Interview on 4CA AM with John MacKenzie

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: domestic tourism industry; interstate border restrictions.
17 June 2020

John MacKenzie: We've been talking the last few days about green shoots at long, long last. My God, it's been a nightmare, hasn't it? I don't know communities anywhere in this country suffering more than ours per capita given that we rely for our employment opportunities so much on our tourism industry, which is of course on its knees, non-existent, if you like, or it hasn't been until the last couple of weeks where we've got a trickle of Southern Queenslanders coming up here. But I've got to mention, this is an interesting article here. It's in the Courier Mail today, it reads: Queenslanders splashed out $10,000 million overseas last year. That's $10 billion. But now the Morrison Government's urging would-be holiday makers to feel a patriotic duty — someone talking about patriotism, thank God — to feel a patriotic duty to spend up at home. Now, over 55s opened up their wallets the most on global trips. But with no sign of international borders opening — they're talking about early- 17 September now but that will blow out of course.

But they quoted the Tourism Minister — this is Simon Birmingham. He was on the program not that long ago with a bit of good news for us on getting this freight out of Cairns to overseas. Now, the Tourism Minister Birmingham is using these new figures from Tourism Australia to urge holiday makers to switch Bali for Burleigh, and he's on the line actually to talk about this, to expand it. Hello, Simon.

Simon Birmingham: Hello John. Great to be with you.

John MacKenzie: And you're really pushed for time, I know, but I'm thrilled to see someone actually talking with enthusiasm about patriotism.

Simon Birmingham: Well, Australians all say they want to help out and for those who are lucky enough, in terms of their financial position and their employment position, to be able to do so, there's no better way to help out struggling Australian businesses right now than to book a holiday. And particularly up there in tropical North Queensland, I know just how tough so many businesses are doing. I had Warren Entsch back in my Canberra office again only last night, harassing me about the tough circumstances in those businesses and what else we can do to try to generate more business and more activity. And the moment those Queensland state borders are open, I want to make sure that we are encouraging people from across the country up there. But even before they are, we can certainly encourage some of those Queenslanders to spend a bit more of that $10 billion usually spent overseas on holidaying right here at home in Australia, in tropical North Queensland.

John MacKenzie: Now, Simon, you’re speaking from the southern half of the country, if you don't mind me referring to it as that — you're a Mexican. But what are you picking up from people down there about their- well, their intentions about a holiday later this year? Do you hear Queensland mentioned frequently enough?

Simon Birmingham: I certainly see enthusiasm and an understanding from a lot of Australians about just how tough our tourism businesses are doing it and a willingness to book. And yep, I'm a South Australian and we have had border restrictions in place for a while. And if I look at many of the people I talk to in SA, they’ve got on and they've made bookings to holiday on Kangaroo Island, or on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, or different spots because they know that those tourism businesses need a hand. And I think the willingness will be there, when the state borders are lifted, to do so. The South Australian Premier has made that decision, opening up to everybody from the 20th of July and I just hope that other states will follow because that way the airlines can plan, the businesses can plan and frankly, we can start spending some marketing dollars out of Tourism Australia once we know that people can actually book and travel.

John MacKenzie: Simon, we have — more than, I mean, more than words can say — flattened the curve up here. Day after day, no new cases and yet I pick up the Cairns Post today and it says: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has appeared to waver on reopening the state to the rest of the country saying that Queenslanders do not want the borders opened. I have to go out- I go down the street every day and talk to shopkeepers, talk to people in accommodation, talked to hospitality workers generally on their knees, desperate to get their jobs back and they cannot understand the selfishness of people, other people in Queensland who say: we don't want these borders opened. Do they not understand the misery many people are suffering up here?

Simon Birmingham: Well I'm pretty confident that Queenslanders don't want Queensland businesses to go under, they don't want Queensland jobs to be lost, and they do want Queensland to have a strong and vibrant future as the most amazing tourism destination that can be experienced by people from across Queensland, across Australia and around the world. And the way to make sure we can preserve as many businesses and as many jobs as possible is to let the domestic tourists, the Australian tourists, flow. We have to keep international border restrictions in place, I think people get that and they understand that people from overseas coming into Australia are the greatest risk of our success in suppressing COVID-19 being reversed and it getting out of control again. But we don't have to have these interstate border controls in place.

John MacKenzie: Yes.

Simon Birmingham: The advice from Australia's Chief Health Officer and Medical Officer and experts is clear in that regard. They never really recommended the state border restrictions and they certainly don't think they're necessary given the success every single state is having in suppressing the spread.

John MacKenzie: Simon, appreciate your support and thank you for your time today.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure John. Thank you.

John MacKenzie: He’s the Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham. He’s in a hell of a hurry actually, we’re lucky to grab him.

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