Interview on ABC North and West SA, with Georgia Roberts

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Flinders funding announcement; JobKeeper extension; retirement of Mathias Cormann.
15 July 2020

Georgia Roberts: Well, South Australia's nearly $8 billion tourism industry has taken a major financial hit, due to COVID-19. And with no certainty around when our borders will open to visitors, we’re being encouraged to be tourists in our own backyard. Work has started on a $10 million Remarkable Southern Flinders Ranges project, which will hopefully restart our economic recovery, post COVID. Senator Simon Birmingham is Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and joins me this morning. Good morning, Senator.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Georgia. Great to be with you.

Georgia Roberts: So, tell us a little bit about what was announced in the Flinders Ranges yesterday?

Simon Birmingham: It was fantastic to be there yesterday, with Premier Steven Marshall and a demonstration state and Federal Government cooperation, where we each committed $5 million towards the Southern Flinders Ranges precinct investment that we're making there in national parks. We spent time around Wirrabara and Melrose. And what we're looking at is a big investment in new walking trails, new bike trails, forest trails, new campground facilities and picnic facilities. And really exciting, an epic 50km mountain biking trial, around Melrose and Mount Remarkable, which we know will be a huge drawcard for the many fanatical almost, mountain bikers around the country, indeed the world that lures them into the region and gets them staying, spending money and keeping local businesses and jobs afloat.

Georgia Roberts: Absolutely, beautiful part of the world that you were touring yesterday, Senator. Melrose and of course, Mount Remarkable being very beautiful part of the Flinders Ranges. Mentioning there that this project will bring visitors, will it bring jobs?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, many of these communities are hurt by the fires that occurred a number of years ago, impacted by the downturn in the degree of forestry activity, so we know that there are economic pressures facing those communities before COVID came along. Now of course, the whole country, the whole world really is facing the pressures caused by COVID-19. So, this type of investment is about backing things that we know work. When we look at our research around tourism, we know that people want to come for nature based experiences, adventure based activities and for cultural tourism. The investments we're making here will really build the tourism product, across all of those categories, where people can have incredible nature based experiences, in the beautiful, Southern Flinders Ranges. We're making sure that The Bluff becomes more accessible, as well as the type of adventure based activities, not only the 50km epic trail around Mount Remarkable. But a five kilometre Bluff downhill mountain biking trail. These types of adventure based activities, as I say, will bring in people from all over the country, in the world, who seek out these sorts of exciting mountain biking activities. But also, really strong buy in from the traditional owners and local Indigenous communities and a strong interest in building more Indigenous tourism product that gives that cultural experience that helps to encourage people to stay for another day or two, as well.

Georgia Roberts: The park already Australian National Heritage listed, will these upgrades help make it onto the World Heritage List?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, that's all possible; heritage listing goes more to, obviously, the environmental and heritage features of a site. These sorts of upgrades are more about supporting the visitor economy and ensuring that the experience people have and the drawcards that bring them in and the incentives for them to stay an extra night or two are as strong as possible. That is because we want to make sure that the local businesses that are there thrive and succeed and that we actually create opportunities for new ones to be established. We're already seeing really strong enthusiasm from South Australians, heeding the message to get out and back local tourism. Whether that's across the Flinders, where I know bookings have been very strong these school holidays or even over to Port Lincoln, where they've been incredibly strong. What Rowan Ramsey and Dan van Holst Pellekaan, as local members around these areas of the Flinders have been agitating for and urging the state and Federal Governments to deliver, is this type of investment that helps to keep those local visitors coming. But also, will become iconic drawcards for interstate and when allowed, ultimately, international visitors again too.

Georgia Roberts: These projects are part of a number of planned upgrades in the Parks 2025 Strategy. If you could talk to some plans on Kangaroo Island. Obviously ravaged by bushfires earlier on in the year, one of the most beautiful national parks in our state is the Flinders Chase National Park. Will there be any upgrades in there in this particular strategy?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I was over on Kangaroo Island just last week on a private trip, actually, with my family – but obviously we took some time to talk to local park operators, local businesses and to hear their perspective. Yes. devastated by fire but so resilient, coming back so strongly with the support of so many South Australians booking trips over to the Island. I know that Steven Marshall and David Speirs, the State Environment Minister, have been consulting closely with KI communities.

