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

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Coronavirus; Royals visit to Australia.
12 February 2020

Karl Stefanovic: Well this is very exciting folks, Australia’s tourism industry is hoping a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will bring a billion-dollar economic boost to communities hardest hit by the bushfires.

Allison Langdon: For more we are joined by Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, in Canberra and also royal correspondent for us this morning. Minister, very good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Multi-skilling, great to be with you.

Allison Langdon: I tell you what, this is wonderful news. What a much needed boost to spirits, to tourism and the economy this will be. Any details yet?

Simon Birmingham: Well not quite yet. But look, talks have been ongoing with Kensington Palace for a while now and the Prime Minister’s expected within days to write proposing some locations and dates. And we hope that that can then all be locked down with an announcement from the royals pretty soon, because it is going to be a great opportunity to remind the rest of the world that Australia is still a fantastic place to visit, full of rich and amazing experiences.

Karl Stefanovic: There are some political commentators saying well this- the money could be better spent on other things. I don't agree with that; I think this is a great thing. But how do you narrow down where they’re going to go because that's always incredibly competitive?

Simon Birmingham: Look, that will be tough and of course there’ll need to be engagement with those who are directly fire affected. We know that the Duke and Duchess will want to do that and to speak to people about their individual circumstances. But we also hope that we can make sure that we project back to the rest of the world images of them [audio skip] pristine beaches and bushland where the green growth’s starting to come back through, and cuddling recovering wildlife. These are the key images we need the rest of the world to see, because they saw plenty of bad images of Australia over the new year period, and yet this is a country that still has so much to offer and we know that the PR that will come with a visit like this will be immense. From Harry and Meghan's last trip here, we saw a 120 per cent lift in terms of visits to the Tourism Australia website; there was a 30 per cent lift in bookings that flowed through. So there are real economic benefits that can come if we get it this right.

Allison Langdon: Yeah I think you’re right. I think the rest of the world right now thinks that Australia is just all- is all blackened. But I mean Minister, on top of that, of the bushfires, we’ve also got- the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on our travel and our export sectors. The budget surplus is now in very serious doubt. How do we come back from all of this?

Simon Birmingham: Look, we’ve shown great resilience before. You’re right, the coronavirus is hurting travel, trade, international education, and we don't know how long that impact will go on for. But that's why of course, firstly, you build yourself to a position of budget balance and surplus. That way we are actually able to deal with these sorts of circumstances without having to jack taxes up on Australians, which is what happened in the Labor years when there were times of natural disaster. We plan as well for recovery, so we are absolutely inside Tourism Australia and all of our trade agencies, working through the strategies of when China becomes open for business again, how do we recover those markets quickly, how do we get our exporters re-engaged so that we are ready to roll as quick as we can. And of course, we’ve already as a government, injected some $76 million extra into Tourism Australia as part of the bushfire response. But that’s all going to really- also going to really help in terms of super charging the coronavirus response when the time is right.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. I've got an idea for you this morning, Minister. Let's have a National Party centenary celebration to mark the 100th anniversary in a five-star hotel in Melbourne and do you know what, let's let the public pay for it, because Michael McCormack thinks that's a great idea.

Simon Birmingham: Well look, I haven't seen any details around that. But we have an independent parliamentary expenses authority, it's their job to assess and make sure that everybody has followed the letter of the law and the rules in that regard and that's exactly what they should do.

Allison Langdon: But I mean, but come on, Minister, in all seriousness, this is a joke, isn't it?

Simon Birmingham: Well as I say, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority has a job, it's their job to do. I expect it to be done without any political interference, without any political commentary. So that's what they should do and make sure that every cent of all of our travel is precisely within limits.

Karl Stefanovic: Let me tell you what, there’s going to be plenty of political and public commentary on that one. Thank you for your time today Simon, it’s a good thing with the royals coming. Appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, much appreciated.

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