Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tourism and aviation support package, Support for the tourism sector, Border closures, SME Recovery Loan Scheme, Opening of international borders.
11 March 2021

Patricia Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Minister for Trade, for Tourism and Investment, and my guest tonight. Dan Tehan, welcome.

Dan Tehan: Hi, Patricia. Wonderful to be with you.

Karvelas: Why did you decide against direct support for tourism workers?

Tehan: What we’ve decided to do is incentivise people to travel. When I did consultations with the tourism industry right across Australia, the key message that I kept getting back was what the tourism industry wants is tourists. So, what we’ve done through this package is incentivise people to travel right around this nation and that is the basis of what we’ve done. That’s why we think this measure is a very positive one and will give confidence back to people to start travelling and support the 600,000 jobs in the tourism industry.

Karvelas: And, what’s the timeframe? I think I mentioned it was six months, but I’m wrong, aren’t I? How long does it last?

Tehan: Yeah, so it lasts until the middle of September. So, it rolls out on 1 April and runs through to the middle of September, and we want everyone, everyone to capitalise on this. There’s 46,000 discount tickets a week, and the airlines already are offering great discounts. So, if you are thinking about a trip, please take it. The tourism industry needs it. It’ll do you the world of good after having been through this pandemic, and we want as many people as possible going out and seeing the wonderful destinations right across this nation.

Karvelas: How did you determine which regional areas would be included in your tourism package, because Labor is suggesting it looks like pork barrelling. It looks like you’ve actually made this all about marginal seats.

Tehan: Well, I just take Avalon, for instance, in Victoria, Patricia. It’s in a safe Labor seat. But what we did is exactly …

Karvelas: … Isn’t it very close to Corangamite? Isn’t it, sort of, that’s?

Tehan: Well, it’s also close to Wannon, which isn’t. So, you can have a look at locations right around the nation and there’ll be a variety of seats near them, Darwin’s another one. Anyway, what we did was we looked at where international tourists are heavily, or those destinations that are heavily reliant on international tourists and we then sat down with the airlines and said, ‘which are the destinations that really need help and support?’ The important message that I want to give tonight is that these aren’t set in stone. These 13 destinations are a start, and we will continue to liaise with the airlines, and if there are other routes that need support and other areas that need support, then we’ll be also looking to make changes. We want this to work for our tourism industry. We want it to work for every state and territory across the border. That’s what it’s designed to do.

Karvelas: So, you mean, adding new destinations?

Tehan: Absolutely, or there might be destinations which reach near capacity, so that we can say, ‘alright, the job’s been done. We’ve rebooted travel to those areas. Let’s see what we can do with other areas.’ So, not set in stone. We’ve made some initial decisions and we will continue to monitor and work with the airlines on what routes we think need to be supported going forward.

Karvelas: Are regional destinations like Mildura and Byron Bay on your list?

Tehan: Look, they’re not on our list at the moment, and that’s because when we sat down with the aviation sector, they said that they didn’t need additional capacity or incentives at this stage. But, if that changes, we can look at them. But, one of those locations, in particular, has had very strong visitation over the last six to nine months.

Karvelas: You’re talking about Byron Bay?

Tehan: Byron Bay – it is full, and it has done incredibly well, and Alan Joyce said that today at the press conference. So, our big challenge is to really boost visitors to those destinations that need it. And, as I’ve said, if it works, what we’ll be able to do is then look at other routes as well.

Karvelas: How does this help cities like Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane as well, where tourism operators and hotels are also struggling? Hotels are empty.

Tehan: Yeah, so, what we’re hoping on the back of this is that state and territory governments will say, ‘Look, the Federal Government is doing its bit – $1.2 billion in supporting the aviation and tourism industry. We’re going to do our bit.’ Now, we’ve been running successfully, through Tourism Australia, a marketing campaign to get people back to the cities. The aviation sector already is offering discount flights between Melbourne and Sydney, for example, you could do that now for under $100. So, what we want also is the state and territory government to jump on the back of this and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to offer vouchers for our hotels, we’re going to offer vouchers to visit particular destinations,’ and that will really help support what we have done. We’ve shown incredible leadership and what we need now is the states and territories to follow suit.

Karvelas: There are reports that ticket prices have doubled today for some airline routes. How will you make sure there’s no price gouging?

Tehan: So, we put an integrity measure in there to make sure that the discounts will be measured against prices that were there in February. So, we’ve worked with the airlines to make sure that there’s an integrity measure here but, I must say, from all the discussions that I’ve had with the aviation industry they are incredibly upbeat about this. They want to offer those discount prices because they want people to be travelling. They understand how important that is and they’ve been incredibly supportive, and we’ll continue to work with them but we have got that integrity measure in place to make sure that we do get the right outcome.

Karvelas: Will airlines be required to put on additional services for in-demand routes instead of raising prices?

