Interview with Cathy Border, ABC Gold Coast Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tourism numbers, hospitality and tourism staff numbers, passport and visa delays, mask wearing, Splendour in the Grass, Olympic Games.

Cathy Border, Host: On his first visit to the Gold Coast since becoming minister, Don Farrell is also urging tourism operators to proactively wear masks. I spoke to the minister ahead of his address to national airport operators at Surfers Paradise.

Minister for Trade and Tourism, Don Farrell: Airports have been one of those industries that have been very hard hit. They’re coming out of that now in a very, very positive way, at least as it relates to Australian domestic travel. I’m here to basically say thank you for holding on for those two really difficult years and try and work with them to make sure that the future is rosy and that we return to what we would know to be normal domestic and international travel.

Border: Of course, we are experiencing still problems with airline travel – delays with flights, flights cancelled. What are you doing to address those problems?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Look, we are working with the industry to try and resolve as many of the problems that the industry’s currently working through. I mean, what we find – I mean the pandemic isn’t gone yet. Unfortunately, just at the moment, numbers are heading upwards again and of course that’s creating problems, not just in the airports, but particularly in the airports because people aren’t able to attend for work. So that’s creating some problems. And, of course, the whole issue of labour shortages. The previous government really let a lot of people go from this country who were filling jobs in a whole range of tourism and hospitality areas. Those people are no longer working in the industry and so we have to, I guess, repopulate a lot of these jobs and, of course, that’s taking some time, and, so, my job is to let particularly the airlines know that the government supports them; we want them back to normal relations and we’ll work with them in whatever way we can to make sure that we get back to normal.

Border: On a larger scale there’s still holdups with passport processing as well, and visas for people wanting to come into the country as well. What’s the latest there?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: What I think happened there is this: because Australians couldn’t travel overseas they decided not to renew their passports, and, of course, when the Borders opened up last year, of course, people decided, “Yes, I want to go overseas,” and then realised they didn’t have a valid passport, and so, there was this logjam, I suppose you’d call it, of people wanting passports, and the number of applications for passports basically doubled in the last couple of months, so that put pressure on the passport office. As quickly as we could, we increased the number of people working in that area – the previous government had cut those numbers. We increased them and bit by bit, things are getting back to normal. But I’d still give this advice to your listeners that if you’re planning an overseas trip, I’d put my application in at least – for a new passport – at least six weeks before I’m planning to travel and you’ll have to trouble getting a new passport.

Border: How soon are you hoping to decrease that amount of time, Minister?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Look, I think – look, it’s a combination of two things. There was a huge backlog of people who hadn’t renewed their passport. That’s slowly getting addressed because those people are now applying, and we’ve increased the staffing levels, so I think a combination of those two things will see that time lag decrease, and I’d be hopeful that in a relatively short space of time we’ll be back to a normal, what we’d consider a normal time for getting a passport.

Border: Within weeks, rather than months, you anticipate as soon as possible?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: A couple of weeks rather than some people are waiting months.

Border: Minister, yesterday we had the federal health advice recommending mask wearing. Are you as Federal Tourism Minister proactively doing that now?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: I wear my mask pretty well everywhere I go and of course I do a lot of airline travel and I make sure that I’m wearing my mask not only on the plane but also when I’m walking through the airport. So, I follow the advice that I’m given, and particularly, you know, with airline travel, yes, I do wear the masks.

Border: What would you say to the tourism industry, though, because there is still some reluctance to wear masks? What would you say to the tourism industry about that?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Look, what I’d say is what the Government says, which is, follow the medical advice. We do seem to be having a bit of a surge at the moment. I’ve had this disease. It’s a terrible disease and you wouldn’t wish it on anybody. So, to the extent that you can take measures yourself that protect you from getting the disease, well, then, that’s what you should do.

