Doorstop Cairns, Queensland

  • Transcript, E&OE
Far North Queensland disaster recovery, Inquiry into supermarket prices, NRL expansion.

Minister for Trade and Tourism, Don Farrell: Today I'm joined today by Pip Harrison, the head of Tourism Australia, who's broken her holidays to come up and join us here today, also, Mark Olsen from Tropical Tourism North Queensland, just to show you how resilient tourism operators are in this area, he's joined us today. And we've got Gareth, who runs Marine Parks in this region.

The reason we've asked you to come along today is to talk about tourism in Far North Queensland. It's obviously a very important part of the Australian tourism economy. Almost $5 billion worth of tourism sales in Far North Queensland. But more importantly, this area is often the place which overseas visitors identify as the reason why they come to Australia, whether it be for the reef or the rainforests. This is an extremely important tourism asset for Australia, and it keeps coming up on every survey that Tourism Australia does in order to attract visitors to Australia.

So, the message I bring from the Albanese Government is this, Cairns and Far North Queensland is open for business. The operators continue to trade and offer you a wonderful experience, if you're looking for a reef or rainforest experience. We want to encourage people to, if they've got bookings already, they don't particularly like the weather, don't cancel, but reschedule. Don't miss the opportunity of coming to this fabulous place for a wonderful Australian holiday. So, if you're tourists from down south and you want to come, keep your bookings and continue to come, and if you haven't thought about booking, then please do. Before Christmas, we initiated a $5 million program to promote tourism in Far North Queensland, which has increased visitor numbers by some 200 per cent. So, people are coming, and of course, we've now announced a further $75 million worth of commitments, including $24 million to help promote tourism. We understand that a lot of businesses have been badly affected by Cyclone Jasper, but many businesses have started to recover. The Federal Government, along with the State Government, will continue to support businesses in this region. It's an important part of the Australian tourism landscape and we want to make sure that they continue to operate and offer the wonderful service that they've always offered in the past. And, of course, I want to thank all of the Defence Force and the volunteers who worked so hard during this difficult period of time.

Just a couple of other things I want to mention. Of course, we've got the Coronation of Princess Mary tomorrow. The Australian Government has given a present, a gift to the King and Queen of Denmark of support for Tasmanian devils in Tasmania. It's a gift we think that the King and the Queen will very much appreciate. The final thing I want to make a comment about before I hand over to Pip and Mark, is to talk about the comments that Peter Dutton has made in the last couple of days about boycotting Woolworths. We don't want Australians to boycott Woolworths. They're an Australian company employing lots of Australians. We don't want those people to lose their jobs because of a Peter Dutton boycott. We say to Peter Dutton, get on board with us, help us put pressure on all of the retailers to keep prices down, to keep control of the cost of living. Don't boycott Woolworths, they're a company that employs lots and lots of Australians, but help us put pressure, downward pressure, on the cost of living. Now, I'd hand over to Pip Harrison from Tourism Australia.

Tourism Australia Managing Director, Pip Harrison: Thank you, Minister, and I just wanted to start by acknowledging and thanking all of the incredible operators in this region for their ongoing resilience. This is another blow when we're still in recovery from the last couple of years. And the reason that it's so important that these operators are so resilient, and they bounce back is because, as the Minister said, this region is incredibly iconic, not only for just Queensland but for all of Australia. So, international visitors, when they come to Australia, as the Minister said, this is where they want to come to as very much as part of their itinerary. So, it's so, so important that this region is thriving. So, Tourism Australia, as the Federal Government authority responsible for inbound tourism, is doing our part in the recovery and what are we doing so in the short term, it's really important that the world and our agency base around the world know that this region is open and ready and willing to welcome visitation. And so, we're making sure that we work very closely with Tourism Tropical North Queensland to talk to our agency base and let them know that we're here, we're ready and we can't wait to welcome their visitors to the region.

We're also using our social media channels. We have a following of around 19 million people on our social media channels and we're using those in the short term to tell the incredible story of this region. But I think it's also important that we show people and not tell them how incredible this place is. So, we're also working with Tourism Tropical North Queensland on a media and a trade familiarisation program to welcome people back to the region so that they can tell the stories of this region to their audiences and in their work. In the medium term, we're using our campaigns to continue to promote and double down on promoting tropical North Queensland as a must-see destination and making sure that it's on the itinerary of every single traveller who comes to this country. So, in Japan, for example, we're currently working with Virgin Australia to promote that direct route, which is doing very, very well. We're just about to start working with another large tour operator to promote all three routes from Japan into Cairns and to talk about the incredible things they can do here. There's an opportunity in China at the moment with Chinese New Year on our doorstep. So, we're working with all of our partners to talk about what they can see and do in this region over that period.

