Interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC Drive

  • Transcript
Subjects: Support for the tourism sector, International tourists, Federal election
08 February 2021

Scott Emerson: Now, Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has been touring Queensland today. He’s been up Far North Queensland, so talking to operators, but he joins us now on 4BC Drive. Minister, thank you for joining the show today.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Scott, here in Cairns, and I was up in Port Douglas yesterday. Beautiful part of the world up here in Far North Queensland and they need as many Australians to visit as they possibly can. And, I’ve got to say, it’s a beautiful spot, so anyone who can get up here and help the tourism sector, if you can, please do it.

Emerson: I’m glad you visit. Would that be your first visit since you became Tourism Minister?

Tehan: It is. It is. So, I said to Warren Entsch, he rang me as soon as I was made …

Emerson: … He’s always quiet, Warren Entsch. He wouldn’t normally give you a ring, would he?

Tehan: He’s very quiet, as you know. Parochial and passionate is the best way to describe him about Far North Queensland.

Emerson: I’ve heard other things describe him too, but you’re very kind to him, Dan Tehan.

Tehan: Yeah, no. He’s been, he does a great job up here and he was very keen to get me up here, and I said once we’ve got through the first sitting week of Parliament, I’d get my skates on. And, so I arrived yesterday, and we’ve had a wonderful program, and really want to thank the local tourism industry up here because they came out in force. They’ve been full of great suggestions. They’ve got great passion for what they do. And, look, I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure that we can continue to support them over the next three to six months as we hopefully can get international tourism back, and get more confidence into our domestic tourism industry.

Emerson: Well, you mentioned Minister there, in terms of the tourism sector, now look, 4BC Drive’s spoken repeatedly about the impact of coronavirus on the tourism sector, but I do know that particularly where you are, in North Queensland, they’ve been hit incredibly hard. Cairns rely so heavily, particularly on that international tourism market. Now, JobKeeper’s role — you got to end it at the end of March, so next month, the end of next month. A lot of calls from tourism operators here in Queensland, including of course the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, for some sort of extension of support for that sector. You say just a moment ago you’re going to do everything to help them. Does that include extending that support?

Tehan: Well, JobKeeper will end in March and we’ve been very clear on that. We wanted to make sure that the packages that we’ve rolled out were targeted and were temporary, but that doesn’t mean that support for the tourism industry will end then. And, one of the reasons I’ve been to Port Douglas and here in Cairns — I’ll visit the Whitsundays tomorrow and then I’ll be on the Gold Coast — is to hear firsthand from the tourism operators, the tourism businesses, about what sort of support and help that they will need over the next three to six months, and then I’ll be taking that back to Canberra to talk to my colleagues to see what we can do, come the end of March, to help and support the tourism industry. Because, as you’ve said, particularly those areas that are highly reliant on international tourism, it’s likely, not until the end of the year, beginning of next year, that we’re going to see international tourism start to rebound. So, we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing what we can to support the sector while we’re waiting for international tourism to reboot in this nation.

Emerson: So, listening to what you just said then, Dan Tehan, it sounds like JobKeeper won’t be extended, but maybe some specific sector support that you’re looking at to help out the tourism sector here, particularly in Queensland.

Tehan: That’s right. We’ve always said that the best thing we can do is provide temporary and targeted support during this pandemic. One of the last things we didn’t want to leave was an economic burden which was ongoing to the Australian taxpayer through our response. So, we will look at what we can do in a targeted and temporary way beyond March. Obviously, we’ve already provided significant support to the local economy here in Queensland. I think it’s over $28 billion has been provided through JobKeeper and other measures. So, we’ve provided significant support, and what we want to do is make sure that we can continue to provide support where it’s necessary. And, I think the tourism sector and the aviation sector have a big case to put to the Government as to why, especially the closure of international borders, means that we should be looking to help and support them further.

Emerson: Now, you said earlier about international tourism, you felt that before it starts again — probably next year, 2022. Obviously, the vaccine rollout, we’re looking at that starting and rolling out from February now, and the Prime Minister has said everyone who wants the vaccine will be able to get it, hopefully by October. But, we’ve also seen some messages coming out today regarding the South African strain of the coronavirus and whether AstraZeneca vaccine is effective or not on that. Are you still confident about that international tourism opening up next year?

Tehan: Oh, look, I am. And, I think if we can get the vaccine rolled out here and it can be rolled out at pace internationally, then there’s no reason why, in the first instance, we can’t get international bubbles up and running. We’ve already got one — a one-way bubble at this stage with New Zealand, where New Zealanders are coming over to Australia. But, countries like Vietnam that have done incredibly well dealing with the virus as well, countries like Singapore, provide us with opportunities to also be increasing the number of bubbles that we’ve got. If Japan can successfully deal with the Olympics and rolling out their vaccine, there’s another option there. So, we have to keep exploring these options. As soon as we can get the international tourists back, the better. We know that for the businesses up here, but also in regional and rural Australia, backpackers, in particular, provide that labour that’s required, that casual labour that’s required for our farmers when it comes to fruit picking. One of the issues that’s been raised with me up here is there’s avocados to harvest, there’s bananas to harvest in the coming months, and we really need a workforce that can do that. So, for many reasons we’ve got to get these bubbles up and running — not only so we can get international tourism going but also so we can address some of these workforce shortages, as well.

Emerson: Now, Dan Tehan, you’re in Cairns today, and you’ve been up to Whitsunday and those others, or you’re going to Whitsunday tomorrow and then Gold Coast — also, North Queensland. They had one visitor at least — that was Anthony Albanese. He’s up there as well. So, the Federal Opposition leader, the Tourism Minister in North Queensland, that smells like an election this year.

Tehan: Look, I don’t think there will be an election this year. The Prime Minister has said that he wants to go full-term. And …

Emerson: … But, he hasn’t ruled out election in 2021, he just says he wants to go full-term. He hasn’t said no election at all this year.

Tehan: No, but if you look at our agenda, and especially with the vaccine rollout and everything we’ve got to do to really get our economy re-going, that focus on jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. There’s a hell of a lot for us to do this year and my expectation is that we will go full-term, and I can tell you the way I’m going about my job — we’ve got free trade agreements to negotiate with the EU and the UK. We’ve got to reengage with the new Biden administration. There’s work to be done on supporting our tourism sector, getting confidence into the domestic tourism sector, and rebooting the international tourism sector. Right across the board, there’s so much to do. So, I’m expecting a full year’s work and then an election in 2022.

Emerson: Alright Dan Tehan, appreciate you being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.

Tehan: Always a pleasure Scott, great to chat with you.

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