Interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Breakfast

  • Transcript
Subjects: Reopening of Australia's border to international tourists; Russia/Ukraine; possible AGL takeover; relationship with China.
21 February 2022

Patricia Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Minister for Tourism and Trade, he joins us now from Sydney Airport. Good morning, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Patricia, wonderful to be with you and great to be on the show with you for the first time since you've taken over. Congratulations. I've got to say, it is party time out here at Sydney Airport. The surf lifesavers are out here. Tourism Australia have got young people out here in their ‘Welcome Back’ T-shirts, there's Tim Tams, there's Vegemite jars, there's wattle being handed out, and there are hugs being given when people get off the plane the like you've never seen. As a matter of fact, I saw a beautiful moment with two people reunited, big, warm hug and there were tears rolling down both the people's eyes. It's just wonderful, wonderful to be out here.

It's a great day of celebration. Our tourism industry has obviously been through a very hard time the last couple of years. And there's a lot of joy and a lot of big smiles, and people are getting that Australian welcome that we are so, so renowned for, and that's why I'm confident we'll get that strong rebound for our tourism sector, because our wonderful, wonderful experiences, locations and that warmth of welcome has not disappeared and that's wonderful to see.

Patricia Karvelas: So let's get to those numbers, because it is great and a real milestone, no doubt. How many international travellers are you expecting will be here over the next coming months?

Dan Tehan: Well, we are confident we'll see a very strong rebound. There's 1.2 million visas that are held that are eligible right across the globe at the moment. What we've got to do is make sure we continue to roll out that $40 million marketing campaign which is going to those key markets that are already open. As other countries open and take their conditions away we'll continue to make sure we market in there. I was in India 10 days ago signing an MOU, it was our fastest growing international tourism market leading into the pandemic.
Everything I picked up there is that that is ready to rebound strongly.

Obviously we're seeing very good signs out of North America, out of the United Kingdom. So, look, there's still a lot to do –

Patricia Karvelas: Yeah, there are because –

Dan Tehan: But for those 660,000 people employed in our tourism industry today is just a wonderful, wonderful day.

Patricia Karvelas: It's the beginning of something. There are only 56 flights scheduled to touch down today. That's well down on the 300 international flights that were arriving each day before the pandemic, Minister. Have you spoken with the airlines, and are they planning to put on more flights?

Dan Tehan: Yes, they are. One of our – one of the major airlines is out here at the airport. I was speaking to them earlier. And they were saying every plane that they're sticking on to our market is getting full and they're going to be putting more and more on. So they've seen a big upswing in bookings, which is great. So they're getting the confidence to put more planes into the market, which is also wonderful. So everything is pointing in a very, very positive direction for our tourism industry.

Patricia Karvelas: There was a survey of UK travellers last week, and Australia came stone cold last on a list of tourism hot spots behind Europe and North America, Asia and Africa. Cost and distance were nominated as the reasons why. What are you doing to try and recover that lost market share?

Dan Tehan: It's why Tourism Australia's marketing campaign is so, so important and we have the best tourism marketers in the world in my view. They understand that what's happened through the pandemic is that people, rather than looking afar, are sort of thinking, "Well, I'll travel 2 or 3 hours away," so we'll obviously see that big strong domestic tourism lift right around the world.

But what our marketing campaign is all about is reminding people to go big, go Australia. Don't think small, go big, go Australia. So putting in their minds, again, have the confidence to be able to take that long-haul flight, travel somewhere for two to three weeks. We've got all our states and territories either opened or reopening by the 3rd of March, because a lot of the travellers want to do two or three states. So we understand what's happened to the mentality of people when they're thinking about travel, and Tourism Australia are targeting that as we speak. They've now been in market for a couple of weeks making sure that we remind people about how great we are.

Patricia Karvelas: Sure, so that's the advertising campaign, and it's a really important part, no doubt. But the industry is crying out for more support. Some of the ideas include refunding tourist visas or scrapping passenger movement charges. Will that be forthcoming?

Dan Tehan: Well, as you know, currently we did that for backpackers and international students waive the visa charge, and we've seen a big uptick in demand in those areas.

Patricia Karvelas: Are you looking to do it beyond those groups?

Dan Tehan: Well, we'll continue to monitor the situation. We'll continue to monitor demand, as we've done right throughout this pandemic. If we think there's targeted support that's needed, then we will provide that. So we'll continue to monitor that. But what – at the moment what we want to do is make sure that that confidence is there for people to travel again and that's what we're really focusing in on.