Tehan: That’s the idea. They will put on additional capacity. That’s how this will work, and it’ll be additional capacity to those routes that need it. And, then, as I’ve said, if we start getting near full demand, we’ll start to look at other routes and we’ve been very, very clear up front that this is not something that’s set-in stone. If we need to look at additional routes, we will do that and we’ll support them.

Karvelas: Are you confident that Australians will travel with the threat of border closures internally?

Tehan: Well, this is another area that state and territory governments could play an important role. They can send a clear message out to the Australian people that they will only close borders, as very much, as a last resort. Putting confidence back into people’s will and want to travel is incredibly important. All the recent surveys have shown, not COVID-19 that’s putting fear in people’s want and will to travel, it’s actually the fear of border closures.

Karvelas: Sure, but the border closures are linked to COVID-19. They’ve been implemented when there’s a breakout, right?

Tehan: They have. But, you’ve got to remember, we’ve got contact tracing, we’ve got testing. So, if we can have border closures as a last resort, not when we get one or two cases, that’ll go a long way to putting confidence back in people’s want and will to travel, and that’s a key area where the states and territories can play another positive role. They can back this, they can put their own measures in place, and also they can send a clear signal out to the, to Australians to say that the vaccine’s being rolled out, we’ve got our contact tracing and testing in place, you should feel free to travel and know and understand that borders will be closed only as a last resort.

Karvelas: So, have you got any modelling on how many jobs this will protect?

Tehan: So, we’ve looked at what we think this, the jobs that this will protect, and we’ve had very good discussions with the aviation sector on that, and, also, on the broader, with the broader tourism industry. It’s very hard to give a definitive answer on it, but we think – and this was backed with, by both Alan Joyce and Jayne Hrdlicka said at the press conference this morning, they think that this will support jobs in the aviation sector, strongly support them, and mean that they’ll be looking to put people on.

Karvelas: Does this policy announcement just favour Qantas?

Tehan: No, every airline is supported by this so, whether it’s small airlines, or whether it’s large airlines. If you’re flying on any of these destinations, you will get the assistance to be able to offer the discount ticket. So, whether it’s Rex, whether it’s Virgin, whether it’s Qantas, or any other airline that’s flying these routes, they will get the benefit of it.

Karvelas: What do you make of New South Wales and the New South Wales Government and the Ministers there telling people not to visit Queensland because of the Premier’s border closures?

Tehan: Well, we take very much a national approach to the measures that we put in place. So, we’ve provided, through JobKeeper, assistance right across the country. We think this measure is a very positive measure, in that it will get people …

Karvelas: … Would it be good for the New South Wales Government not to say that?

Tehan: Well, I think what I’m looking for from every state and territory is just a bit of positivity. Let’s back this in, let’s make sure that we support it. Let’s see state and territory governments come out with accommodation vouchers, with vouchers to visit attractions. Let’s take a Team Australia approach to this. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, rather than bickering, if everyone just sort of said, let’s get this done, let’s back it in, let’s get people travelling, let’s get people moving. We’ve had a hard time with the pandemic – take a holiday, spend some money, and the money that you save on your discount air ticket – 46,000 a week – put it into a pub, into a restaurant, into visiting a wonderful attraction, and that’ll really help the 600,000 jobs in the tourism industry.

Karvelas: How will the $200 million that you’ve set aside for international aviation workers be allocated? Will it come in the form of a wage subsidy?

Tehan: No, it won’t. We’ve had discussions with the aviation sector as to how that will work. It will work in terms of helping them with training, making sure they continue to be reskilled, and help and protect and support us keep that international aviation capacity for when our international border reopens, which, will hopefully will be sooner rather than later.

Karvelas: What reduction in turnover will a business need to demonstrate in order to qualify for the loan scheme?

Tehan: For the loan scheme, this is the, what you’ll need to be to be eligible for the loan scheme is that you will have to have been on JobKeeper in this quarter. So, if you’ve been eligible for JobKeeper in this quarter, you will be eligible for the loan scheme, and that loan scheme will provide you with an interest-free holiday of up to two years, and is obviously backed by the Australian Government, and the banks have been very supportive and are looking at doing their part and playing their part in ensuring that loans can be rolled out to help those businesses that are on JobKeeper this quarter.

Karvelas: Is it your expectation that international travel will resume on 31 October given Professor Brendan Murphy says not all Australians will have received two doses of the vaccine by then?

Tehan: Look, my hope is that we will see international travel resume towards the second half of this year. In particular, my hope would be that that would occur through bubbles, with New Zealand, for instance, Singapore, Japan is another option that’s there and then, next year, we would be looking at being able to see more broad scale opening of the international borders. So, it’s very hard to tell, very hard to have with a crystal ball gaze and know exactly what will happen but we are still very hopeful that the vaccine will be rolled out by the end of October, and then hopefully the international borders will be able to open and we’ll be able to welcome back international tourists. We know there’s pent-up demand there for those international tourists to come to Australia and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.

Karvelas: Thank you so much for joining us.

Tehan: Been a pleasure, Patricia.

Karvelas: Dan Tehan, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

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