Press conference with George Christensen, Member for Dawson, Andrew Willcox, Mayor Whitsunday Regional Council, Tash Wheeler, CEO Tourism Whitsundays and Shaun Cawood, General Manager Cruise Whitsundays

  • Transcript, E&OE
SUBJECTS: Support for the tourism sector, International tourists, Vaccines, Port of Newcastle, Emissions reduction, Meeting with cane growers.
09 February 2021

George Christensen: It’s great to have the Tourism Minister Dan Tehan here in the Whitsundays to hear firsthand the plight of the tourism sector – tourism businesses, tourism operators, tourism workers – who obviously are feeling the pinch from not only international borders being closed, but also the on again, off again, domestic border shutdowns. So, obviously, there’s more support sort of needed for the tourism sector. That’s what we’re here to talk about. And, that’s why Dan Tehan has come to this region very quickly after he’s been made Minister for Tourism. So, over to you, Dan.

Dan Tehan: Thanks George, and can I say it’s wonderful to be here with you, with the Mayor and with the tourism industry, to be able to have a discussion about what is happening to the tourism sector here – the challenges that it’s facing and also the opportunities that will be there going forward, and I’m looking forward to the discussions that we’re about to have and hearing firsthand from the coalface about those issues and those challenges that are confronting the local tourism sector at the moment. 666,000 jobs are here in Australia as a result of our tourism industry and we want to be doing everything we can to support them. We’ve done it through the supports that we’ve offered to the businesses and employees right across the nation, right throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and I want to make sure that we’re continuing to provide help and support to the tourism sector as it deals with the challenges of the next three to six to nine months, as we look to get international tourism back, get the vaccine rolled out, and make sure that we can get a uniform approach to hotspots right across the nation, so we don’t see those rapid border closures that have sapped the confidence from people looking to travel. So, I’m really looking forward to the discussions and can I say it’s just wonderful to be here.

Can I just touch on two other matters while I’m here. The first is, can I welcome the news from the EU Commissioner this morning, when he’s quite clearly stated that the vaccines that we will be getting from the European Union will arrive on time later this month, that the export controls that the European Union have put in place will in no way disrupt the delivery of the vaccines to here in Australia, so that means that our rollout will occur as scheduled, starting at the end of this month. That is incredibly welcome news.

Can I also touch on the decision by ANZ not to refinance the Port of Newcastle. The Port of Newcastle supports 9,000 jobs. It is the major exporting terminal for coal in this country. We want to make sure that it continues to deliver for our exporters and, in particular, our coal exporters. The coal that comes out of Australia is the cleanest in the world. It helps bring emissions reductions down. Without it there would be coal being sourced from other countries, and that means that emissions would go up. So, we are backing the Port of Newcastle. Very pleased that it looks like there will be another institution that steps in to help with that refinancing. But, we’re watching and monitoring this situation closely. I’ll leave it there and happy to take any questions.

Journalist: Just on the topic of emissions, would the Government consider exempting certain industries from the net zero target?

Tehan: Well, it’s not something we have to consider because the Prime Minister has been crystal clear that it’s going to be technology that drives our roadmap, not taxes. So, that means technology will be used – whether it be in agriculture, whether it be in mining, whether it be in our cities – to help drive emissions down. We’re not contemplating any sort of mechanism which would require these sectors to be excluded. It is technology which is going to drive our approach. And, I’m sure that the agricultural sector along with all other sectors want to be part of that journey, as we look to bring the technology on board which will drive emissions down in this country.

Journalist: Just touching on international travel, when do you expect international travel to come back, and what will the stages be?

Tehan: Look, the hope is that by this time next year we would see international travel resuming at pace. Now, in between then, my hope is that we can get some bubbles up and running. It will be, we’ve obviously got one with New Zealand at the moment, where New Zealand is sending its tourists to us. They don’t want ours at the moment. My hope is that they might do that at some stage. But, we want to look at other countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, who have also done a very good job with managing COVID-19, and get bubbles up and running with them, and hopefully we’ll be in a position to do that this year. And, in particular, if we can get our vaccine rollout occurring here in Australia on our timelines – and that’s great news from the EU today about that – that means that we should be in a very strong position to get those tourists coming back here and supporting the industry and the jobs that are so important here, but right across the nation.

Journalist: Tourism operators are actually saying that New Zealand won’t be the saviour. Instead, they think it’ll be Japan. Is that something that you’ve heard?

Tehan: Look, that is something that I’ve heard here, it’s something that I’ve also heard up in Cairns. Japan was a big investor in tourism in Queensland and really helped put Queensland on the map as a tourist destination, and if they can manage the Olympics and manage it successfully and their own vaccine rollout, we manage ours, then there is no reason why we couldn’t get a bubble up and running again with Japan, and that’s something that I look forward to discussing here with the industry today, and also with the Japanese Tourist Minister.

Journalist: I understand you also met with cane growers this morning. What progress was made in that meeting?

Tehan: So, I had a very good meeting with the cane growers this morning. They’re obviously passionate about their industry and what it contributes to our national economy. At the moment, we’re helping and assisting them in a World Trade Organization dispute with India, where they’re using export subsidies, and that’s kept the world price of cane and sugar at a much lower price. So, we discussed that. We also discussed, importantly, opportunities in the free trade negotiations we’ve currently got with the European Union and with the UK, and hopefully those negotiations go well, the more improved access we’ll get for Queensland sugar growers in those negotiations.

