Interview on ABC North and West SA, Late Afternoons, with Narelle Graham

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Domestic tourism; trans-Tasman bubble; Australia-UK free trade agreement.
17 June 2020

Narelle Graham: Simon Birmingham, the Federal Liberal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, South Australian Senator and a senior member of the Liberal Party, is somewhat of a regular on this program and we appreciate him taking the time to be with us. He spoke today at the National Press Club. One of the headlines that has come out of it is that Australians will not travel overseas until next year. He also announced a free trade agreement with the UK.

Senator Simon Birmingham, welcome to you.

Simon Birmingham: Hello Narelle. Great to be with you again.

Narelle Graham: Yeah, it’s really nice to be able to speak with you again. I want to start- I do want to get to the free trade agreement but I want to start by exploring what kind of offset holidaying within Australia will give us because you’ve said today it’s unlikely Australians will travel overseas until at least next year. How much money do overseas visitors contribute to the Australian economy?

Simon Birmingham: Well, overseas visitors coming into Australia contribute around $45 billion a year in spending and so that is a huge amount but – and it’s a big but – Australians travelling overseas spend an estimated $65 billion. So there is in fact more than we go and spend in the rest of the world than we attract in overseas spending. We’re a great tourism nation and we generate and enjoy wonderful high spending visitors. We just happen to also be a very, very big travelling public. And so with Australians unable to go out to the rest of the world, with the rest of the world unable to come here, obviously our best hope to save our tourism businesses is to encourage Australians to spend most of what they would usually do on overseas travel right here in Australia instead.

Narelle Graham: Yeah. Because if we spend $65.2 billion overseas and we spend that here, that more than accounts for the amount of money that we spend on overseas travel.

Simon Birmingham: That would be amazing thing if it were to occur. Now there is good reason-

Narelle Graham: Do you think it’s not likely?

Simon Birmingham: Well I mean Australians do go overseas to visit family of friends and to attend work related events and those sorts of things too. So we can't sort of say that it’s all leisure travel in that sense, that Australians would naturally spend. But if we can get even two thirds of it, well that basically gets us to a close to break-even scenario. And so tourism supports and underpins around one in 13 jobs right across Australia, it is a huge employer. And that's why my message as the states start to reopen activities in restaurants and pubs and as the states start to open up their borders again as well as Steven Marshall is doing so effectively, is that if people can afford to do so, if they're lucky in that position that their health, their finances, their ability to take a holiday as such, then they ought to get out there and it's almost – hopefully - a patriotic duty to go and support Australian businesses, Australian jobs because you'll probably be saving the business or job of a fellow Australian in the process.

Narelle Graham: Simon Birmingham is with me. Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. When are we likely to allow people- I know that we are allowing people in from overseas, I'm not silly, but you know with quarantine restrictions on those people who are visiting, when are we likely to open up a less restrictive arrangement with overseas countries?

Simon Birmingham: Very slowly and very carefully, Narelle. One of the key protections for Australia that has allowed us to dodge the scenes of overflowing hospitals in Europe or mass graves in the United States was the fact that we acted quickly and effectively in restricting travelers into Australia and that has protected us enormously. And what we've shown over the last few months is that many thousands of returning Australians have come in and we've been able to quarantine them effectively and where cases of COVID have been detected amongst them, they've nearly all been detected whilst they're still in those quarantine facilities and so that's our big sort of safety mechanism at present that allows us to open up the rest of the country with confidence. But it does mean that we're probably not going to be able to do too much internationally, aside from maybe with New Zealand and then perhaps looking at targeted streams where we can replicate that quarantine like international students.

Narelle Graham: Okay. When would you be thinking for New Zealand?

Simon Birmingham: New Zealand, look as soon they're ready I hope that we'll also be ready. There's a bit of logistical work to be done at our airports just to make sure that we're not having flights of New Zealanders who we know have got next to no risk of bringing COVID the country arriving at the same time and queuing up at customs in the same way as flights returning Australians or others from greater hot spots so the logistics-

Narelle Graham: Jeepers. Yeah, there's a lot to work out isn't there?

Simon Birmingham: Yeah, there are those factors and look also I think getting our states to open their borders and that's where Steven’s decision is going to be very helpful in encouraging New Zealand to see Australia in a positive light.

Narelle Graham: See South Australia too. Alright, what do you make of this? This is Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier.

[Excerpt]

Daniel Andrews: I don’t want to be offensive to South Australians but why would you want to go there? Why would you want to go there?

[End of excerpt]

Narelle Graham: That's how he responded to South Australia opening up our borders to- well not to New South Wales and certainly not to Victoria either, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Well the first point I'd say is it’s pretty disingenuous to start that statement by saying I don't want to be offensive and then be blatantly offensive. So I think he might want to change his style and tactic there. The second point is Daniel Andrews is under intense pressure at present due to the corruption scandal engulfing the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party, and its little wonder that he probably wants one of those distractions hoping that Victorian radio will suddenly be a South Australia Victoria rivalry discussion rather than a corruption in the Labor Party discussion. But it's pathetic and it's unhelpful. I just want to see Australians travelling across this great country again because as I said before that's about saving the jobs of fellow Australians. And we're not all going to happily just travel within our own state, much as I would encourage South Australians to holiday at home and that's certainly my plans for a few days in the July school holidays. But I want South Australians to go to Victoria and Victorians to come to SA and let's prop up each other's jobs.

Narelle Graham: Senator Simon Birmingham, in probably- I can give you about 45 seconds to tell me about the need for a new free trade deal between Australia and the United Kingdom.

Simon Birmingham: The UK is a country of 67 million people. It's a big economy in the world. Back in the 1970s it was our third largest trading partner for farm goods and other goods. Now it's our twelfth and that's because the EU deal for them made it more attractive. We, now that they're undertaking Brexit, want to make sure that it's attractive for Australian farm goods and Australian services to get back into that Europe- into that UK market.

Narelle Graham: Okay. Well let's wish you well with negotiations. Thank you Senator.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Narelle, my pleasure.

Narelle Graham: Senator Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, talking about the need to travel within Australia.

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