There'll be some further announcements of investments today that our government at a federal level is making alongside the state governments to support new water desalination infrastructure on Kangaroo Island which the community's been seeking for a long time. But this is really going to help to stimulate the local economic recovery by allowing new investment to take place, confident that scarce water will be available for them for the future. I terms of the parks facilities, detailed work being undertaken to assess what needs to be rebuilt in Flinders Chase; how and where it is rebuilt to create the optimal visitor experience for the future.

The cars have been streaming into Flinders Chase National Park since it reopened just over a week ago and that's, again, a sign that says through these school holidays people have been heading over the Island, backing local businesses and are keen to support and to experience. Can I say from a personal level there that although the fire devastation is real, the regrowth is amazing. And the visitor experiences though at places like Admirals Arch are, when you get there, completely untouched and still as exquisite and amazing – and the seals as entertaining and adorable as ever.

Georgia Roberts: You are listening to ABC North and West with Georgia Roberts this morning. My guest is Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Simon Birmingham.

Senator staying with tourism but moving to a different area entirely, yesterday we spoke to the Tourism Industry Council. They say – we have also spoken to local tourism operators – they're calling for JobKeeper to be extended past the current September deadline. They're not the only industry obviously calling for this extension of the deadline however they are quite a heavily affected industry with border closures and cancellation of so many plans. What are your thoughts on this issue? And would you raise this, well, the industry’s concerns with your federal colleague?

Simon Birmingham: Tourism industry is acknowledged by myself, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other senior ministers of the Morrison government as a special case. It was the first impacted by COVID because of the international border closures that we put in place to keep Australia safe, and it will continue to be impacted even as other parts of the economy recover.

Now thankfully we're seeing some parts of the tourism industry enjoy a real resurgence due to local tourism, but other parts that are very internationally oriented will continue to face tough times. We've been consulting, listening carefully to the sector as we think about how it is that JobKeeper would or wouldn't apply into the future. It's there until September 28, we're just finalising all of our decisions and analysis now, and we've made it clear that we will provide certainty by the end of this month around what the future of JobKeeper looks like. And as I say, we're very conscious of the particular impacts of the tourism industry and making sure that whatever support we deliver in the future is proportionate, is targeted to those who really need it most.

Georgia Roberts: Of course Australia's borders will remain closed for the foreseeable future – there is no telling when will open up to the rest of the world. We are seeing the beginnings of what can only be described as a second wave – people also refer to it as a- the continuous wave of COVID-19 cases, the closures of our states and territory borders. What effect do you think, in your own words here Senator, will this have on our long-term tourism industry?

Simon Birmingham: It will take a long time for international tourism travel to recover to where it was pre-COVID. Airlines have been decimated at present; big hotel chains are feeling the effect, and so there is not going to be any easy or quick recovery to international travel. That's the gloomy side of it. The upside and the potential is Australians actually spent $65 billion last year on travelling out of Australia and visitors to Australia spent about $45 billion. So there is a huge amount, even more than we get from international tourists, that we spend in the rest of the world where we can hopefully see some more of that spent in Australia over the next year or two. And so if there is a silver lining for the tourism industry out of the horrors of COVID, I hope it's that we can manage to get Australians to holiday here this year and next year. Not only just to have amazing experiences and support local tourism businesses. But hopefully by the time the international market is up and running again Australians might be more enthusiastic and better informed ambassadors for our tourism products because those who can afford to do so will have actually gotten out and seen a whole lot more of Australia. Hopefully it will be incredibly enthusiastic once they've done so.

Georgia Roberts: Senator, while we’ve got you here I do just want to quickly ask Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, has announced that he'll step down at the end of the year. You've been called his natural successor by Centre Alliance Senator, Stirling Griff. Will you be our next finance minister?

Simon Birmingham: Look, that's very flattering. These decisions are entirely ones for the Prime Minister. Mathias has flagged that, yes, that he will be stepping aside at the end of the year. But Mathias has got a big job to do as Finance Minister until then, I've got a big job to do as Trade and Tourism Minister until then and that's where we'll all stay focused and the PM will make whatever decisions he chooses to at the end of the year.

Georgia Roberts: I'll take that as a wait and see, Senator.

Simon Birmingham: Indeed.

Georgia Roberts: Thank you so much for your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Georgia. My pleasure.

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