Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing
Greg Jennett, Host: Now, try as it might, the tourism industry's recovery from COVID closed borders is going to be long and slow. Not to be forgotten in the lead‑up to the Jobs and Skills Summit, 100 industry representatives have gathered for their own mini summit in Canberra today. Trade and Tourism Minister, Don Farrell, led that discussion, and at the end of it, only a few moments ago, he joined us right here in the studio.
Don Farrell, welcome back on the program on what's been a pretty busy time for you. You've just broken, in fact, from tourism round table discussions in the lead‑up to Friday's summit. It does seem that of all sectors, tourism is yet to find its feet, and maybe not even to have been squeezed by worker shortages in the way that other sectors have, at least those who are internationally exposed. Are they unique as a sector as against manufacturers and retailers?
Minister for Trade and Tourism, Don Farrell: Look, I think tourism in this country has been the worst hit of any industry, and if we're honest about it, they'll probably be the last to come out of the problems. They have got lots of labour shortage issues and that's really making it difficult for a lot of companies to return to profitability.
Greg Jennett: Domestically or internationally, because I note that visitor arrival numbers – you would know this all too well – are so far below pre‑pandemic levels, tracking towards 1.2 million this year to date as against figures of 9 and 9.5 million before the pandemic?
Minister for Trade: Yes look, there's no doubt that is a problem. I raised this in the United States just recently. We used to get about a million Americans a year come for holidays in Australia. It's now a trickle. We've got to get those people back. We've got to restore confidence in these countries to come to Australia. Cost of airfares is an issue and availability on aeroplanes is also an issue; but look, I'm confident that as time goes by, we can turn this around and we can get all of those international tourists back in Australia. They want to come. They're still interested in coming; all our research tells us that, but we have got to deal with those issues.
Greg Jennett: That was going to be my question. The feedback that's coming from airlines, hotels, how much scarring is there on Australia as a destination because of closed borders and all the rest of it? How long do you think it's going to take for any of that damage, if it exists, to be removed?
Minister for Trade: Lots of countries closed their borders over this period of time. We weren't unique in that regard, but we've got to restore confidence in overseas travellers wanting to come back. Now just to give you one example, the South Australian Government offered an incentive of supporting 200 people to come to South Australia. They got 14,000 applications. So, I think that's a pretty good indication that there's a lot of demand out there, but we are going to have to address the issues I just talked about a moment ago.
Greg Jennett: It can be done, I guess, on that evidence anyway, but it's the long-haul destinations, isn't it, which are noticeably markedly down. You mentioned America, but it's also Europe as well. In what sense would you as a Federal Government and you as the Minister be directing Tourism Australia to more actively target those markets?
Minister for Trade: They're doing that already. We had a round table in Los Angeles only two weeks ago. All of the advice I got from the American companies that sell tours to Australia is that there's a great deal of interest. They want to come back, but we've got to overcome those two problems – price and availability. Once we've done that, I think the chances are good. Just at the moment, if you look at the figures, we're only back to about 50 per cent capacity to the United States. Qantas tell me by the end of the year, we will be up to 75 per cent; so, we are moving in the right direction but it's going to take some time.
Greg Jennett: You mentioned Qantas, how is their intelligence? Do you see them as a credible participant at the moment? I notice that after the recent financial results were put out in the public domain – performance down, cancellations, on time, baggage loss – it's not a good patch for Qantas right now. How are they performing in your assessment particularly when it comes to the international travel?
Minister for Trade: This has been a tough time for Qantas, as it has been for everybody in this tourism industry. They genuinely want to come out of this in a positive way. It's going to take some time. The problems that have occurred over the last two years have been the worst that this industry's ever faced and it's going to take a little bit of time before we come out of it.
Greg Jennett: Did they go too hard on some of their workforce issues – redundancies in particular – such that they're having trouble cranking the machine back up again now?
Minister for Trade: Look, I guess all of us might have done things differently if we could look back in the rear-view mirror. I think that company is looking to the future. As I said, they have told me that they think that they can get numbers back up to 75 per cent by the end of the year on the American route. We've just got to keep our fingers crossed that we don't get a return to the pandemic and that the progress we are making at the moment continues.
Greg Jennett: Well, exactly. Why don't I move away from tourism now to a couple of other news items of the day. There are some Ministerial Code question marks around three Ministers – Kristy McBain, Tim Ayres and Bill Shorten. They have attempted to divest themselves of shares. What do we understand about the consequences under the Code for the offences, if that's what we're calling it, that these three have committed?
Minister for Trade: All of them have been taking steps to ensure that they comply with the code. The code is a very strict code and all Ministers understand what they're obligations are and understand what they need to do. My understanding is, in each those three cases, they're seeking to resolve those issues. I'd be very confident that in a short space of time, each of them will have resolved those issues.
Greg Jennett: Not sackable offences then?
Minister for Trade: Look, I think we need to keep this in perspective. Anthony Albanese has set a very high standard in terms of what Ministers are expected to do. They're seeking to comply with those obligations. I'm very confident that each and all of them will achieve that objective.
Greg Jennett: We'll ask some further questions as and when those opportunities arise. Your time is tight today, Don Farrell. So is ours, we will have to thank you there and leave it for now.
Minister for Trade: Thanks very much.
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