I've got to say, you know, going around Australia over the last couple of years, what the sector has said to me, their number one priority – number one priority – get the international tourists back. That's what they want. That's been their number one demand and that's why today is so wonderful because international tourists are back from right across the world.

Patricia Karvelas: If you're just tuning in, this is RN Breakfast, and my guest is the Tourism Minister Dan Tehan. Dan Tehan, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned that the global economic recovery from the pandemic could be derailed if Russia goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine. You're also the Trade Minister. If there is a war in Eastern Europe, how disruptive would it be to world trade?

Dan Tehan: Well, it would be disruptive. All wars are disruptive and there's no doubt that there would be consequences, including on the resources sector. And we're likely to see an upkick in the gas price, in the oil price as a result of that and that does have ramifications globally. We're already seeing the gold price kick up as a result of what Russia is doing on the border of Ukraine.

Patricia Karvelas: So it would push energy prices higher?

Dan Tehan: It would push energy prices higher. All the market indications are showing a high possibility that that will happen. So that is why the government is calling on Russia to de-escalate the current situation. It is in no-one's interests – no-one's interests – including Russia's, that they go into the Ukraine. Economic sanctions will hit immediately on Russia if they do it. So – and everything that's been done around the world is trying to get them to stand down. Let's hope that they do but if they don't, they will know the consequences.

Patricia Karvelas: Minister, since we're talking about energy, do you welcome the bid by billionaire Mike Cannon Brookes for a takeover of AGL?

Dan Tehan: We'll leave that up to the private sector and that's what the private sector does best. We've got a share market. He's put in a bid. I haven't heard this morning – I've been out at the airport – whether the board will accept that bid or not. Obviously AGL is looking at a demerger as well. So that's, you know, the great thing about having a market – we'll leave that up to the market.

Patricia Karvelas: So that means if the market and then he is successful and they want to phase out coal earlier, that's just what the market wants?

Dan Tehan: Well, that's completely up to the market. Obviously we've put in place policies to make sure that any phase out has to be backed by making sure that those – that energy will be there, that secure energy supply, will be there, that base load power will be there. So any closure has to be replaced by making sure that base load energy is there. So they will have to obviously abide by current government policy. But if the market dictates that they see that that bid is worthwhile and that's what AGL shareholders think is in their best interests, then ultimately that's up to the market.

Patricia Karvelas: Now, on China, the government has been rebuked by very senior members of the security and intelligence community for trying to weaponise the relationship with China to damage Anthony Albanese. How much harder will it be now for you to try and resolve the numerous trade disputes with Beijing given the conversations we're having now?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously I wrote to my Chinese counterpart over two years ago now saying that we would be happy to sit down and work through all the disputes that we currently have with China. I haven't had a response to that letter in over two years. So we've taken action in the World Trade Organisation on – in two of the areas – on barley and wine – where we think we've got a very good case against what the Chinese are doing. So we will continue to very stridently defend our exporters and their current actions that have been taken by China.

And in the meantime we will continue to find alternative markets, and that's what we've been doing. Twenty-seven per cent of our trade was covered by FTAs when we came into government. That's now 75 per cent with the signing of the UK FTA. And the current negotiations with India, which I hope will be able to conclude in the next three weeks, would take that higher. So we'll continue our diversification push and also continue to say to China we want to sit down with you and work through all these current disputes. But so far, unfortunately, they haven't been prepared to sit down with us.

Patricia Karvelas: The government is demanding answers over why a Chinese naval ship pointed a laser at an Australian surveillance aircraft just off our north coast. The PM has told commercial radio this morning there's been no response to his demand for answers.
Doesn't that suggest China has little respect for Australia?

Dan Tehan: Well, what it shows is that the Chinese government or the Chinese military have taken an action which was incredibly dangerous that has potentially put Australian lives at risk and that we will not tolerate that. And we will make it very, very clear to the Chinese that we will call out such action and will do everything we can to stop that happening.

This isn't – this issue is about steps being taken which are potentially incredibly dangerous towards Australians in our military, and we will not tolerate it and the PM has made that incredibly clear.

Patricia Karvelas: Dan Tehan, many thanks for joining us this morning.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure, Patricia.

ENDS

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