We're also talking to our UK and Europe partners about the opportunity that's coming up with the up-gauging of Singapore Airlines in March and all of the additional access opportunities there are to this great region. So, that's what we're doing in the medium term. And then later in the year, I'm really looking forward to coming back and hosting Tourism Australia's signature event, Australia Next, for business event planners. And that means that 80 to 100 business event planners are going to come to Cairns and see our unique venues and our beautiful natural assets and plan future events in this region. So, there's a lot going on. We're really focused on making sure that all of those planes arriving into Cairns have lots and lots of visitors on them and we're here to do everything we can to aid in the recovery of this vital region. Thank you. And I'm going to hand over now to Mark, the CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

Mark Olsen: Thanks Pip. Thanks everyone. In a community where one in five jobs supported by the tourism industry, a $4.8 billion industry, the lifeline offered by the Albanese Government is incredibly important. But on behalf of the industry, Don and Pip, I just wanted to say thank you. The Minister for Trade and Tourism, and the CEO of Tourism Australia have made their way here to sit down with the industry yesterday afternoon and listen to the stories and understand firsthand just what it means to get businesses back on their feet. The immediate injection of $5 million has already generated significant sales from those incredible airline deals and there are more campaigns coming. So, as the Minister quite rightly said, keep your eye out for some great deals coming. It's a magical time to be here in tropical North Queensland. More than 2000 experiences are operating today right across this region. While Cape Tribulation remains isolated and we can get you from Cairns to Port Douglas via ferry, there are hundreds of things to do today, wet or dry. This is a place that knows how to do tourism experiences so well. As Pip so rightly said, it is an international icon.

The $25 million announced this week is a lifeline to industry who have been impacted. Some of those businesses haven't been able to open for 28 days and what they needed was a boost. They needed some cash directly to be able to keep them and hold those highly skilled staff that drive this incredible industry. And then the $3 million marketing campaign that will follow this, including the events, is what's going to drive that. We're so excited, Pip, about hosting Australia next year. It feels like only yesterday we were hosting G'day here, the major event for Aussie specialists. Tourism Australia, through Pip's leadership and with the Minister, said to the industry yesterday, we're going to support you, we're going to bring more trade and media here to do exactly as Pip just said. Show them, not tell them, what's going on here in the region. We really appreciate all of our trade and media partners right across the world speaking to their customers to say, don't cancel, now's the time to hold [indistinct].

This is the time that the speed of international visitation starts to ramp up. Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and this has been one of the most iconic destinations for Chinese travellers across the world. As Pip mentioned, the Japanese market has been returning really strongly, and with Singapore Airlines increasing their seat capacity, the UK, Europe and India are really important markets, but this little destination with two and a half thousand products and experiences can't do that by themselves. We need the support of Tourism Australia's incredible reach and incredible team. We need the support of the Federal Government who came to our aid during Covid with a $15 million support package that we've been investing over the last six months and 18 months to go to drive this international recovery. So, on behalf of the industry for whom this is their life, this is their career, this is their superannuation. Today's support from Tourism Australia and from the Federal Tourism Minister is incredibly important. We want people to come, stay, play, enjoy one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and the world's oldest living rainforest. It is a little rainy out there today, but you can't have rainforests without rain. This is the place that does wet and dry so incredibly well. And if I could just indulge, I might just let Gareth Phillips from the Association of Marine Park Operators just say one quick thing about how important it is for tourism, particularly to that icon, the Great Barrier Reef, is to this region, and how important that support is, and then we'll hand back to the Minister.

Gareth Phillips: Good morning, everyone. Minister, thank you very much for your time. Mark, the work you've been doing up here, support has been fantastic. I just want to reiterate what Mark's been saying. The support from Federal and State Government is so important for us because that goes directly back into our staff. Why that's important for us - if we can keep operating our world heritage Great Barrier Reef, our role in actually looking after it, conserving it, we can continue that. And we can only do that if we've got visitors coming to this area, being on our boats, going, visiting our islands. If we don't have those visitors joining our businesses out on the reef, we can't help look after it, and do the role of conserving the world heritage Great Barrier Reef. We've been very active with the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority since the cyclone and the floods, monitoring, reporting and getting to know what's happened to the reef over that time.

We're very pleased to say it is a very patchy impact. But overall, the impact has been minimum out on those tourism areas. And we're going to continue to work with the clients, the managers, and the government to continue to monitor that. To do that, we need you as tourists to come help us, and we appreciate all the effort from the state and the federal to tell that story - that we're open for business and that support is allowing us to maintain our staff so we can actually provide and showcase the outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef to you guys. So, in finishing off, come visit us up here in North Queensland. See the rainforest, see our terrestrial experiences, but also get out on the water and see the amazing Great Barrier Reef. Thank you.