Andrew Willcox: Well, here we are. Fantastic to have Federal Minister for Tourism Minister Tehan in town. Welcome to the Whitsundays. We are the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. And, I think this is all about showing what good Government is, when it listens to the people. So, can’t thank you enough on the invitation, Federal Member for Dawson Mr George Christensen, coming up and listening to our operators. I’d like to thank you for JobKeeper. It’s really helped in the Whitsundays. We are a heavily reliant tourism organisation. But, at the end of JobKeeper, we are going to need some further support. So, please listen to industry today, and enjoy your time here.

Tehan: Thanks Andrew.

Tash Wheeler: It’s fantastic today to have the Federal Tourism Minister here in the Whitsundays. The Whitsundays represents one in three tourism jobs. We are the most reliant tourism destination in the country, alongside a couple of others. We know that 30 per cent of visitation is made up of international business, but for some of our businesses, they represent around 90 per cent of international visitation. It’s not that easy to pivot into a domestic market when you’re those operators. So, it’s an amazing opportunity here today to have Minister for Tourism here, and thank you to George Christensen and the whole team for making this happen today, so that our industry have an opportunity to express their concerns over the coming months, and where the opportunities lie for keeping this iconic industry alive.

Journalist: Tash, what do you think the biggest concern is for tourism operators in the coming months? Is it JobKeeper ending [inaudible]?

Wheeler: The biggest concern over the coming months certainly is around support to keep employees in businesses. Tourism businesses treat their employees like family. And, if they have to let these people go, not only are they losing a part of their family, they’re losing all of the skilled people that help them through and keep their businesses going when [inaudible] start to pick up around those holiday seasons. We also have other big challenges facing us outside of COVID, and that is around the insurances at a federal level – and we have written, as part of our pre-Budget submission, that we would like a national approach to insurances –  and we also, from a COVID perspective, need to find a way to address borders opening and closing, and ensure that we can keep Australia open for Australians while we work towards opening our international borders in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Shaun Cawood: So, I’d just like to thank the Federal Minister of Tourism for visiting us here at Port of Airlie today, for allowing us the opportunity to host him and show him what we offer here in the area. As a tourism operator – one of the largest tourism operators in the region – we certainly look forward to continuing to work with the Federal Government, as well as state government. And, I’d only say that we certainly value the support that we’ve received with the JobKeeper so far. It’s enabled us to continue to employ a large part of our workforce. And, I can only ask that there’s ongoing support for the industry to allow us to continue to serve our island partners – Daydream and Hamilton Island – as well as keep this beautiful region, I guess, [inaudible]. Thank you.

Journalist: What exactly are you working towards post-JobKeeper [inaudible]?

Tehan: Well, the first thing is, what I’m doing is going out and listening to the tourism sector. It’s incredibly important to get out at the coalface and hear from the operators themselves, hear from the sector itself. So, I’ve been in Cairns, I’ve been in Port Douglas, here in the Whitsundays today, I’ll be in the Gold Coast tomorrow, and it’s all about listening and hearing from them firsthand. Then I’ll go back and talk to my colleagues in Canberra to see what that post-JobKeeper support will look like for the industry.

Journalist: Are you looking at an extension of JobKeeper, or is it more looking like maybe a different scheme, something tourism specific?

Tehan: Well, we’ve made it very clear that JobKeeper will end at the end of March. But, what I’m doing is hearing from on the ground, from the mums and dad operators, about what their concerns are, what they think the Federal Government needs to do, and then I’ll take that back to Canberra with me and I’ll talk to my colleagues, and we’ll shape up a policy that we will implement post the end of March. So, this is all about making sure that we’re hearing on the ground about what their needs are.

Journalist: Just back on to the emissions target. Just in your opinion, Minister, can you comment on whether the Nationals are damaging the Government’s messaging surrounding climate change?

Tehan: The most important thing when it comes to climate change is that Australia continues to do what it’s always done. And, that is, when it makes commitments, it honours them. And, no other country in the world, or very few countries in the world, have our record at agreeing to targets and meeting them. And, that is what we will do – we will make commitments, and we will honour them. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we will hope to reach zero emissions by 2050, but very importantly, we will do that not through taxes, but through technology. That’s the approach that he’s outlined, and that is why we will continue to play our role, like all other countries should, to do our bit when it comes to emissions reduction.

Journalist: George, if I could just ask one quick question, also on the emissions reduction. It’s been floated that agriculture might be exempted. Do you think that any other industry should also follow suit?

Christensen: Well, I think the whole thing’s been probably blown up beyond where it should have been. The Prime Minister responded to a question about whether it is going to have net zero emissions, and he basically said that that was something aspirational – probably different words – but that’s basically what he said. Aspirational if technology allows, but I’m sure what the Prime Minister doesn’t want is job losses. So, sure, if technology emerges that suddenly creates zero emissions energy that is cheap and that has baseload, great, we’ll grab it with both hands. But, until then, we must make sure that there’s no policies or taxes or anything like that that is going to cause business closures, job losses in agriculture and  mining and manufacturing and all these industries that we have a whole heap of jobs attached to. So, that’s pretty simple, and I’m really not too worried about what the Prime Minister has said, because he said it’s completely aspirational, if technology allows it.

Tehan: Great, thanks everyone.

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