Interview with Neil Mitchell, Mornings

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-India FTA; return of international tourists, border re-opening; vaccines; tourism promotion.
09 February 2022

Neil Mitchell: On the line is the federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan. He's minutes away from jumping on a plane to India and remember Victoria's got a larger Indian population than any other state in the country. Dan Tehan, good morning.

Dan Tehan: Good morning. Great to be with you, Neil, and yes, we'll be trying to sell more horticulture, wine, wool and anything else we can while we're in India. We're trying to negotiate a free trade agreement, which would be great for Victorian exporters and great for Australian exporters.

Neil Mitchell: Wouldn't you also be trying to get people here, tourists here or family visits here?

Dan Tehan: Absolutely. Great news that we're opening up to international tourists on the 21st. And one of the things I'll be doing is talking to the tourism industry in India to see what we can do to get Indian tourists back. Obviously, international students have been coming back, backpackers have been coming back, as a matter of fact 7,000 international students arrived last week, and we've had 28,000 backpackers arriving in Australia over the last couple of months. So, we're starting to reboot our tourism industry, which is great news for the 600,000 jobs in our tourism industry.

Neil Mitchell: Okay. But what will be the impact if Daniel Andrews stays with this and says you must be triple vaccinated in Victoria? What will happen? What will happen to Victoria?

Dan Tehan: Well, we've always followed the expert medical advice and ATAGI says the requirements around vaccinations — and the Chief Medical Officer said very clearly to us —that double vaccination is full vaccination. At the moment that's the ATAGI advice and that's why we're out and we're saying Australia will reopen to all international tourists on the 21st of February and a very clear message that you need to be double vaxxed to come.

Neil Mitchell: But not if you come to Victoria. On what he's saying, you come to Victoria, you can get in but you can't do anything unless your triple vaxxed. Surely that's going to cause problems?

Dan Tehan: Well, it will cause problems because there will be a different message, and one of the things that we've been very clear on is that ATAGI sets this advice. And that's what we would call on everyone – all states and territories – to follow the ATAGI advice and that is that if you're double vaccinated –­ and that's what's we've been, the requirement has been for international students and backpackers, and those international students and backpackers have been coming to Victoria, like they have right across the country — so, what we need to do is just stick to that clear ATAGI advice. That way we can give a clear message to all international tourists and continue to send that clear message to backpackers and international students: these are the requirements, this is the health advice, this is what we've followed right throughout this pandemic.

Neil Mitchell: Okay. If the ATAGI advice changes and they go to three, they say – they recommend the booster, wouldn't you then change the rules for international tourists? Because that could be on the eve of them leaving? I mean, they're going to open in less than two weeks. ATAGI could decide any day. If ATAGI tomorrow says, “Oh, booster, three shots is advisable,” what do you do?

Dan Tehan: Well, we will obviously take the ATAGI advice. We'll speak to our Chief Medical Officer and the panel of chief medical officers of the states and territories and work through this. But, at the moment, ATAGI haven't made that decision. At the moment it's two doses. It's working very well in terms of getting international students back, which is great, in particular, for our CBDs. And we've all seen how our CBDs have been hollowed out as a result of us not having international tourists and students here. So, we'll deal with that advice if we get that advice.

But, in the meantime, you know, if you look at my electorate, for Port Campbell, for Apollo Bay, for Lorne, for Anglesea, they want those international tourists back. They need them back. We've got these wonderful attractions and, let's just be clear – the ATAGI advice at the moment is double vaxxed — so, let's get out there and spruik Australia and protect those 600,000 jobs.

Neil Mitchell: But have you told Daniel Andrews that? Because he's saying, ‘no'. He said unequivocally questioned to – in Victoria you'll have to be triple vaxxed. So, Apollo Bay and – everywhere down there they can turn up and drive past, but they can't stop anywhere if this policy goes ahead, if he insists on triple vaccination. And some in the tourism industry are telling me it will be a disaster. Do you agree with that? It will be a disaster for Victoria?

Dan Tehan: Well, I think what I would agree with is that we need very clear advice to international tourists of what the requirements are. And the current requirements are double vaccination and so we should be out there selling that message loud and clear – that this is the requirement. And that's –

Neil Mitchell: But it's not.

Dan Tehan:  – how we've dealt so well with this pandemic.

Neil Mitchell: It's not – well, we haven't dealt well with it in terms of unity. And this is another example of one part of the country going one direction and the other – the rest of it going another, surely? I mean, can't the Prime Minister get on the phone to Daniel Andrews and say, ‘Come on, come on. We've got to sort this out. This is going to – this could undermine everything'. If you're about to jump on a plane from Los Angeles, ‘Oh, hang on, there's triple vaccination here, there's not there. No, it's all too hard. I'm going to Asia'.

Dan Tehan: Look, I had a very good discussion with Martin Pakula yesterday, who's the Victorian Tourism Minister, and, you know, we both agreed that we do have to be clear in what the message is because that is what has happened. You know, that's why we've been successful in getting the international students back and the working holiday-maker visa holders back. Obviously, national cabinet will have further discussions around this and that's where the PM and the Premier can talk and others.

But you're right, Neil, on these types of issues one clear, consistent message is vital. And it's vital for our tourism industry. It provides certainty and my hope is that that's what we'll be able to achieve. And we've stuck to the ATAGI advice throughout this pandemic and we should continue to do so — and, at the moment, that ATAGI advice is double vaccination.

Neil Mitchell: Well, Daniel Andrews hasn't had a record of backing down on anything. We'll see what happens. What about – would we make boosters available to tourists if they came here?

Dan Tehan: Well, that's a possibility, I mean, that's the sort of good, logical thinking which would encourage tourists to come. And I'm sure –

Neil Mitchell: Free? Free?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, all that has to be looked at. We've got circumstances around our budget at the moment. We've spent a lot throughout the pandemic. We have to make sure that future generations – you know, we understand that future generations will have to pay that off. So free, I don't know about, but boosters available – that's the sort of thing which would encourage tourists to come and make sure that we support those 600,000 jobs. And that would be a sort of very constructive way to look at things.

Neil Mitchell: I know you need to jump on the plane – I was told you are going to spend $160 million selling Australia, although the industry wants 240 million. What is the basic message? What is the thing that best sells Australia in this environment?

Dan Tehan: (A) that we're open; (b) we've got the best attractions anywhere in the world; and (c) we've got people who will welcome international tourists like nowhere else in the world. We've got the best country. We've got the best people. And we've got to make sure we sell that to the rest of the world, and the welcome that we give people. Because we are unique in what we have in this country and who we are and how we welcome people.

Neil Mitchell: Yeah, maybe a vaccine passport won't help that. Will tourists be required to show that they're double vaccinated when they're moving in the community or not?

Dan Tehan: Look, that's something where obviously individual states and territories have particular requirements in place and that will vary depending on jurisdictions.

Neil Mitchell: Okay.

Dan Tehan: But we just want to make it, in terms of them coming here, a simple message so they get on that plane and start coming back, filling up our cities again and visiting our wonderful regions.

Neil Mitchell: Okay. And one last question before you get on the plane: did you leak the text messages saying ScoMo was a psycho?

Dan Tehan: No, I didn't. And the last text message that I got was a wonderful text message was from the CEO of Tourism Australia saying that enquiries and bookings for international tourists to come here overnight are booming. And that's why we've got to get these people back here.

Neil Mitchell: Thank you very much. Dan Tehan the Federal Minister for Trade and Tourism, about to jump on a plane to India. Just got a message from the State Government – which is a very, very rare thing; a very rare thing, a message from the mount – Victoria is awaiting ATAGI advice like the Federal Government.


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