Interview with Tom Elliott, 3AW Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: History in politics, Border closures, ‘Holiday Here This Year’ tourism campaign.
04 March 2021

Tom Elliott: Well our next guest, as I’ve just mentioned, wants us to do our patriotic duty and take holidays in Australia. We don’t actually have much choice right now, because with the possible exception in New Zealand, you can’t actually go overseas. The Federal Government’s got a new ad campaign. Tourism Australia ambassadors Hamish and Zoe Foster-Blake headline it. It’s costing us $6 million. We are now joined by the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan. Good afternoon.

Dan Tehan: Afternoon, Tom, great to be with you.

Elliott: Now, we were just debating before whether if we paid politicians more, we’d get a better class of politician. Would you work harder if we increased your pay?

Tehan: Look, Tom, I didn’t go into this for the financial reward. I went in here to try and make a difference and make sure we’re doing the right thing by the nation so I’m quite happy with how we’re renumerated. What I need to be focused on at the moment is doing my job, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Elliott: That’s a good answer. Now, I’ve known you for a long time. Obviously, we’ve known each other for over 30 years. Did you always want to be a politician, you know, back when you were a student at university?

Tehan: When I was a student at university, I probably was very keen, at that stage, on becoming a diplomat. That’s, sort of, where my studies had taken me. When I was a young boy growing up I wanted to play for the Richmond Football Club and own a milk bar …

Elliott: … Well, you were a chance to play for Richmond. You were a very good footballer in the day, playing in the seconds, I believe.

Tehan: That’s very kind of you to say so, Tom. I think my aspirations were way, way above my ability but we always had to dream as a child. I really got an appetite to want to go into federal politics once I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I spent some time working for Australia’s Trade Minister Mark Vaile and saw the contribution that you can make being a parliamentarian, and that’s when my real desire came to enter federal politics. But it’s something, obviously, my mother did so I got a bit of an insight from her and saw, you know, some of the good and some of the bad of being a Member of Parliament, and some of the, obviously, the tough times you can go through. She went through some very tough times when she was reforming the Victorian health system, but left an incredible legacy then. Her reforms were used right across the country. But, I would say it was really after I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that I really got a desire to want to try and enter federal politics.

Elliott: Okay. Now, tourism. I mean, I support the thrust of your campaign. You know, that we’ve all got a duty to try and help our tourism sector get back on its feet, and that means taking holidays in and around Australia. But, the problem I have is this at the moment, Dan. I mean, we had this snap lockdown here in Victoria a few weeks ago, and we’ve got, you know, friends and family who live in Sydney and in some cases Queensland, and they would like to come down here but they fear the Victorian Government will announce another lockdown at the drop of a hat and suddenly the borders are closed and we’re talking 14-day quarantines to get back into their home state. Is it not difficult to convince people to holiday interstate when we’ve had that recent experience of lockdowns?

Tehan: It is, Tom. And, what your friends are experiencing, and their fears and thoughts, are exactly what the majority of Australians are thinking. Tourism Australia have done a survey and the greatest fear that Australians have at the moment travelling interstate is not the coronavirus, it’s actually border lockdowns and we’ve got to fix this. And this is one of the things that the Federal Government wants to do. We want to start giving confidence to Australians to travel again. We have the most wonderful, wonderful places to visit and, while we can’t, at the moment travel overseas, what we also want all Australians to be doing is, when you do travel across Australia, spend like you do when you’re overseas. Dip into your pocket and really spend like you would when you’re overseas, because we tend to spend more when we’re overseas travelling than what we do domestically and, obviously, we don’t have that opportunity at the moment, so we could really support the 660,000 jobs in our tourism industry if we not only travel, but also travel and spend.

Elliott: So, what can we do though to stop the state premiers having these lockdowns? I mean, you’ve got Mark McGowan in Western Australia. You know, he thinks that lockdowns and closed borders improve his popularity. We’ve had Daniel Andrews here in Victoria who sort of panicked at this, you know, a small outbreak in Sunbury and shut the state down for five days. I mean, are there any moves afoot to try and take this power away from the states?

Tehan: Look, there’s no moves afoot to take the power away from the states, but I’ll be meeting with state and territory tourism ministers next week to appeal to them to start using border closures very much as a last resort. And, also, what we’ll be doing then is convincing them that it’s in the best interest of their states and territories. If you look at Melbourne, at the moment, their occupancy rates in their hotels are at 34 per cent. As someone who often travels through Melbourne and stays in Melbourne because of my work, walking around Melbourne at the moment, I’ve got to say, it brings despair with the amount of businesses that are shut and closed. So, what we need to see is our state premiers, our territory leaders, understanding that the impact that these lockdowns are having, that shutting the borders is having, on their capital cities, in particular – and that we need to change the way we’re doing this. They have to be the last resort, and what we need is to give confidence back. They’re chilling Australian’s want and will to travel through those border closures, and that hurts their own economy.

Elliott: Yeah, it does.

Tehan: So, they’ve got to understand that that should be a last resort, and that we want all Australians, while the international border is closed to keep us safe, to start travelling again, to support those jobs, to support the wonderful locations that we all have the opportunity this year to explore and to see. And, you know, all the Australians that I speak to who have taken the opportunity to travel domestically have loved exploring and getting to know their country again and I’m absolutely convinced that they’ll do that again if we can get the states and territories clearly stating that they’ll do it as a last resort, only when the health advice absolutely says it’s necessary, rather than using it as the primary form to try and stop the virus.

Elliott: Yeah, well, good luck with that. Now, you’re a Victorian MP. If someone, say, from, I don’t know, Sydney or Queensland or maybe the Northern Territory, or WA if they’re allowed out, says to you, ‘Look Mr Tehan, I want to come and visit Victoria. I haven’t been before,’ where do you tell them to go?

Tehan: Well, I’d have to be a little bit patriotic and say you need to visit the Great Ocean Road, then you’d go to Budj Bim and see the oldest Indigenous aquaculture site in the world, and then go to the Grampians to walk what is a magnificent walking trail, where you can look also at our Indigenous history and get some of the most wonderful views of Western Victoria –  and, if you did that, you would not be disappointed.

Elliott: Now, finally, you’ve already admitted you’re a mad Richmond supporter, you’ve barracked for the Tigers for a long time. You were half a chance to play for them back in the ‘80s when they weren’t much good. How are they going to go in the opening round against Carlton?

Tehan: Well, Tom, I know you’ll be very interested in this. I think it’s going to be a great clash. I think Carlton have recruited very well. I think they’re building, they’ve got stability both on and off the field and, I think, there’s going to be a kick-in at night. I think those 50,000 who are lucky enough to turn up to the MCG in, what is it, two or three weeks’ time, are going to be in for a great game of football and won’t it be great to be back at the ‘G with a crowd watching Carlton and Richmond when that ball bounces? It’ll be a fantastic start to the season. I must say, I cannot wait.

Elliott: Alright, I agree with you there. Two weeks tonight it is. That’s Dan Tehan, Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

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