Interview on Channel 7, Sunrise, with Samantha Armytage

Topics: Coronavirus, JobKeeper Payments, Zoos, Aquariums, COVIDSafe App
28 April 2020

Samantha Armytage: The Federal Government has given a $94 million lifeline to more than 100 zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks struggling during the coronavirus crisis. The attractions normally draw 20 million visitors a year but had their income cut when restrictions came into place, it's left many rangers to work for free to take care of the animals.

And Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Adelaide. Minister, good morning. These animals are expensive to feed, $50,000 worth of lettuce for a dugong each year – how will you distribute this money?

Simon Birmingham: You're right, Sam, it is incredible the costs sometimes. And we've already responded in terms of trying to support the jobs of Australians through billions of dollars and particularly thrown in $20 billion in total of economic support and our JobKeeper payments. But then as we looked at some of the other impacts, it became clear in the tourism sector, these exhibiting zoos and aquariums face tens of thousands of dollars of cost, in terms of feeding each animal, the veterinary support, the essential research that is undertaken, particularly in the threatened or endangered species.

So, we're going to deliver this support based upon the size of a business to make sure that those who have more animals, higher costs, bigger often electricity or water filtration costs in the huge aquariums, get the support they need to be able to survive this crisis so they can reopen and continue to be essential attractions in some of our major tourism regions.

Samantha Armytage: Yes. And your industry has just been hit so, so hard - first the bushfires in many areas and now this. What- some states are starting to ease restrictions - do you think that people will be allowed slowly back into things like aquariums, perhaps, just to get people through the gates?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope that we can see continued success, in terms of flattening the curve, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and people adhering to the social distancing requirements, downloading the COVIDSafe app – all of these things will help us to be able to reopen, perhaps some of the outdoor exhibits like the open plan zoos a little bit sooner, aquariums might take a little longer because, of course, they're more indoor features and assets.

So, it will depend and we'll have to follow that public health advice. But I know that Australians are yearning to get back out there, right now they just have to show a little bit of patience, continue to follow that health advise, help by downloading the app. It will all help to get us there, where we can safely reopen some of these facilities. And now, as Tourism Minister, I would say to people, is a great time for dreaming, dreaming about why you might go, planning those trips within Australia - because certainly our tourism regions from Cairns to Dubbo, to KI, are going to need you afterwards.

Samantha Armytage: Oh, absolutely. Minister, we are all dreaming, don't you worry about that. Thank you, we'll see you soon.

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