Doorstop Interview, Adelaide

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism jobs data; Australian tourism industry recovery, economic support; Trans-Tasman travel bubble.
06 August 2020

Reporter: But if you're going to begin with how you can, if the government has this data, but what look the value of Australia's tourism sector in a normal year compared to this. If you have that.

Simon Birmingham: Tourism is incredibly valuable to the Australian economy that generates billions of dollars in income and it underpins one in 13 Australian jobs across accommodation, hospitality, travel, the many different aspects that make up our tourism industry. And that's why it's so devastating to see the industry going through this very difficult time at present that is jeopardizing businesses, hurting jobs. And that's why we're offering so much support to try to help those businesses and employees survive through these tough times.

Reporter: Do you know how much the value of the industry is being impacted this year? Are there any preliminary assessments on that? Like that dollar figure?

Simon Birmingham: As with everything around COVID making predictions and assessments at present, is very hard to pin down. We know that international tourism, of course, has essentially stopped. Domestic tourism is, though, a very mixed story across Australia that we have some states such as Victoria, where there is no tourism industry activity at all at present. But in other states, we're seeing a circumstance where because things are more open, people are eagerly getting out to the regions and around those states like Western Australia or South Australia. Some regional tourism centres are reporting very significant growth, even in visitor numbers at present.

Reporter: Is there evidence that some of those more open states have increased regional tourism?

Simon Birmingham: We're absolutely seeing in the states that have been able to ease restrictions and open up intrastate travel that people are getting out into the regions, and there's a lot of reports that the recent school holidays were some of the busiest in years for certain parts of Australia. And that's wonderful for those regions. And we want to continue to encourage that travel. But there are still huge parts of the tourism industry doing it, incredibly tough. Inner cities, meetings and events sectors and those that are very reliant on international visitation.

Simon Birmingham: You mentioned some of the support measures available to the tourism sector. What are those currently?

Simon Birmingham: First and foremost, the billions of dollars being invested into the job keeper program is helping to keep employees who rely on tourism businesses employed, giving them a financial lifeline, keeping them connected to their businesses. On top of that, small and medium business payments have been providing up to 100,000 dollars in support for many tourism businesses across the country. And these are crucial lifelines to get through the pandemic as though we see economies reopen, we want to encourage people in Australia not just to travel around Australia, but to undertake experiences, to immerse themselves and to do the sorts of things that we would usually expect international visitors to do.

Reporter: Given tourism will be one of the longer sectors to recover, especially those travel businesses that I guess would rely more on foreign tourists. Would the government consider keeping some support measures like the ones you’ve just mentioned available for longer to tourism businesses?

Simon Birmingham: We have always acknowledged that the tourism industry is a special case and that as a special case, we have to make sure it's the forefront of our consideration that has been around things like job keeper and continuing that program. That's why we've given certainty for job keeper all the way through until March of next year. And we will continue to assess what's necessary to support the tourism industry through the tough times and to help it recover as quickly as possible thereafter.

Reporter: But is that one thing that could be more possible… that there needs to be support mechanisms in place for longer for tourism businesses, especially ones that rely on international travellers?

Simon Birmingham: We've given a lot of support and a lot of certainty at present by ensuring that Jobkeeper is in place all the way through until the end of March. I don't want to pre-empt what the conditions will be then or what the support will be then. But I do firmly acknowledge the tourism industry is a special case. It was one of the first hit by the pandemic. It will be one of the last to fully recover. And our government is focused on how we help it through the tough times and build it so that it can bounce back as quickly as possible.

Reporter: The government updated economic forecasts a couple of weeks ago, um were based on the state of play at that point in time when a lot of border restrictions and travel restrictions were easing, but now we’re seeing Victoria put up some of its restrictions or movement restrictions for NSW, um Victoria has stage three restrictions across regional areas, and obviously stage four in Melbourne. Is the government currently in the process of re-evaluating, um, what those economic, what the costs of those travel restrictions could be?

Simon Birmingham: The Treasurer has acknowledged that, that it's hard to predict and forecast what's going to happen in a couple of months at present, let alone a couple of years. And and this is a very dynamic situation that we face. It's why we've built programs like Job Keeper to be demand driven. They will respond to whatever the circumstances are at the time. And Victorian businesses will now be receiving far more assistance under Job Keeper, than those elsewhere in the country just because the need is greater. And that's why we've structured the policies very carefully there. In terms of predicting where exact numbers in the tourism industry are at, that's not something that we can do accurately right now. But we do know that that is a very mixed story, deep pain for many tourism businesses, especially those reliant on international visitation. But some hope for regional areas. And when we do see sufficient re-opening of state economies and state borders, we're firmly committed to run a record investment campaign to try to make sure that we get Australians travelling out across Australia, not just doing the usual things, but undertaking experiences, immersing themselves in regional areas and inner cities. And hopefully, if there's a silver lining to be had at the end of this terrible period for our tourism industry, it's that Australians, by the end of it, are more informed, more passionate ambassadors for our tourism industry going forward.

Reporter: Where are we at with talk with New Zealand about a local travel bubble and are they progressing at this point in time?

Simon Birmingham: We've done much of the preparatory work to be ready to open our borders to New Zealand. But understandably, New Zealanders can see what's happening in Victoria just as much as Australians can. And that's that's why we wouldn't expect to see progress around that travel bubble now for some time. New Zealand also has an election coming up. And so these are discussions that I expect will have to wait until after the New Zealand election. And then perhaps we can consider, depending on the state of COVID across the Australian states, whether or not it's appropriate to open up comprehensively with New Zealand or perhaps a more limited opening of some states and territories. But in New Zealand obviously will make their own decisions in that regard, and we respect their right to do so.

Reporter: Has New Zealand indicated at all that it is willing to open up to certain states, Queensland, South Australia, WA, Tasmania for example, have they requested that?

Simon Birmingham: So at present, the New Zealand government has indicated that they are not proceeding with the travel bubble in the short term, that they want to see Australia get things under control in relation to COVID first and foremost, that's understandable. The potential to look at partial openings of things that we can discuss once we've got a more suitable environment here to be able to present to the New Zealanders.

Reporter: What’s the Australian government’s stance, would it be prepared to let some states resume travel to New Zealand, or is it waiting until a whole of country deal could be arranged?

Simon Birmingham: It's very important that we don't let the failings of some states prevent other states from being able to move ahead if they can. So if there's a willingness to be able to open up, I hope that we can see that occur. But Victoria is not only created problems within Victoria, it's created uncertainty around other states present. And the priority, first and foremost, is to ensure that we don't see the Victorian problems spreading to any other Australian states. If we can get through the next few weeks successfully there and demonstrate that there isn’t extensive community transmission of COVID covered within within any of the other states of Australia, will, then we might be able to entertain further discussions with New Zealand. But first and foremost, we deal with COVID and then we can hopefully see our own states open up successfully to one another while still trying to fix the Victorian problem. And and finally, there might be opportunities for New Zealand.

Reporter: Has the Australian government had any state come to it and say, like, can we try to arrange a travel arrangement with New Zealand, like has that request been made by any Australian state to the government at this point?

Simon Birmingham: Not not that I'm aware of, but different states might have been considering certain things. However, that's a matter for those states. An agreement between Australia and New Zealand, though, will, by its nature have to be struck between the national governments who each have their own border restriction arrangements in place. And we'll work through those things. We want to be able to open up to New Zealand, but we respect their perspective at this point in time and we'll have whatever discussions we can with them to get whatever openness we can with them whenever they're ready to have that dialogue.

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