Interview with Murray Jones, 4CA Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Support for the tourism sector, International tourists, Seasonal workers, International students
09 February 2021

Murray Jones: My special guest in studio spent a bit of time checking out, I guess, tourism industry and some of the locals, and getting a bit of a feeling for what's happening on the ground here. He's the Federal Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan. Dan, welcome to Cairns.

Dan Tehan: Murray, great to be here. Love Cairns – I've been up here for a family holiday and it was one of the best trips we had as a family and, also, we loved it that much we headed up to Port Douglas then a couple of years after that …

Jones: … I don't blame you …

Tehan: … and, had a [indistinct] holiday there. It's a wonderful part of the word, love the weather, love the people.

Jones: What about the humidity?

Tehan: Oh, yeah. That takes a little bit to get used to when you haven't been confronted by it — but, even that, it's just great. There's a sort of, there's a warmth of the weather and a warmth of the people and I love that about this part of the country.

Jones: Look, I wouldn't mind actually starting a little bit more closer to home for you, because you're the member for the electorate of Wannon in, which is basically Western Victoria. Interestingly, just looking on the map, you obviously cover the areas of, well, Port Fairy, you've got the Twelve Apostles right through Apollo Bay – some wonderful, wonderful areas. So, I should imagine that those areas have been impacted by the tourism shortage here in Australia. So, I guess you're getting similar calls – and we won't repeat the call, you know what the call is with respect to JobKeeper – but I guess we're not alone here in Australia, or in Cairns, I should say?

Tehan: No, not at all. And, you know, we can often get over a million Chinese visitors to the Twelve Apostles a year so we have seen a real impact from the loss of international tourism in Western Victoria. But, one of the things that's really helped there is because it's within a three-hour drive of Melbourne, we've seen it replaced very strongly by domestic tourism. So, we've seen some small pockets of impact, but the agricultural sector and domestic tourism have really stepped in and so, while there are some similarities, there's, it's also very different to up here, because here it's aviation which really drives your tourism sector here. And, as someone said to me, it's a 19-hour drive from Brisbane to get here so, I think, that puts it all in perspective.

Jones: And, it's funny, I remember a story from years ago, somebody who rang an accommodation house in Port Douglas and said, ‘Our plane arrives in Sydney – they were an American – at six o'clock in the morning. How many hours will it drive us to get up to Port Douglas?' And, they were booked in at Port Douglas that night. So, I guess that concept of exactly how far north we are is often lost with a lot of people.

Tehan: Indeed.

Jones: Let's talk, obviously, about some of the impacts of tourism. And, look, I wouldn't mind coming to this, I know it was one of the things that you finished off fairly early yesterday, sorry, at the end of some of the meetings yesterday. But, that void that the international tourists have left in Australia, you know, and it really doesn't look like we've got realistic options to fill that void for quite a while. What type of options and things is the Federal Government doing to at least assist the tourism industry with that void of international tourists?

Tehan: It does seem like it's highly unlikely that we'll see significant international tourism until next year. Hopefully we can get travel bubbles set up – we've got one with New Zealand, so we've got their tourists coming in, so that's a start. It would be great to see that become a two-way bubble so Australians can go to New Zealand. Then we should be looking at options like Singapore, like Vietnam, hopefully down the track, Japan, if they can get this current wave under control. So, there's bubble options which are available there. It's great that we've got the COVID-19 passport up and running so here in Australia, so that'll be good for getting Australians travelling but also, hopefully, other nations can adopt that or a similar approach. So we know that if we do get international tourism up and running, people can come in and don't have to do that two weeks of quarantine. But, while we're waiting for all that to emerge we do have to be looking at, okay, what is the temporary and targeted support we need to be providing to the sector while we're waiting for that? And, we need to do all the analysis – we're looking at JobKeeper at the moment, we've got the latest on JobKeeper, Treasury got that last week, they're meeting with Austrade, my department who does tourism policy – and they'll be considering all that over the coming weeks. I'm meeting with my colleagues on Wednesday to begin some preliminary discussions on that data, and what some, what sort of shape that targeted and temporary support going forward should take. So, my hope is in the coming weeks we'll be able to provide more certainty to Cairns, to Port Douglas and the whole of Far North Queensland about what post-JobKeeper Federal Government support will look like.

Jones: Because, I mean, I know a lot of people are getting very nervous as we get towards the end of March and the possibility there, but it's good to see that the doors are not closed. Let's talk a little bit more about something that I believe that you'd picked up. You know, I guess for tourists, I guess for a lot of tourism operators, a lot of them do actually rely specifically on internationals. But, for the bulk of people they just want the numbers, they don't really care where they've come from. And, I guess that's one of the things that dovetails into what you've just discussed with us.

