Interview on ABC Radio Melbourne, Mornings, with Virginia Trioli

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism Recovery Package; Climate Change; Australia’s emissions reductions targets.
20 January 2020

Virginia Trioli: Senator Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and he joins me now to talk this through. Senator, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Virginia. Thanks for the opportunity.

Virginia Trioli: Good to have you on board to talk about this. Seventy-six million dollars for a tourism recovery package to be spent how?

Simon Birmingham: To be spent- around $30 million will be spent in terms of domestic, within Australia, efforts. So 10 of that for, specifically for bushfire-affected regions, to put on events, festivals, conferences, installing new attractions to get people back into those regions and particularly out of their peak times. Twenty million dollars to work in conjunction with the states and territories and industry partners across Australia to get Australians moving and choosing to holiday within Australia during the course of this year, to really help to support not only those fire-affected communities, but other parts of the tourism industry feeling the effects of the downturn in international visitors. And then some $46 million in different measures to lift and respond to the international downturn. So $25 million in marketing support, similarly to work with industry partners, and airlines, tour operators, hotels et cetera, to get people booking again overseas. Around $10 million to be able to get media, television programs, others out to Australia to see the facts for themselves, to actually correct some of the misunderstandings about just how much of the country has burnt and to make sure they do understand that we're firmly open for business. But also to educate around the process of recovery and to highlight the stories of bush recovery as many Australians well know that Australian bush in the seasons to come will of course regenerate in ways that can create new stories and new experiences, and particularly our indigenous peoples have known these stories for thousands of years, can play a role in helping to tell those stories. And funding as well to support participation in the Australian Tourism Exchange, which is one of the biggest annual showcasing, to make it easier for businesses to participate in that event as well. So quite a comprehensive suite of measures there.

Virginia Trioli: And one-off grants as well for individual, either tourism organisations and moving across to the broader $2 billion package that has been announced by the Federal Government, one-off grants for some businesses as well.

Simon Birmingham: So the overall within the $2 billion package, of course, all of the initial measures about clean-up, support for mental health services, critical support in terms of in schools and with health providers as well, critical support for our wildlife too. But if we move to the economic side of things, yes, the new small business package which stands alongside the package for farmers, each of them offering tens of thousands of dollars of grants to help businesses clean-up and commence the process of rebuild.

Virginia Trioli: Can I just jump in and ask – we were speaking, I mentioned before about Kellie Makowsky who owns the Sandbar Motel at Lakes Entrance. She bought the business eight months ago. All the bookings for February have been cancelled and she says while the tourism package is good, it'll take some time to flow through. Does a business like that- is that eligible for a grant or do you have to have actually been burnt out by the fires?

Simon Birmingham: So in terms of the different assistance measures, the grants, the zero interest loans that are available to help with working capital and so on, they'll depend a little bit on the circumstances of the business. There is definitely support if they are within a designated fire-affected region which they would be. We’re establishing a national hotline with economic and financial counsellors there to talk businesses through the options that are available for them. So I'd encourage Kellie and anybody else to get in touch there and to make sure that they take advantage of that financial counselling. At the very least there should be loans to provide for working capital to get through these tough times that are of zero interest for the next two years, and then at a highly concessional rate beyond that. And our estimate is those types of loans will save businesses around $100,000 on average in terms of the support that can be provided, whether it's for rebuild or whether it's just for seeing them through these tough times.

Virginia Trioli: There's state government money going in as well and a great concern, and I think some clarity that we need this morning on this, is the prospect of waste and duplication. The State Government after the Black Saturday fires here in Victoria gave every person a caseworker so they had one point of contact. Is the Federal Government talking to the states about doing something similar? And how will you ensure that this money is not wasted or duplicated?

