Interview on Channel 9, Today, with Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism Stimulus Package; Coronavirus.
16 March 2020

Allison Langdon: Well, tourists coming to Australia now face 14 days in self-isolation. It’s a hard line move by Prime Minister Morrison, aimed at kerbing the spreading of the coronavirus, but the question is: at what cost?

Karl Stefanovic: Plenty. The Federal Government has unveiled a $1 billion tourism stimulus package though, with Australia's tourism industry now at serious risk of collapse. Simon Birmingham is the Federal Tourism Minister and he joins us now from my home town, Cairns. G’day, Minister. Thank you for being with us this morning.

A billion dollars –where will it go and is it enough?

Simon Birmingham: Hello, Cairns- hello Karl there. Well, this billion dollars comes as part of the $17.6 billion that our government announced last week as economic stimulus, recognising the huge impact that coronavirus is going to have right across our economy, but the even greater impact that it's already having in terms of the tourism sector and our trade-exposed industries as well. So, that’s what I'm doing here in Cairns today, is meeting with local businesses, explaining to them the up to $25,000 assistance that's going to flow automatically into the bank accounts of small and medium sized businesses; talking to them about the subsidies we're making available to keep apprentices on and to make sure we sustain employment and training opportunities for people. But also, around this billion dollars, what else can we do to target that support, to make sure we sustain those businesses who are going to be feeling the pinch over the coming months?

Allison Langdon: Yeah. Because you talked about $25,000 but I mean, you have many small and medium sized businesses, where their monthly costs are something like $70,000 plus, so it doesn't go very far. But just looking at that impact, I mean, how does this not completely decimate the tourism industry?

Simon Birmingham: Look, it is having a grave effect already. We saw, before the travel restrictions of the latest nature were announced on the weekend, that bookings were already down more than 90 per cent from key markets. So we know that this industry is already feeling the pain. And look, the reality is that there will be business closures. There will be job losses. These are tragically unavoidable but what we are trying to do as a government is to reach in as far as we can, to support small business, to provide those payments, to try to sustain them, to try to keep people employed; and that we’ve put this extra fund there, which I’m now urgently consulting with the industry to try to find out what we can do to make sure that regions like this one here in Far North Queensland, who are disproportionately affected, get some extra support and that we target that where it's needed most.

Karl Stefanovic: It's so completely devastating. I’ve got a cousin who’s a marine biologist on a boat that goes to the reef. I’ve got an aunty who works up in Kuranda, at a farm up there. It's not just those businesses directly. Obviously, if you’ve got workers on these boats, or at those the farms, they don't spend money locally now because they're not getting income. The flow-on effects are huge and dramatic. I just wonder if it is enough at this point?

Simon Birmingham: Karl, we’ll make sure we continue to evaluate the situation, and if there is more that’s required, then more, ultimately, will be done. We’ve got a Federal Budget coming up in a just couple of months’ time now, and so we’ll be working closely in the lead up to that to see the impact of the measures we’ve put on the table already. $17.6 billion widely, I think, recognised as being the type of scale necessary at present. But if this looks like going on for too long and too deep, then yes, of course, we’ll have to respond in other ways.

Allison Langdon: So Minister, we’ve got Easter long weekend coming up, we’ve got school holidays. Well, what is the advice around that? Is it to, when the kids are on holidays, to keep them home, or do you want us to travel within Australia and support local business? Which one?

Simon Birmingham: Well, our whole plan, first and foremost, is to slow the spread of coronavirus so that we save lives. And so, firstly, everybody should follow the latest public health advice as it's issued. Now, at present, there aren't any restrictions in relation to domestic travel. And so, for those who don't have personal conditions they need to worry about, who aren't in the high risk categories, and who are feeling completely healthy, then, if you can get in the car and undertake a day trip or a short few days away, we’d certainly encourage people to get out and make sure you support local businesses, because by supporting those businesses, you may well be saving that business or saving somebody's job.

Karl Stefanovic: I know. But that’s- it's a tough message, isn't it? I mean, here we are, we're saying no big gatherings and trying to restrict overseas and they’re restricting the number of people you’re with to 10. I mean, and so for us to go: okay, we need to visit Australian tourism spots. Some of them have been decimated by the bushfires. Then, we're saying: okay, we can't gather in certain places. I mean, that whole mixed message is very difficult to navigate.

Simon Birmingham: It is a fine balance, and that's why people firstly have got to follow the health advice. But then, within the parameters of their personal situation and that health advice, think about what you can be doing, whether that is getting a takeaway meal and going and sitting in the local park to eat it, or any of those sorts of things that can keep a restaurant, a tourism hospitality business going, that's what we’re going to need to do, because if we all purely retreat into our homes, then of course, that economic harm is going to be even greater.

But, first things come first and public health is of the utmost importance. That's why our government’s put these international restrictions in place. That's why we were one of the first countries in the world to do so in relation restricting travel from China. And frankly, if other countries had perhaps taken the early steps that we did, we may not have seen the spread of the virus elsewhere around the world as it has.

Karl Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. Good luck.

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