Tehan: That's right. So, one of the things we also need to be driving is confidence in the Australian tourism sector and, look, I know from my own experience I couldn't wait to get up to Cairns and up to Port Douglas again, even though this is a working trip and not a holiday. I just love this part of the world. But, when I was packing my bags I was thinking to myself, should I pack a little bit more just in case there was a hard border closure? All of a sudden you might be doing two weeks quarantine and, if I'm thinking that, then that's what a lot of Australians are going to be thinking. So, we've really got to work together – state and territory leaders with the Commonwealth – to make sure that we've got a clear and transparent approach to hotspots, how we define them, and then we have border closures, hard border closures, very much as a last resort, because that'll really drive confidence in Australians and their ability to travel. And, I think you'll see pent-up demand from Victoria and other places to head north to have that holiday because people are used to either travelling overseas or travelling within Australia and they haven't really been able to do that for the last 12 months. So, if we can drive that confidence I think we'll see tourism really strongly rebound, including here in Far North Queensland.

Jones: And, it's certainly interesting what you say because I think certainly that tourism, at the end of the day, regardless of where it's coming from, that's one of the key things. Look, one thing I do want to quickly talk to you about before we wrap up, and we might even have a chat to somebody else if he arrives in time, seasonal workers, and, of course, the international travellers – some of that might be out of your specific jurisdiction. But, they're some of the things when it comes to international travel that we need to get back in place because we just simply haven't got workers for some of these key areas.

Tehan: Yeah, it's one of the clear messages I got in all the meetings that I've had over the last 48 hours, is that the tourism sector and, in particular, the agricultural sector at the moment is really hurting because of a lack of labour shortages. And, what we've got to do is — through the Pacific Workers Scheme, through trying to get backpackers up and going again once the borders reopen — is really address this issue of labour shortages, especially in regional and rural areas. It's a real issue for me in Western Victoria – speak to my colleagues right around the nation from regional and rural areas – labour workforce shortages is one of the number one issues and, if we're going to progress as a nation we've got to make sure that we can provide the workforce to regional and rural Australia as well as to our capital cities, because that's how you get the whole nation developing. International students can be a key to this and one of the things that they've provided – especially to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney – is that workforce into hospitality and tourism. As a, when I was Education Minister for the last two years, one of the things I was really looking to do was diversify the spread of international students and I came out into the universities in the regions because that helps not only those regional universities, but with workforce shortages. So, this is a really big issue confronting us as a nation and trying to address this and address it quickly is absolutely vital.

Jones: Well, look, Dan, it's been great to talk to you this morning, but we can't not say good morning to Warren who's just turned up. Warren, welcome along. And, you've missed most of our conversation and we're up at the eight-minute 40 mark. So, where's your wife? I'll see you soon.

Warren Entsch: You know, it breaks my heart every time [indistinct] ... He comes in here, but it's in the pretence that I'll bring my beautiful Yolonde with me, you know. I think I should be worried.

Jones: You should be as well. Look, we've had a great chat. And, I guess some of the key messages that are coming out of Tropical North Queensland – Dan's obviously got that message from being here – and onwards and upwards, and we're certainly looking forward to, I guess, an announcement and, I guess, a bit of an olive branch with respect to the end of March.

Entsch: Yeah, well, look, it was always, it was never going to be a cliff at the end of March …

Jones: … Sure …

Entsch: … as it was never going to be a cliff in September. We set them in periods of time, six months. And, this is what we did different to other packages that happened during the financial crisis back in 2008 and others, where they would give much needed initiatives that have no end date. And, here we are, 2021, and we still can't get some of those stimulus packages from 2008, we can't get the Senate to agree to get rid of them. So, the money's just continuing to go out where it's not targeted. So, this is the reason why we have a six months [indistinct], have a look at it again. And, you know, we're very smart that we've done that because if this was just an ongoing thing, let me tell you, there's a lot of hospitality businesses in the tourism industry that would be on their knees because they can't get staff. And, so, I mean, the message has been consistent for the time that, short time that Dan's been here – we've met with people, with businesses from Cooktown, north of the Daintree River, from Port Douglas, and, of course, all around this region – and they've been absolutely consistent in relation to targeted support. Some of them were saying we don't need it anymore, others are saying make sure you don't create disincentives because our problem is we're [indistinct]. We had a restaurateur that was supposed to be at a meeting today, couldn't come because two of his staff called in sick.

Tehan: [Indistinct] on the tools.

Jones: And, those disincentives are certainly a real concern. But, they're things, I guess, that you can deal with to keep those purse strings. They're not endless. We've got to wrap up. Look, great to talk to you guys. And, thanks for dropping at the last minute there and it's always wonderful to see you, Warren Entsch.

Entsch: I can tell it when you grin on the side of your mouth there, that you're lying to me. I'll give Londe to give you a call.

Tehan: Good on you, Murray. It's been great to be with you. Take care.

Jones: Dan Tehan, he's the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Warren Entsch, have a great day. Cheers.

Tehan: Thank you.

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