Border: On a broader scale, we’ve got one of the big events I’m sure you’re well aware of, Splendour in the Grass, happening near us around Byron Bay this weekend. Would you as Tourism Minister, given a lot of people travel to the region to partake in these sort of big events, would you encourage people to keep their distance, wear their masks, take extra cautions?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Look, I think they are sensible precautions in the circumstances. The medical advice is what I follow. I recommend that other people do the same. I mean, we’re not back to where we were with lockdowns last year and the year before that, but sensible precautions to keep yourself safe I think is the best advice I can give anybody who’s listening today.

Border: Federal Tourism Minister, Don Farrell joining us. Minister, as you know, you our patch here on the Gold Coast and over the Border, around the Tweed, particularly hard hit during the Border closures, are you planning a return visit soon to meet those operators, to speak to them?

 Minister for Trade and Tourism: Look, we’ve got a number of events coming up over the next six months which I’d only be too happy to come back to Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast. I’ve been coming here since the 1950s and it still holds a terrific, magical feeling about it, even when the weather’s not perfect like today. So, to the extent that my job allows me to, and there are good things to do here to promote tourism, I’ll make sure I’ll be back.

Border: Do we need a new Federal tourism campaign?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Well, we’ve got a range of projects that we’re working on at the moment. Obviously, as you’ve sort of explained, tourism was very badly hit during the time of COVID. I think there’s basically three things we need to do in this area. The first thing is try and overcome this issue of labour shortages. And what happened during COVID was that a lot of people who worked in the industry, relied on the industry for their income, found that they weren’t getting regular work, and so instead of staying in the industry, they looked for work elsewhere, and because there were labour shortages and in areas in the economy, they got jobs elsewhere. We’ve got to convince those people that tourism and hospitality are good industries to work in, that we’ve passed the worst of it, and we’ve got to try and encourage those people to come back and work in the industry. It’s a good industry. This is how I started my working life, working in tourism and hospitality, so it’s a terrific industry, and we’ve got to make sure that those people feel confident.

The second thing we need to do is explain to people that things are back to normal. You can, fly and you can get accommodation. And of course, one of the interesting things that’s happened, post COVID is that a lot of people have decided to visit Australia rather than going overseas. One interesting fact I saw last month was prior to the pandemic and this year, Australian tourism nights are actually up from where they used to be. Australians are back touring again. My job, again, is to make them feel confident to be able to travel and to ensure that we get back to as close as normal as we possibly can in as quick a time as we possibly can.

Border: Looking ahead to the 2032 Olympic preparations, as Tourism Minister, how are you seeing things federally progress on that front because in our patch one of the big things is the expansion of the light rail?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Yes, look, we’ve not made any decision about the expansion of the light rail. Up until the election I was actually the Shadow Sports Minister and so I was very familiar, not just with the Olympic Games that are coming, but a whole series of international sporting events that are going to be occurring. Many of them are in Queensland over the next 10 years. It’s going to be a very exciting time for sport. My job is to try to attract as many overseas tourists to Queensland as part of that process, and we’ll be working on a number of campaigns over the next few years to make sure that we maximise the benefit of those wonderful sporting events.

Border: I think you’d be the first Federal Tourism Minister that owns a vineyard, wouldn’t you?

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Yes, I hope I’m not the last. I have a beautiful vineyard in the Clare Valley. I’d encourage your listeners to come down to South Australia. We don’t just have the Clare Valley, we have got the Barossa Valley, we’ve got McLaren Vale, we’ve got Coonawarra. We’ve got some wonderful wine areas in South Australia and if your listeners are looking for a really wonderful experience, I can recommend going down to the wine industry in South Australia.

Border: It is wonderful. Well, when Peter Beattie was Queensland Premier, he had a Wine Minister. Perhaps you need to have a chat about that.

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Yes, well, now that you’ve raised it, I’ll have a chat to him this afternoon.

Border: I appreciate your time, Minister. Thank you so much.

Minister for Trade and Tourism: Nice talking with you.

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