Interview on ABC Breakfast with Josh Szeps and Kathryn Robinson

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Funding for tourism operators affected by the bushfires.
19 January 2020

Kathryn Robinson: Well, at the height of Australia’s bushfire crisis our nation was dominating global headlines with the hashtag AustraliaBurns trending on Twitter. Some feel it’s damaged Australia’s brand as a desirable tourism destination.

Josh Szeps: Today the Federal Government is announcing it will fund a $76 million tourism package to help the industry recover from the reputational damage of the fires. The Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Minister, thanks so much for being here. What will the money be spent on?

Simon Birmingham: So, this money is about saving Australian jobs, first and foremost. Around one in 13 Australian jobs depend upon the tourism and hospitality industries and we’re seeing some 30 to 40 per cent decline in international bookings to Australia from our key markets. So we must work to recover that. That’s why we’re investing in this $76 million package, around $30 million of that is for campaigning in Australia to encourage Australians in this time of need for our tourism industry and for those small businesses, to get out there and choose to take a long weekend break or the next school holiday getaway within Australia and to support those tourism businesses. And around $46 million is going to be used internationally to try to make sure that our key international markets understand we are still open for business, most Australian tourism attractions are untouched by bushfire and that people can still come and have the same incredible experience visiting Australia that we’ve always prided ourselves on.

Josh Szeps: Will that be an overt message to the rest of the world? Because I think you’re right that Aussies will have a tremendous sense of goodwill towards travelling domestically and that’s a message that’s going to get taken on. But it’s unlikely that if you’re an American or someone in China that you’re going to visit Australia out of a sense of goodwill or charitable obligation. So are you going to be on the nose about saying come here and spend your money?

Simon Birmingham: You’re right that Australians’ outpouring of sympathy and support for, particularly, bushfire affected communities has been incredible, and we are going to ask Australians that, if you want to keep helping, then the best thing you can do to help many of these fire-affected communities but also other tourism businesses is to make a booking and make a booking now. Now, importantly, internationally there’s also been incredible support. But there’s a big educational initiative required there. We’re not just asking for sympathy internationally. We’re asking people to understand that if you were planning on going to tropical North Queensland or to Central Australia or to the Margaret River wine region, they are a long, long way away from the areas of tragedy in terms of the bushfires. Of course we want to rebuild tourism directly into those bushfire-affected regions, but we want to try to stem this compounding of the harm to our tourism industry that’s happening by people cancelling trips or not making bookings into areas completely unaffected as well.

Josh Szeps: And in terms of supporting small tourism operators in Australia, is there direct compensation available in this new announcement or is this a marketing announcement?

Simon Birmingham: This is primarily about driving business back into those enterprises, and so the bulk of the marketing funding in fact will be used as partnership funding to help tourism businesses, whether it’s at the big end of airlines, hotels, or at the smaller end of accommodation providers and tour operators, we’re going to make sure that we partner directly with them to help them market and sell their products. This is not about a big brand-intensive campaign, it’s going to be about driving bookings for those businesses and making sure that they get the sales, the cashflow and the support that allows them to keep sustaining jobs and employment in our regional towns and centres.

Josh Szeps: Minister, the Australian Tourism Export Council has told Fairfax that cancellations by tourists could cost Australia at least $4.5 billion by the end of this year, and I’m just looking at some of the numbers of the bookings that are down on the second week of January, which is the last week for which we’ve got numbers. You know, 40 per cent down year on year from the United States, 41 per cent down from Hong Kong, 38 per cent down from Germany. It just goes on and on. These are huge reductions over what it was last year. Is $76 million up to the task?

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is an initial contribution, just as the Government out of our $2 billion bushfire recovery funding has made commitments already in areas of mental health support, support of course directly for businesses and for farmers, importantly. We’re acknowledging that in all of those areas there may need to be additional support and funding as we work through this recovery. The same applies to our tourism industry, but this is a very big step up in terms of tourism investment. We’ve done it off the back of consultation with industry. I sat down last Thursday with national industry leaders as well as having spoken directly to industry figures across, especially, the fire-affected states. And so we’re acting in ways that they’ve advised us to, focused, of course on getting more international media out here to write the stories both of what is still open for business and, over the coming months throughout the course of this year and beyond, the story of recovery for these fire affected regions as well.

Many Australians who have seen bushfire affected regions before will know that the tale of recovery as regrowth occurs in the bush is an incredible one, it’s one that our Indigenous peoples have known and been telling those stories for thousands of years and we have to find ways to make sure that is conveyed as well to the international market so they better understand what has happened in Australia, how we will recover, as well as, of course, all of those businesses still trying to pursue business as usual, completely unaffected by fire.

Josh Szeps: Minister, in the longer term, Australia’s sort of pitch to the globe is successfully wrapped around our sense of being a green country, an easy going country, a country that is forward-looking and is clean and organic and non-GMO and so on, a place where people can dive on the reef and they can go to the outback and we are blessed with great natural endowments. Is it possible to keep pitching and keep prosecuting that case if the Government retains its current climate policy?

Simon Birmingham: I think there’s definitely a need for us to make sure that internationally people understand the changes that are happening in Australia in relation to renewable energy, to make sure that the globe does appreciate that over the last couple of years Australia has, on a per capita basis, had amongst the, if not the, highest level of investment in renewable energies in the globe. That we are a country, as well, that is leading in terms of investment and innovation in areas of hydrogen technologies and working in close partnership with other countries to try to deliver that transformative fuel to the rest of the world. And so whilst our tourism message is obviously focused on the experience that people have while they’re in Australia, we also need to make sure that across our diplomatic network we do make sure that people understand and appreciate all that is happening in Australia, driven in part by Government but also very much by people and by industry to transform our energy market and to support global efforts to address climate change.

Josh Szeps: But if we’re perceived on the global stage to be one of the countries that is resistant to real action on climate change, doesn’t that impede our ability to sell ourselves as a green country?

Simon Birmingham: This indeed is why I’ve just outlined many of the areas we have to make sure that Australia’s efforts are better understood and appreciated. We absolutely have to be serious about climate change efforts. We are as a Government in terms of our desire to meet and beat our 2030 targets. We need to make sure it’s well understood we are a country that has met and beaten our initial Kyoto targets, our Kyoto 2 commitment targets, that we’re serious about that, and we have to continue to demonstrate that through continued investment in those areas such as hydrogen technology to deliver the type of transformation that is necessary for Australia and for the globe.

Josh Szeps: Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for joining us.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.

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