Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW Mornings

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tourism and aviation support package, Border closures.
11 March 2021

Neil Mitchell: I mentioned, we’ve been talking a bit about the Federal Government’s travel and tourism package, $1.2 billion, subsidised flights around the country. On the line, Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan. Good morning.

Dan Tehan: Morning Neil, great to be with you.

Mitchell: Have you dudded regional Victoria here?

Tehan: No, not at all. What we’ve done is we’ve put in place a package which has been worked through with the airlines to make sure that we have designed out the flights that we are going to discount to really support those areas that have been impacted by the lack of international tourists. Now, as you’ll see, Avalon is one of the key destinations which will be …

Mitchell: … Well, hang on, there’s only, well, you’ve got flights from Gold Coast to Avalon, Sydney to Avalon. Fair enough, and maybe that’s helpful to Geelong. But, what use is it to the Great Lakes? What use is it to Berwick? What use is it to the Dandenongs? It’s the other side of town.

Tehan: So, as far as Victoria goes, the biggest area of where we get international tourists is the Great Ocean Road, and that’s why we’ve obviously chosen Avalon. Now, these initial destinations have been worked through to really support those areas where the international tourists go but we’ve made it very clear – as demand picks up on certain routes, we can modify this and work with the airlines to make sure that we pick up other routes and make sure that there are discount travel there. So …

Mitchell: … But, why are you targeting international tourists at this stage when there’s none coming in? Surely this is basically for Australians to travel around Australia.

Tehan: No, but what we want to do is support those regions which have been heavily impacted by the loss of international tourists. That is what this is designed to do.

Mitchell: So, you want Australians to go to the Great Ocean Road?

Tehan: That’s it. We want Australians to go to the Great Ocean Road, Twelve Apostles, go to the Grampians, go to Budj Bim, the oldest aquacultural site in the world, wonderful Indigenous heritage, do all those things. But, also think about travelling to the wonderful other destinations that we have right across the nation, especially those destinations which have been impacted by the loss of international tourism.

Mitchell: So, who goes to Lakes Entrance? Who goes to Mildura? Who goes to Bendigo?

Tehan: Well, lots of people are going to those destinations, Neil, and it’s fantastic …

Mitchell: … But, not with [inaudible] …

Tehan: … Well, there is, the Victorian Government have announced another stimulus package for the Victorian tourism industry …

Mitchell: … Yeah, but that’s mostly Melbourne …

Tehan: … and we welcome that [inaudible] …

Mitchell: … That is mostly Melbourne. But, you know, you’re offering deals from Maroochydore or Mallacoota. What’s wrong with Bendigo or even your own hometown, well, your own area, Warrnambool or Mildura? I mean, these, to me, there’s an argument being put that regional Victoria has been ignored, and it looks strong.

Tehan: I don’t think so, Neil. And, what we’ve seen in the regions, and it’s been quite extraordinary over the last six months, is incredible intrastate travel. So, we’re seeing Melburnians, in particular, have been coming to our region. So, we’re seeing very strong growth in regional tourism at the moment, which has been wonderful. What we need to do through this is support those locations which have been heavily impacted by the loss of international tourists. We’re hopeful that international tourism, the borders will open towards the end of this year, all going well. So, we want to support those regions as JobKeeper ends at the end of this month to make sure that Australians get out there and travel. 800,000 discounted flights, make sure you book them, and the money you save on those airfares, spend like you would when you’re overseas, take that experience and make sure that you support the 660,000 jobs in our tourism industry.

Mitchell: But, I still don’t quite understand what’s, why not Mildura? We’ve got Maroochydore and Mallacoota. Why not Mildura?

Tehan: Because what we’ve done is we’ve done an assessment of those areas where we get a lot of international tourists going. [Inaudible] …

Mitchell: … So, international tourists go to Mallacoota, do they? Really?

Tehan: International tourists will go down and have a look at a lot of regions right across Victoria. Phillip Island, another where international tourists go. In a previous package we’ve helped and supported them. So, what we’re saying – and the message to all Victorians and all Australians – is book a holiday. You deserve it, you’ve been through a pandemic. There’s a discounted flight there, and this is the best way that you can support our tourism industry. And, it’s not about going, it’s about spending when you get there. That’s so, so important.

Mitchell: You’re supporting Launceston, Devonport, Burnie. Are they all crammed with international tourists normally, or do they go to Hobart?

Tehan: No, we get international tourists, especially through cruise ships, will go to those destinations, and what we’ve done is we’ve really worked with the airlines on this. They’ve helped us identify where we need to put the support in, and as I’ve said, once we get this up and running and we get extra capacity put into these routes, we’ll look to see what other additional routes we need to support.

Mitchell: What’s the biggest airport in Warrnambool?

Tehan: Well, we’ve got Warrnambool Airport. Now, at the moment, we don’t have commercial flights going in and out of there. I would love to see it. We used to. Sharp Airlines used to do that.

Mitchell: How big is it? Could you fly whatever you fly into Mallacoota, into Warrnambool?

Tehan: Well, we’d need to do a little bit of an extension to the airport there, and that’s something that is, that the council is looking at. And, I would love to see that as a route, especially for people to be able to go and visit the Twelve Apostles, one of the most beautiful landscapes in the whole of Victoria. And, when they do that, there’s also wonderful other opportunities to go to the Grampians, Budj Bim, as I’ve mentioned. The Indigenous culture there is breathtaking and something that all Victorians should see.

Mitchell: Do you agree there’s a nervousness from within Australia to travel to Victoria because there’s a fear we’ll go into lockdown at any time? I’ve already had reaction from people saying, ‘We’re not coming anywhere near Victoria.’ Do you agree that’s a problem?

Tehan: I do, and one of the things that we’re trying to do here is instil confidence back into people to travel. And, I met with all the state and territory tourism ministers yesterday afternoon. Once again, just asked that border shutdowns be a last resort, that we use our contact tracing and our testing as the first approach to dealing with the pandemic and give people the confidence to travel. All the surveys have shown it’s actually border shutdowns rather than COVID-19 that’s preventing people from travelling at the moment, and this is about helping to drive confidence, to get people travelling to those wonderful destinations we have right across Australia.

Mitchell: As we know, a number of people, because of COVID, had to cancel cruises, travel, accommodation around Australia, not just internationally. Have you got any idea how many billion dollars in travel in those sort of tourism vouchers people are sitting on?

Tehan: Look, we only have estimates, but it’s still in the billions of dollars, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve once again provided support to our travel agents through this announcement today, because they are absolutely vital in either providing those refunds or ensuring that future bookings can be changed so people will eventually be able to take those trips. And, this is something that is obviously of continuing concern to the Government, and that’s why we’ve extended by another three months and provided additional support for our travel agents to be able to support them as they help us deal with these issues.

Mitchell: Thank you very much for your time. The Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan, the Member for Wannon, who represents a very large electorate in regional Victoria.

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