Interview on ABC News, Weekend Breakfast, with Johanna Nicholson and Fauziah Ibrahim
Fauziah Ibrahim: Now, Australia’s tourism industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic with tight domestic restrictions and Australia’s international border closures coming at a cost. Now struggling regional tourism operators are to receive some support from the Federal Government.
Johanna Nicholson: For more on this we’re joined by the Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment Simon Birmingham. Welcome, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, great to be with you.
Johanna Nicholson: Can you tell us about this package? We’re hearing new infrastructure, attractions and experiences. What will it look like and what will be delivered?
Simon Birmingham: So this is $150 million of support, $100 million for regional infrastructure investment that can support our tourism industry, $50 million for investment by those regions of Australia that are really dependant on international visitors for them to be able to invest, particularly in how they repackage products to better target the domestic market and how they campaign and promote themselves to get more tourists from across Australia to their regions as we hopefully see state borders continue to open up. This is really supporting regional tourism that in Australia supports around 300,000 jobs across our regions that usually rely on about $5 billion worth of international visitor spending. What we want to do is lift that domestic spend where we possibly can and encourage Australians to get out, explore some regions that are still doing it really tough like Tropical Queensland, or central Australia. These are places that are feeling it tough because they usually have these large international visitor numbers and right now none of them are there and we need to make sure that they’re assisted to save the jobs and businesses in those communities.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Five billion dollars of international spend, that is quite a lot, Minister. How confident are you that domestic spend will be able to match that number?
Simon Birmingham: Well, right across Australia, what we usually see is that international visitors to Australia spend $45 billion coming here, but Australians last year leaving Australia spent $65 billion in the rest of the world. So we do actually know that in terms of Australian spend, we can divert some of that, that Australians used to spend overseas to spend in Australia, but to do that, we need to make sure that Australians are able to undertake those holidays so that requires states, where they can safely do so, to open up their borders and it requires then Australians undertaking a holiday to do it like you would a proper holiday. Not just a quick weekend trip. Stay for a week or two, get out there, undertake some experiences. Really make sure that you’re supporting those local tourism businesses wherever you can. I know not every Australian is in that fortunate position, but for those who are, know that if you’re able to take the holiday and do it properly, you won’t just be having a fabulous time, you’ll be helping to save the jobs and small businesses of fellow Australians.
Johanna Nicholson: $250 million of new money here, Minister. We hear about the struggling businesses, the tour operators off Cairns and the like. Is that really enough to keep certain businesses afloat?
Simon Birmingham: Well, this is in addition to the fact that many of these businesses will have received direct payments and assistance from the Federal Government already of up to $100,000 for their business. They’ll also have received usually JobKeeper payments to sustain employees across those businesses. So these are all important supports that we’re providing on top of existing measures. It also compliments measures we’ve done for the tourism industry in the cities because they’re doing it also incredibly tough. Your big city hotels and the like who we’re trying to support especially through a $50 million package in the meetings, conferences, exhibitions, events space to get that sector of the tourism industry going again as well. We know that tourism probably stands out as the sector most battered by COVID-19 right around the world, but in Australia, because of the success in managing the health outcomes, and the ability for people to be able to get out and do things, if we can also just get them moving safely across states, we think that many of these jobs can be saved by getting things back to normal as best we can, but always, of course, in a COVID-safe way.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Minister, figures out today show $984 million in international expenditure is being lost because of our international borders that are shut at the moment. Do you think perhaps it’s time that we introduced travel bubbles with more low risk countries like New Zealand?
Simon Birmingham: First and foremost, we do have to see Australian states open up to one another. And so that’s been great to see the progress, a state like South Australia that’s followed the evidence, done it based on New South Wales having had 14 consecutive days of no community transmission of COVID. And we’re seeing the benefits of that flowing already with increased bookings, increased visitation and I hope that other state premiers can follow Steven Marshall’s evidence-based approach, and that can really lead the way. Now, I also hope that we can see borders open up with New Zealand by the end of this year. That would just be a great step and it would prove the work that is being done to make sure this can be done, again, in a safe way. That travellers between Australia and New Zealand can be given corridors and clearances through our international airports without coming into contact with higher risk travellers who might be returning from other parts of the region and still have to go through quarantine. So, we’re making sure we have all the work done, all the preparations there so that we can safely achieve that bubble with New Zealand. It’s up to them as to whether they choose to open up to Australia, but we’re certainly making sure that we’re prepared and I’m hopeful that could be this year and then maybe set a model for us to look at for any other countries that meet similar high standards.
Johanna Nicholson: Minister, you mentioned JobKeeper before and how that’s helping keeping businesses and workers afloat during this pandemic. We know that as of today it’s going to be reduced per fortnight. Adam Bandt, the Greens leader, he’s trying to block the JobKeeper rate cut, saying that it costs less to keep JobKeeper at its current rate than to bring forward all the income tax. He’s seized on Parliamentary Budget Office analysis, saying that it’d cost $11.3 billion to keep the wage subsidy at the higher rate until March whereas the tax cuts would cost $27.7 billion.
Simon Birmingham: Well, the focus that we have at present is about getting Australians back to work. That will be the focus in the Budget to come in a week-and-a-half’s time as well. We’ve already seen some 450,000 Australians back to work. Often supported through JobKeeper and other programs to get them through the toughest times of the pandemic. We know that JobKeeper now is overwhelmingly targeted in supporting Victorian businesses as well as those in sectors like tourism, but for much of the economy, people have been able to get their business back up and running and their employees back into work and that is what we want to see, that normalisation of activity. JobKeeper was the largest single largest intervention by a government in the Australian economy in history. We have spent billions of dollars in delivering it, continue to do so and extended it all the way through to March, but we also made these decisions that we didn’t want an abrupt shock when it comes to the time for JobKeeper to come off, hence the careful staged approach that is being taken. I know that will be tough for some people who will feel that adjustment, but it is in the overall scheme of the economy, important we take those careful cautious steps.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Minister for Tourism, Trade, Investment Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for being with us here on Weekend Breakfast.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.