Interview with Stewart Brash, ABC Alice Springs Breakfast
Stewart Brash: Dan Tehan is Federal Minister for Tourism. Dan Tehan, good morning.
Dan Tehan: Good morning, great to be with you.
Brash: And, Dan Tehan, we heard there from Patrick Bedford and he was saying that, you know, the big problem for tourism is the fact that people are wary of booking ahead. They don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve already seen it with Western Australia last week that people do not have the confidence. So, what difference will five million dollars in marketing do?
Tehan: Well, we’ve got to make sure that we’re encouraging all Australians to take a holiday here this year, and that’s what the five million dollar campaign is all about. And, it is, it’s being done in a way where state and territory governments can also link in on the campaign. So we see this as Federal Government leadership in the domestic tourism space, which is normally where states and territories do the marketing …
Brash: … But, do you admit that there’s a lot of, let’s say, reticence of people to actually book a holiday, given what we’re seeing with the borders, and we’ve seen it all the way through summer?
Tehan: Yeah. Look, there is no doubt that if we could get a consistent approach from state and territory governments to border closures and to hotspot definitions, than that would give a lot more clarity to the tourism sector — and that’s something that we’ve asked of states and territories to consider. I’ve started meeting with state and territory tourism ministers, and my request of them is to try and work to get a uniform approach but, ultimately, in the end, that will be up to state and territory governments. But, we will keep asking them to do that because we think the more certainty that can be provided in that regard the better for our domestic tourism industry. And, you have to remember, well over 650,000 people are employed in the tourism industry in Australia. So, that will help them continue to have a job, and that’s incredibly important and not only that, it’s the income that’s earnt, as well. And, you know, with the Northern Territory, you know, it’s a billion-dollar industry in the Northern Territory, or over a billion-dollar industry in the Northern Territory tourism — so, we’ve got to be doing what we can to support the industry. And, that’s why domestic tourism, while our international borders are closed, is just so vital for the whole of the sector.
Brash: Would it be fair to say that places like Central Australia, Far North Queensland, who rely, and — certainly in Central Australia say a third of our market, would be internationals — so, there is no way that domestic tourism is going to be able to make up the shortfall in Central Australia and the Northern Territory?
Tehan: So, obviously, those regions which are more heavily reliant on international tourism are the ones that we’re looking to see how we can support — and some of the measures we’ve already been put in place have been targeted to do that. So, we will continue to keep assessing that. If we can get domestic tourism up and operating, there are billions of dollars that Australians spend on overseas holidays and overseas trips each year and if we could at least capture 50, 60, 70 per cent of that, it will make a big difference. And, that’s what we’re, that’s what we’re trying to do and we’ll continue to push, especially this year. And, our hope is that we’ll start to see international tourism up and operating again by early next year, and we’ll start planning for what we’re doing and how we’re marketing to get the international tourism sector up and operating in the beginning of next year.
Brash: We’re speaking to Dan Tehan, the Federal Tourism Minister. Now, you heard there from Patrick Bedford. Now, he’s a local tourism operator. We’ve been speaking to Patrick and other operators ever since, all the way through the last 10 months, when they’ve been doing it incredibly tough. Now, businesses locally are dreading the end of JobKeeper. Why can’t Government make an exception for tourism in places like Central Australia, where we don’t have an intra-territory market, we rely on interstaters and internationals to drive our tourism? Is there not an argument to be made to allow JobKeeper to be extended to a place like the Northern Territory?
Tehan: Well, the Government made clear that JobKeeper was a temporary measure that was designed to address, basically, the forced shutdown of the economy due to the pandemic. Now, as the economy has recovered and as we’ve come out of the pandemic we’ve said that JobKeeper would end. But, what we are in consultations with the tourism sector about is to see what specific and targeted measures we could put in place for the tourism sector, and I’ve been having …
Brash: … What sort of measures are you thinking of, Minister?
Tehan: Well, we’re still in consultation with the sector on this. We’re also getting data from Treasury and from Austrade, literally as we speak, and officials are looking at that data because making sure that we can distinguish between those regions where we have seen a strong rebound in domestic tourism versus those areas that have been impacted still by the lack of international tourists. We’re looking at all that data at the moment, and then we’ll be making decisions as a Government on what sort of targeted support will be required going forward for the tourism industry — so that’s under active consideration at the moment.
Brash: But, would you possibly extend something like JobKeeper in those regions you’re talking about, like it may be Far North Queensland, places like the Northern Territory?
Tehan: So, the Government’s been very clear that JobKeeper will end at the end of March but what we’re doing is looking at additional support measures for sectors such as the tourism industry, which are still being impacted by the close of the Australian border. And, so, we will have more to say on that in the coming weeks but that’s under active consideration at the moment.
Brash: We have people in business, people in tourism businesses tuned in this morning, as they do, wondering, well, Minister, what are we going to do? We can’t survive another month, two months, three months. What promise can you make to those businesses?
Tehan: Well, JobKeeper ends at the end of March. And, what we’re doing is we’re working with the sector at the moment, consulting with the sector, to see what specific targeted measures need to be put in place post-JobKeeper. And, I say to all those businesses, I was appointed on the Tuesday before Christmas, I had meetings with the sector before Christmas, between Christmas and New Year, and have continued to have those discussions in January so, it is under active consideration. It’s been a number one priority of mine since I’ve been given this portfolio and we will continue to have those consultations and we will make decisions which we think are in the best interests of the tourism industry. And, we know how important it is and we know that those 660,000 jobs are important to the national economy.
Brash: But, do you accept, Minister, that without further support, that industries like tourism in Central Australia will suffer, will lose jobs, and will lose companies?
Tehan: So, I’m well aware that the impact that the COVID-19 has had on the tourism sector, and it continues to have on the tourism sector, especially with these snap border closures that we’re still seeing and the uncertainty that that is creating for people wishing to take holidays or wishing to take travel. It’s why we’ve put a five million dollar marketing campaign in place, and we’ll continue to do more …
Brash: … But, do you think it’s inevitable we’re going to lose companies and jobs?
Tehan: Well, look, the pandemic has obviously had a big impact on us as a nation. I think it’s been quite remarkable how we’ve come through it. I think the support that the community has given to businesses that have been impacted has been extraordinary. I think the way the Government has stepped in to support the business community and the community more generally has been unprecedented in this nation’s history. So, we want to be doing everything we can to help and support businesses through this pandemic and that’s the approach that we will continue to take.
Brash: Minister, must leave it there. But, thank you.
Tehan: No, thank you.
Brash: Minister Dan Tehan, our Minister for Tourism, making no promises regarding the future. Well, essentially saying there will be no JobKeeper after March but looking at targeted support for the industry.
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