Minister for Trade: All right, we're happy to take questions.

Journalist: Minister, we've seen about $50 million now injected into the Far North tourism industry. Do you know how much of that money has already been accessed by small/medium enterprises to support their business going forward?

Minister for Trade: Well, look, the first transfer of the money, the $5 million that's all been spent, and as I said, that resulted in about 200 per cent increase in people coming to Far North Queensland. We're in the process of rolling out the rest of the money, which we will do in the weeks ahead. But I guess my message is that the Federal Government is here to support tourism and Cairns, and tropical Far North Queensland is open for business right now, you don't have to wait.

Journalist: And how's the government ensuring that all of these businesses; or that the lion's share of this money is rolling down to those businesses?

Minister for Trade: We did that with our first transfer of $5 million. Mark talked about the $15 million that we committed in the budget, the last budget to continue to support. I mean, that was following the Covid crisis. And we're going to continue to ensure that the people that need the support, the businesses that we want to make sure they continue to operate and deliver the wonderful, wonderful experience in tropical Far North Queensland - that they get the support that they need.

Speaker: [Indistinct] the road to Port Douglas, [indistinct] expect to see that open [indistinct] now?

Minister for Trade: Now, look, I think it's in the next few days. I think it's Saturday - today, week. I think at least, will be a partial opening of the road between here and Port Douglas. Of course, if you want a wonderful experience, you can take the ferry up and back. The Government, State and Federal Government are supporting that operation, but I'm pretty sure that subject to any further weather conditions, that in the next few days that road will reopen.

Speaker: Minister, just in your other capacity as Trade Minister, as the Federal Government begins to look to the Pacific and strengthen ties with nations in the Pacific, how important is this region going to be in terms of trade with nations in the Pacific?

Minister for Trade: Well, often this is the first point of call for any tourists to come to Australia. People talk about the support we're getting from Japanese tourists, an increase pretty soon in direct flights from Singapore with larger numbers. And of course, if you talk to the airport, they've got a string of potential new flight destinations into Cairns. We have rejigged our trade policy to try and make sure that we diversify our trading relationship, that we're not reliant on one single country. Part of that strategy is re-engaging with Southeast Asia. There's no better place to come to if you are in the region, whether it's the Philippines, Vietnam, or Indonesia. This is a fantastic place to start your visit to Australia and make your way south.

Speaker: Minister, while you're up, I'll talk about a couple of those issue in Canberra here. The Treasurer is talking about talking to the ACCC about inquiring into supermarket price gouging. There have been calls for this since last year. Why only now do this?

Minister for Trade: The Opposition had 10 years to do something about it and they didn't. And of course, we see this week that Opposition Leader Dutton is talking about boycotting Australian companies rather than talking about the cost of living. We've appointed Craig Emerson to do an inquiry to the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct. I know Craig, I worked with him when he was a former Minister. He's an experienced economist and we want to give him the opportunity to properly investigate this issue, and in that process, try and put downward pressure on grocery prices. Of course, as you've just mentioned, Treasurer Chalmers is also looking at other means of dealing with the issue of putting downward pressure on prices. We'll take whatever action we need to put downward pressure on grocery prices.

Speaker: Are farmers and consumers being taken for a ride by the chains?

Minister for Trade: Well, that's the purpose of the inquiry. We're going to let Mr Emerson do his job to investigate what is actually happening with grocery prices in this country, and I look forward to reading his report.

Speaker: Minister, there's been a lot of interest from the Federal Government to bring the Papua New Guinea into the NRL as the 18th team and we've heard from the leader of that bid that Cairns would be the ideal place to semi-base a team, at least home base a team, the Federal Government helping to incentivise that as an option?

Minister for Trade: The Federal Government has expressed an interest in ensuring that progress is made in the NRL expansion. I was the Shadow Minister for Sport when this concept was originally discussed, but I'm very happy to leave it to the new Minister for Sport, a Queenslander herself, Anika Wells, to get involved in this issue and make a final determination about where the team might be sited. I came up from Adelaide yesterday morning with the 36ers basketball team, so they obviously enjoy coming up to Cairns for sporting events, and I'm sure that would be the same with the NRL. Last question.

Speaker: Opposition calling on the government to do more in the Middle East and reconsider sending a ship to the Red Sea, will you?

Minister for Trade: Look, we've made a decision about that, not to provide ships to the Middle East. We have sent personnel and they have been involved operationally, behind the scenes in some of the actions over the last couple of days. But our interest is in Australia's national interest, and our national interest is in this immediate Indo-Pacific region.

Speaker: Thanks, everybody.

Minister for Trade: Thanks very much and enjoy the rest of the day.

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