Interview on 3AW, Breakfast with Ross Stevenson
Ross Stevenson: As we know, the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that border closures are not hurting Queensland’s economy. We’ll see whether the Minister for Tourism, federally, Simon Birmingham agrees. Minister, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Morning, Ross. Great to speak with you.
Ross Stevenson: Hey, is it hurting Queensland?
Simon Birmingham: The border closures are hurting every state where they’re in place, and they’re hurting the tourism industry right across the country. And Queensland is one of our most tourism dependent economies, with so many small businesses and jobs relying on tourism up there. And so, what we want to see as a Federal Government is the states and territories open up again safely, and so that we can save some of these tourism business and tourism jobs by getting Australians moving again.
Ross Stevenson: I’ve lived in Victoria most of my life, but I'm originally from Queensland, Minister, and I know that there's nothing they like more than the sense they get that they might be annoying people from the South.
Simon Birmingham: Well look, they can be annoyed if they like. But I’ve got to say, I’m speaking to plenty of Queensland tourism operators, and tourism operators from right around Australia right now, and one in 13 Australian jobs is relying on our tourism industry. I think everybody accepts that we can't possibly throw open our international borders right now, because that's been such a key part of our success in suppressing COVID-19 by having those strict international restrictions. But we can let Australians travel across the country. And what I want to see is that Australians who spend $20 billion more on overseas travel this year than people coming to Australia to spend, I want to see some of that money flush through our tourism businesses to save the jobs of the people who rely on them.
Ross Stevenson: Is there any power that the Commonwealth has to direct the states to open their borders? It seems to me that it's unconstitutional.
Simon Birmingham: Well look, there are some constitutional challenges afoot in this regard, and the Federal Government has made clear that we will be a participant in those High Court proceedings, and that we will outline our views that current border closures are not justified. But ultimately, that will be a matter for the court. However, I hope it doesn't come to that; nobody wants to wait around and spend lots of money on lawyers in the meantime. Every single Australian state has had enormous success in suppressing the spread of COVID. Even Victoria, yes, there were 21 cases yesterday, but 15 of those were in hotel quarantine facilities as returning international travelers.
Ross Stevenson: Yeah. And I don't know whether you need the state by state breakdown of deaths; Victoria has had only 19 coronavirus deaths for the whole pandemic, which leads me to my next question, Minister. Every morning I get up, I look at worldometers.info to see the figures from around the world — for example, 753 Americans died yesterday, thousand Brazilians died. I can't begin to imagine when we would open our international borders, can you see it in your crystal ball?
Simon Birmingham: I think it's going to take a major breakthrough, like a vaccine or some other way of managing this. And you're dead right; the international borders have been a key factor, quite possibly the most important decision taken to keep Australia safe and to ensure that we've avoided the devastating statistics you read out. You know, think back to those images of a mass grave in New York, of overflowing hospitals throughout Europe. Scott Morrison defied World Health Organization advice at the time by shutting Australian borders, but I think most Australians are pretty grateful he did right now.
Ross Stevenson: Minister, we know you're doing a lot of media, we're grateful for your time. Simon Birmingham Minister for Tourism.