Interview on ABC Gold Coast, Drive, with Matt Webber

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Critique of Australia’s new tourism campaign; Overseas perception of Australia; Shark danger in Australian waters.
30 October 2019

Matt Webber:                Federal Tourism Minister is Simon Birmingham. Minister, good afternoon.

Simon Birmingham:     G'day, Matt. Great to be with you.

Matt Webber:                Do you like it?

Simon Birmingham:     Well yes, Matt. And the thing that of course your listeners can't quite pick up in the medium there is, underpinning all of those comments, it's still the classical, beautiful, spectacular images of Australia; the wonderful scenery; the flora; the fauna; the exquisite experiences that people can enjoy. But it's about making sure we push every possible button in the emotional stream to try to convert people – who usually think pretty well of Australia and think they might like to come to Australia – to actually follow through with that interest and that desire and turn it into action. 

Matt Webber:                The wordplay on 'Philausophy', if you like. I'm not entirely sure how to say it, which does make me concerned about how it might play out in international markets. Are you confident it will work?

Simon Birmingham:     Well again, I think the important thing there – that the philausophy, if you like, is more the strategy underpinning this campaign. It's not the tagline that will be used in every different execution of the campaign. This is about how we, sort of, take the approach into 15 different international markets over the next three years. Each of those will be their own sub-campaign, as such, that will be based on the research in those markets of what sort of messaging works best, what sort of imagery, what sort of call to action, and of course activities or experiences that you want to best promote to activate the interest in those tourists.

So, that is about saying that, across all 15, we're absolutely going to look to bring to life the character of Australians and to guarantee that people who travel here don't just see great things but they have a great time. But the philosophy, as such, line is the creative that sits over the entire strategy but isn't necessarily a tagline that is applied to each and every application of it.

Matt Webber:                Federal Tourism Minister is Simon Birmingham. Matt Webber is my name.

Pretty handy having someone with the international marketing clause of Chris Hemsworth onboard. Something of a masterstroke. Are you claiming it as that?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, you know, we've got some wonderful Australians that have succeeded across, Hollywood obviously, but also arts, culture, sciences, business, et cetera, elsewhere. And many are willing to support campaigns like this and be engaged in them. And that's great because we do want to leverage each and every attribute that the nation's got going for it to ultimately- tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Your listeners across the Gold Coast well and truly understand that as one of our leading tourism destinations. And again, when you think about the different ways this type of campaign will be applied, it's critical in an area like the Gold Coast where as to how we apply it in our businesses, conferences, exhibition sectors, which are such a big part of getting international tourists to the Gold Coast and doing so by attracting big events that the Coast is so well-equipped to handle.

Matt Webber:                The Prime Minister obviously has a hand in the tourism game at one point. Any unsolicited text messages this morning when the ad dropped? Any unwanted advice?

Simon Birmingham:     No look, the PM is very passionate still about the tourism industry, and he's passionate because it's a big employer. And so, one in 13 Australian jobs are somehow related to the tourism and hospitality sectors. Now, the domestic market accounts for a lot of that, but the international market and the millions of international visitors we attract every year are also essential. And the boss is pretty well-engaged in that sense, but he also- he [indistinct] his ministers get on with their jobs too.

Matt Webber:                Minister, literally within moments of yesterday's events up on the Whitsundays, the BBC webpage had shark attack splashed all over it. As Federal Tourism Minister, how do you combat the negative publicity? I mean, it's inescapable. What can you do?

Simon Birmingham:     I mean, those things do happen and the publicity is, you're right, inescapable. I was wearing my Trade Minister hat in particular last night, watching some of the coverage from the UK to get my head across what was likely to unfold with Brexit, and the Whitsundays did splash across that news coverage a couple of times on the way through. I think we have to, of course, make sure that we continue to drive home the richness of the positive experiences. We're honest about the fact that there are some threats consistent with the good natured sense of humor of Australians as well. We lap up, I guess, the likes of Bill Bryson books that have made fun of our many deadly creatures. But I think ultimately, especially in established markets like the UK, visitors know that, overwhelmingly, this is an incredibly safe country to visit and that the experiences are incredible experiences with safe regulatory environments, lots of protections and that these are actually very rare events.

Matt Webber:                Is the temptation there for you to add some federal weight to debates about drum lining, shark nets and the like to sell a broader, safer public message about visiting Australia?

Simon Birmingham:     I think those issues, they play, in some ways, first and foremost, to the protection of Australians, who are the people who are in the water the most, and how we do that in a way that balances the environmental obligations that we have to not cause excessive or undue harm out there. And I think our regulatory systems tend to get that balance about right. I'm not going to proffer an instant view in terms of what the solution for the Whitsundays is. That's a matter for the local community, local industry, working with the Queensland Government, and federally then, we will, from the environmental side, assess any applications and grant approvals that are necessary. From the tourism side, we'll make sure that we market the best possible product, and sometimes that includes marketing to the thrill seekers out there as well. Here, in my own state of South Australia, you can hop in a cage and confront a great white shark if that happens to float your boat. So, there's all sorts of different experiences for people.

Matt Webber:                State Government might point a finger in your direction just as you pointed a finger to them, Minister. I mean, the reality is we've had five shark attacks in that part of the world in the last 12 months or so. One of them has been fatal. What's the tipping point? Does there come a moment in time where you really have to cross the line and force a hand?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, as I say, we don't regulate those waters. There are certain environmental approvals when it comes to drum baiting and those sorts of things that are required federally, but they're not our waters to manage. And if we were to arrive, roughshod in and tell the State Government what we wanted to do, I'm pretty sure that would generate a negative reaction. So, I am always open to talk to the State Government. We work closely with Kate Jones and the Tourism Queensland team in that sense. But when it comes to those matters of protecting swimmers, surfers, managing that against the marine environment – they are matters where we look to the local authorities to say what solutions they want to apply, and then as best we possibly can, we'll support them in the application of those solutions.

Matt Webber:                Well, on that, Minister, Whitsunday Tourism Association, it today says it wants State and Federal government to share the cost for daily aerial surveillance of waters, aerial shark patrol, in essence. A good idea? Would you be amenable to a discussion around that?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, it's an interesting one. It's done in many other parts of the country on beaches at certain times of the year. But I'm not aware of anywhere else in the country where we share the cost as such, and clearly if we started to do so in the Whitsundays from the federal government level, then we'd quickly be doing so across every other beach where it occurs around the country. So, it's one of the localised solutions that state and local governments and local authorities can look at, but it would be quite unprecedented for the Federal Government to start kicking up that element of cost in one community and we'd pretty quickly be up for it across many others, too.

Matt Webber:                So, chucking a line through that one from a federal perspective?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, as I say, we're all ears in terms of if there are practical things, particularly in terms of giving, as quickly as we can, assessment approvals to any things that state and local authorities wish to pursue on these matters. But, yeah, I think picking up the cost of aerial surveillances is not something that the Federal Government is going to stump up for.

Matt Webber:                Appreciate your time, covered a bit of territory today. Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham with me. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham:     Thank you very much, Matt.

Matt Webber:                And the Minister talking about plenty of things. One of them, of course, a new Tourism Australia campaign.

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