Interview on Channel 9, Today on Sunday, with Rebecca Maddern
Rebecca Maddern: Well, it’s been announced this morning that $250 million is being spent to kickstart our tourism industry. We’re now joined by the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning. This package is designed to fill the $30 billion hole left by international tourists. How and where are you spending the money?
Simon Birmingham: Hi Rebecca. This package is particularly targeted to regional Australia. We know that tourists spend around $5 billion across regional Australia supporting around 300,000 jobs. So this is going to help some of the most internationally dependent regions of Australia, places like Far North Queensland and Central Australia that we know rely on those international visitors to sustain jobs, to sustain those communities and it builds on other investments we’re making in the tourism industry just to keep saving jobs during these tough times.
Rebecca Maddern: Minister, you mentioned Queensland there, and no doubt some of the country’s most beautiful destinations are in Queensland, and also WA, but we can’t get there because of border closures. Are you getting increasingly frustrated with state premiers because they refuse to open up?
Simon Birmingham: It's been frustrating, but I’ve also been really pleased to see progress. We have seen the Northern Territory government, the South Australian government make really great progress in terms of opening up to New South Wales and to each other and to Queensland. We’ve also seen Queensland at least take the step in relation to the ACT. So I take that as a good sign and I really hope that they will see the success, as planeloads of Sydneysiders come to Adelaide and explore South Australia, that we really want to see those people also have the chance to go to Queensland to help save those tourism jobs up there as well as reuniting families.
Rebecca Maddern: Minister, what are they scared of? The numbers are very low, even low in Victoria now, why won’t they open up?
Simon Birmingham: In South Australia, the premier here Steven Marshall, made its decision on the basis of there being 14 clear days of no community transmission in New South Wales. So it was based on sound evidence. That seems like a pretty good basis for Queensland to follow. Follow suit, recognise the evidence is clear that New South Wales and Gladys Berejiklian has had great success in suppressing the spread of COVID. And that what we want to see is as many borders open as is safe and possible. We all still understand there are reasons around protecting the rest of Australia from Melbourne, great though the progress being made there is, there is still community transmission and we need to be cautious and careful there. So nobody’s saying throw everything open. We are saying where the rest of the country has enjoyed comparable success let’s get on with it, because there are people whose jobs in airlines, in airports, in hire car companies, in airports in hire car companies, in major hotels, in restaurants, tour operators, experiences, the whole lot, their jobs, their small businesses depend on allowing visitors to flow and we really do need to get people moving across the states, not just within the states.
Rebecca Maddern: Okay. Talking about getting people flowing elsewhere, News Corp reporting this reporting this morning that New South Wales will open its borders to New Zealand as early as November. Can you confirm that with us this morning?
Simon Birmingham: I’m really hopeful that we will see opening with New Zealand by the end of the year. Working hard to make sure that every safety precaution and measure is in place through our airports, our border protection and screening processes, to make sure that people can travel safely between Australia and New Zealand without risk of encountering other air travellers that may be coming in from higher risk countries. We’re building those protections and now ultimately whether New Zealand opens up to Australia will be a matter for New Zealand. But we are working to make sure that we are ready and hopefully we can see those steps taken this year.
Rebecca Maddern: Okay. I just want to move on to the topic of JobKeeper because it will be cut tomorrow. The Transport and Tourism Forum is calling for it to be extended until September next year. Why are you reducing it when so many businesses are still struggling and, in particular, in Melbourne businesses just aren’t open, nothing’s open?
Simon Birmingham: You look right across the country, we have seen huge success in the numbers of people getting back to work. JobKeeper as part of our overall plan has saved an estimated 700,000 jobs, and we extended JobKeeper all the way through until March. But yes we’re tapering it, but what we don’t want is for there to be a sudden hard cliff at the end. That’s why we adjusted the eligibility to make sure it was really flowing to the businesses who need it. And the significant proportion, the largest proportion across the country of JobKeeper recipients and businesses receiving JobKeeper are now in Victoria. In fact I think it’s close to Victoria being the same as the rest of the country if not more than the rest of the country added together. So we’ve made sure it’s a program targeted to a state that needs it. It flows to the businesses who need it, the tourism industry one of the biggest recipients, yes. But we’ve given that certainty it's there all the way through until March next year. And of course we’ll look at what happens beyond March as we get closer to that time.
Rebecca Maddern: Are you tapering it because you’re worried about people doing the wrong thing. There is anecdotal evidence of people earning far more money sitting at home on the couch rather than going to work and people taking JobKeeper and actually doing cash jobs on the side?
Simon Birmingham: Rebecca, I think the vast majority of recipients, the businesses and the individuals, are doing the right thing. There’s always a challenge with these programs in ensuring that everyone complies and does the right thing. There are anecdotal stories of businesses saying it’s hard to get people back to work. We recognise that. That is part of the consideration at least in the structure of the program. But overall the program is there to support people and it has done its job to date. But yes we also have to help parts of the economy transition and transition back to normality at some stage. And as we are getting nearly everything open across most of the country we do need to take those careful transition steps and make sure that we return the budget when we can to more normal circumstances. Soon we’ve got a Budget being handed down in just a week and a half’s time and that will clearly be focused on all the other elements of how we create jobs and get people back to work.
Rebecca Maddern: How many Australians will be taking a pay cut tomorrow when JobKeeper winds back?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t have that figure on hand, but JobMaker, JobKeeper, as I said we have extended it all the way through to March. It was the most extraordinary, the single largest intervention by a government in the Australian economy ever. We’ve made sure it’s there for the long-haul. But yes it’s a transition. I know that that will be tough for some individuals, but we have to make sure that we take every step of this carefully, cautiously, and that’s what we’ve done.
Rebecca Maddern: Okay. Minister Simon Birmingham thank you very much for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.
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