly the case, because JobKeeper's finishing up?

Tehan: Yeah. Look, that's absolutely part of our planning. We always said JobKeeper would be targeted and temporary and would have to end. We can't keep running businesses on the taxpayer account so this is, in part, to help us with a smooth transition as we come off JobKeeper, and that's absolutely one of the key things that's driving this $1.2 billion investment, to make sure we get people travelling again and help and support our tourism industry.

O'Loughlin: And, will this package be enough to help tourism operators though because, as you know, in Tassie, and you've probably heard there's some issues with down south, but up here, we've still got issues with tourism operators. They do need a hand, tourism and hospitality, in particular.

Tehan: Absolutely — so this is about driving visitation, which is fantastic, but we're also providing support for our travel agents again, another three months of support for them. We're supporting our zoos and aquariums. That successful program's been extended until the end of the year. And, also, we're helping now business events by extending that program – you can book and get support for your business event up until 30 June, and if your event is taking place in the first quarter of next year, it now becomes eligible so all this is designed to help and support our wonderful tourism industry.

O'Loughlin: Minister, what about international travel? Because we're talking, the Prime Minister said originally, hey, we'll have everyone hopefully having the vaccine by the end of October. But, now that looks like that's going to be dragged out till into next year before you possibly will get your second jab. So, what about international travel? I mean, when can we holiday overseas again, and when can we accept more of these travellers? And, I notice you're in the airport at the moment.

Tehan: I am. I'm in the airport. I'm doing my bit for the travel industry at the moment. What we're hoping to see is that the vaccine rolls out successfully this year, and we can welcome back international tourists hopefully in bubbles towards the end of the year, and then more broadly next year. That's the aim but it's very hard to have a complete crystal ball with regards to this at the moment so we'll have to wait and see. But, my hope would be international travel resuming in full next year, and hopefully we'll see some bubbles opening before that.

O'Loughlin: And, Minister, vaccine passports, are they going to be an issue? I know Qantas, Alan Joyce has said, yeah, they'll be looking forward to having, looking at people's vaccine passports, as you will, but some people don't necessarily want one. There will have to be some exemptions.

Tehan: Yeah. So, we're looking at this and how it would work, and obviously it's going to be very important to make sure that other countries take a similar approach so that when it comes to international travel, in particular, whatever type of passport is used will work not only here, but in other countries as well. So, this is something we're closely working on and Stuart Robert, the Minister of the Digital Services, is really looking closely at this.

O'Loughlin: And, Minister, when can people start to book and how will they be able to do that?

Tehan: So, you can start booking these discount, 800,000 discount fights take place as of the beginning of April. So, what I would say to everyone is, have a look, see what destination you want to go to and start booking. They're available as of the beginning of April, and what we want, especially if people use the Easter break and these upcoming school holidays to get out there and visiting the wonderful locations we've got, including there in Tasmania.

O'Loughlin: Well, Dan Tehan, Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, thank you for ringing through on our free-for-all Friday. It's quite a pleasant surprise to get a Federal Minister give us a call, and I appreciate it.

Tehan: Always a pleasure and well done on a great show.

O'Loughlin: Thank you indeed. Minister, good to talk to you. There you go, Friday free-for-all and we get the Federal Minister.

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