Interview on Channel 9, Today on Sunday, with Richard Wilkins and Rebecca Maddern

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Funding for National Parks; future of international travel; US travel advice.
12 July 2020

Richard Wilkins: Minister for Tourism Simon Birmingham joins us now. Simon, thank you for coming on the show this morning. Where's this funding going?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning. Well, this is a $233 million injection into Commonwealth National Parks, so iconic parks like Uluru and Kakadu, which are going to see major upgrades to their viewing platforms, to boardwalks, to camping grounds, all of those sorts of visitor facilities that are so important. And of course, it comes on top of the support that we are providing to tourism operators across the country, through small business grants, through JobKeeper payments, and all of those things that are critical to help the industry through what are unquestionably some of its darkest days.

Rebecca Maddern: Simon, I understand the grants are helping small businesses, but none of this actual $233 million is going to small businesses affected?

Simon Birmingham: No, this is about making sure that we're investing in the long term as well, and so this will support around 1000 jobs, in terms of construction jobs, parks jobs, particularly Indigenous employment through our Commonwealth National Parks. So it's going to have an important immediate economic benefit, as all of these small works are undertaken. But it will also ensure that our nature-based tourism attractions, like these iconic National Parks, are in the best possible condition to welcome visitors back, so that when we can have international visitors return to Australia, we're marketing the best experience, and in the meantime, we'll be working hard to try to get Australians back out there travelling again, where and when it's safe to do so, including into these parks.

Richard Wilkins: Not all of them can do so, of course, at the moment. Is embracing travelling at the moment a bit of a slap in the face for Melbourne, when they're back in lockdown?

Simon Birmingham: Well, my heart goes out to people in Victoria, and I know how tough it is for them, but my message to Australians who are in a position where they can safely travel, where they can afford to travel, is please do so. Please make a booking because our tourism operators around Australia are doing it incredibly tough right now. And by getting out there and travelling across Australia, you won't just be having a fantastic time; you'll also potentially be helping to save the business and save the jobs of your fellow Australians, and so this is a great time to get out, to see Australia, and hopefully more Australians can become greater advocates for the many wonderful tourism experiences we have by using this time of restrictions on international travel to get out and better see and experience our wonderful landscape.

Rebecca Maddern: International travel, it's a big question and I know it's a little bit like how long is a piece of string, but Minister, what has to happen for international travel to be back on the cards? There must be sort of a road map?

Simon Birmingham: Well, you kind of answered it there, in that there are no certainties when it comes to international travel. We have to see a circumstance where it is safe for Australia to open up our borders. Now, the obvious great leap that could happen in terms of safety would be if there’s a vaccine breakthrough, and so we all hope that that could be the case. If that's not the case, well we'll have to work through much more complicated scenarios, in terms of looking at individual circumstances with individual countries, as to how we might manage that dependent on the safety of that country and the threat that it poses in terms of major outbreaks of COVID. Look, I know this is a difficult one for many people, especially those who've got loved ones overseas and wish to travel for personal reasons, but in the end, as you can see in Victoria, the cost of an outbreak domestically, if we then have to shut down aspects of the local economy, is just so significant, and that's why we need to make sure that we do contain the spread in Australia as much as possible. Because that way, we can actually keep domestic businesses open, people travelling around Australia like they're doing and now able to do across most states, and like we ultimately hope to see across all states, if we can get Victoria back under control.

Richard Wilkins: Finally, Simon, while we've got you there, the US has issued a security alert to its citizens in China, warning that they may be detained or deported for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese Government. Does Australia have the same concern?

Simon Birmingham: We’re continually monitoring the advice we provide to people who are in China, to Australian citizens in China, and indeed, there was a variation upgrading of elements of that advice over the last week or so. And I would urge anybody to make sure that they do look at the information provided publicly on our Smartraveller website to inform their activities, if they are already overseas. Obviously we have in place the restrictions on people going to any other country right now, but if you an Australian still overseas, in a country like China, you should follow that advice that is provided through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Richard Wilkins: So, that's a yes?

Simon Birmingham: Well, that's an indication that we've provided information to people, warning to people, about where we see risks in terms of potential for detention of individuals, and they ought to heed that advice.

Rebecca Maddern: Okay. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, thank you very much.

Richard Wilkins: Thank you, Simon.

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