Simon Birmingham: So we're working as closely as we can with the states and I really do want to praise the states and territories. I was speaking with the Victorian Tourism Minister Martin Pakula yesterday and he briefed me in on the announcement they've made today about the work they've done to get corporates making commitments and pledges to take conferences, meetings, events into the region. It stands alongside South Australia launching a campaign yesterday to Book Them Out in terms of support for tourism businesses. But in my portfolio, we're going to make sure that the bulk of those marketing dollars go through those state and territory agencies so that it is absolutely done in coordination and in general, most of the support services we're providing are administered and delivered at a state or territory level. Of course just yesterday in Victoria, you saw David Littleproud the Emergency Services Minister, at the federal level, standing alongside his Victorian counterpart, announcing the support for full funding essentially of clean-up activities. And that's a demonstration again of how we're doing these things as much in tandem, in partnership as we possibly can regardless of the political barriers.

Virginia Trioli: The question that I've been wanting to ask the Prime Minister but I’m afraid we can never get him on the program despite our repeated requests is just where Peter Dutton has been through this entire process? His portfolio of Home Affairs very clearly mentions and details: responding to and then managing and then dealing with the aftermath of disasters and emergencies and yet he seems to be completely missing in action. Do you know why that is?

Simon Birmingham: Peter's certainly been an active participant in all of the National Security Committee meetings that have been making the decisions around whether it's deploying the army reservists …

Virginia Trioli: Why haven't we heard - why haven't we heard from him as someone who is never shy of being in front of the camera or the microphone? Why has he not been out in public?

Simon Birmingham: Well Virginia, one thing Scott Morrison did as Prime Minister was to establish a dedicated Minister specifically with responsibility for emergency management who sits at the Cabinet table and that's David Littleproud. So he has firmly been the lead Minister working alongside the Prime Minister in that respect. Peter's been responding insofar as his portfolio responsibilities which are largely at the national security level of activities in terms of dealing with threats such as terrorism and so on. But when it comes to natural disasters, there's a separate Minister who's the lead for that and that's David Littleproud.

Virginia Trioli: So he doesn't seem to be unusually or unnervingly absent during all this period to you?

Simon Birmingham: No. I think I saw him on the Today show last week. So I don't think he's been absent publicly and I can assure you that he has certainly been there at the Cabinet table for all of the key decisions. But again, I reiterate, he's not the lead Minister, David Littleproud is the lead Minister.

Virginia Trioli: I was speaking at length to the leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese before about the challenge that these fires and that global warming now represents in Australia; the clear desire by the Australian population for some serious leadership on this and the need for meaningful and significant cuts to our emissions if we are actually to effect change. Do you accept that that's the political reality now for all of our political leaders no matter what party you might come from and in the absence of showing that leadership, the public will judge him very harshly?

Simon Birmingham: Virginia, I think the tragedy of these fires this season has certainly brought to the fore especially the challenges of climate mitigation and resilience and what we have to do around adaptation in particular and that, I have no doubt, will be part of some of the things considered under whatever review or inquiry is undertaken following this fire season to look at our resilience and ability to adapt to the heating, drying patterns that we've been seeing in relation to fighting fires. In terms of the separate question of emissions reduction, and obviously whatever 2030 targets exist, wouldn't have made a difference to these fires. But it is absolutely essential and one of the most important tasks …

Virginia Trioli: I think all emissions reductions make a difference to the heat in the atmosphere and the circumstances in which people fight these fires. I think they all make a difference, Senator.

Simon Birmingham: Sure, Virginia. I'm saying what happens in 2030 won't have made a difference to what's happened in 2020. And I think that's a simple statement of fact, it doesn't in any way detract from what I was saying it's one of the areas of most critical importance for any government is to deliver on our commitments to not only meet, but our commitment to well and truly, I trust, exceed those 2030 targets and that's where I want to see us embrace indeed, as I think you spoke about in response to one of the callers while I was on hold before, the opportunities of new technology not just to transform Australia but also to play a role in helping to address emissions in other countries.

At the end of last year, we released the National Hydrogen Strategy designed by Alan Finkel, the Chief Scientist, done in consultation and in partnership with the states and territories and we committed hundreds of millions of dollars of support for that strategy. And that's one of the areas where I think there is huge potential for Australia to deploy our capacity to generate renewable energies into the possibility of hydrogen production which can then be exported as a new export for Australia and as a replacement fuel for other nations to help them in their emissions reduction strategies too.

Virginia Trioli: Senator, thanks for joining us today.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Virginia.

Virginia Trioli: Senator of South Australia and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham there.

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