Interview on Sky News Live, Breakfast, Peter Stefanovic

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism Industry; State Border Closures; New Zealand-Australia Travel; Unemployment Rate; Ruby Princess Inquiry.
14 August 2020

Peter Stefanovic: Well, as I mentioned, we are joined now by the Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham; he joins us live now. Minister, good morning. Good to see you, thanks so much for joining us. So, as we’ve just heard a $12 billion drop in domestic tourism, how do you wrap your head around those figures?

Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s just a two month drop and so we know the impacts is going to be much, much greater. The international tourism markets, some $45 billion value to it, is essentially closed right now due to the border shuts right across the country. Domestic tourism, Australians holidaying at home suffering this huge, enormous hit and that’s why we know our tourism operators across the country have been doing it so very difficult in challenging times for them. The JobKeeper program, the more than $300 billion of support our government is providing, is an essential lifeline.

But, we also need Australians to think about what it is they can do, where it is safe for people to travel, where they can afford to travel that they really ought to be planning to get out there, to book a trip and to support, not just accommodation providers but make sure you immerse yourself in a regional experience; undertake a tour, go out there and enjoy the many different experiences – cultural or adventure or otherwise – that our tourism industry provides so many international visitors to this country usually, and that we want Australians to be able to enjoy too.

Peter Stefanovic: Minister, Christmas, it’s just four months away. Are you expecting that there will be some form of restrictions and state restrictions and closures in place by Christmas, so people should kind of, temper their inter-state travel expectations?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think we can predict what the circumstances, particularly around Victoria, will be in a few months’ time. We hope that we continue to see improvements there and that we can see some relaxing of restrictions. But, I certainly think the Australians will need to be mindful and exercise their judgement.

But, there’s the October school holidays coming up, then we’ve got the Christmas school holidays and I’d certainly urge people to be thinking about where they can travel to and to make some of those plans already. I hope that states and territories, aside from Victoria, are able to be encouraging people to get out there – travel across those states and, where they can, even between different states. It’s going to be so crucial to make sure that all aspects of our tourism industry benefit.

We’re getting anecdotal research on feedback and that says that in states, like Western Australia and South Australia, where people can move relatively freely within those states people are going out to regional areas; they’re booking accommodation. But we need them to go that extra yard and not just book the accommodation but, as I say, undertake amazing experiences in nature with adventure activities, cultural experiences that Australia is so rich with and that our tourism operators really need people to book and enjoy.

Peter Stefanovic: Is there any chance of a New Zealand travel bubble this year?

Simon Birmingham: I hope that there may be something achieved before the end of the year, I don't give up hope on that. We've continued to work in terms of the practicalities of how that would apply; but, obviously, it will take agreement from both governments and I don't think anybody should expect that there will be a breakthrough anytime in the next few weeks or a couple of months.

Peter Stefanovic: Yeah. I mean with the outbreak in New Zealand you'd have to say that it's unlikely, right, this year with that outbreak in New Zealand? Plus, what's going on in Australia as well?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we've known for a little while that that New Zealand, understandably, was watching with some caution and concern what had been happening in Victoria. as the rest of Australia was. So, their reluctance to move quickly is understandable. They've now got their own challenges in terms of an outbreak there.

But, we don't give up hope, and we know that as we get closer to the Christmas period the calls for many people to be able to connect with family and loved ones will also get greater. So if it is possible; if it can be done with the concurrence of both countries, then we'd love to see that breakthrough. It will be good for many, many people, both Kiwis and Australians, as well as good news for our tourism industry if we can get an opening there at least between New Zealand and some states, if not all of Australia.

Peter Stefanovic: Well, one of those states; the Queensland Premier has said that she wants to keep her borders open – closed, I should say, for as long as necessary. What’s your view on that?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as long as necessary is fine, but I do urge the state leaders to take a proportionate approach in looking at these circumstances. The states and territories that are in very similar situations where they have enjoyed remarkable success in suppressing COVID ought to be opening up to one another. The quarantine restrictions in relation to Victoria are entirely understandable and necessary. The caution that some states have in relation to New South Wales is also understandable, but I hope that we can see opening there.

But amongst the rest of the country we continue to see great success, and those states ought to be opening up between one another so that we can get that tide of cross-border travel within Australia happening that will see people go that extra mile, book that extra experience, and that's what's so crucial to the many tourism operators, people should know…

Peter Stefanovic: Well when would you- sorry, sorry to interrupt you. When would you like to see those borders open when it comes to Queensland?

Simon Birmingham: People should know when they’re booking...

Peter Stefanovic: You know, numbers there are low. New South Wales seems to be on top of things at the moment, fingers crossed anyway. So, do you have a timeframe of when you would like to see Queensland reopen its border again?

Simon Birmingham: It's very difficult on these things to put a precise timeframe in place, but it is important that health advice is followed, but also that economic considerations are put into the perspective as well. And that's why – when we're talking here, not just about letting Australians have a holiday. We're talking about the jobs and livelihoods of so many people.

Queensland, as we know, is a heavily tourism dependent economy, it has large numbers of small and medium businesses who rely upon it, and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Queensland jobs that are dependent on the tourism industry. So, this is about supporting the livelihoods of fellow Australians.

Now of course, the health factors come first, but we do want states and territories to be pragmatic, practical when they’re looking at this, and to open up wherever they possibly can. And if New South Wales continues in its success, which has been remarkable and all credit to the Berejiklian Government for what they have achieved with the threat coming across the border from Victoria, they seem to have managed that incredibly well – remarkable testing, tracing, isolating policies enjoying enormous success there in New South Wales. And if that continues to yield the type of dividends that it has, then I hope we can see an opening up to New South Wales as well as every other state, except Victoria, by most of the other states.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Just a couple of quick ones, Minister. Steven Kennedy has said that he expects unemployment will be above pre-pandemic levels for at least the next five, possibly six years. Is that what you’re working with at the moment, those kind of numbers and forecasts?

Simon Birmingham: Scott Morrison has already spoken publicly about the fact that we need to work through five years of economic recovery, that we need to work through a five-year plan as our Government is doing in terms of how we invest in skills, in infrastructure, in supporting Australian business to get out of the economic challenge that we face. And this isn’t just a domestic economic challenge, we are confronted by a global economic downturn, a recession across pretty much every country of the world right now, and that is going to have profound implications in terms of economic growth right across the world, has spillover effects here. And that’s why everything our government is doing at present beyond dealing with the health circumstances, is worrying about the jobs of Australians.

When we put in place a HomeBuilder plan that is about ensuring that, for example, a construction industry that has avoided the shutdown of this year doesn't face a downturn next year because people simply ceased spending and ceased making those plans to extend – and that's getting remarkable success. Our investment in parts of the creative arts to try to get more films to Australia and made in Australia, which we know each of them generate hundreds, if not, supporting thousands of jobs whilst they're being made here – crucial about support there. Changing some of our settings to be more attractive for investors to relocate, and businesses even to relocate to Australia to take advantage of the relative stability that we offer.

These are all important factors to build up our economy in the future, and we have recognised what Steven Kennedy’s been saying for some time now, and it's why we've been putting in place the plans, not just to deal with the health pandemic or the emergency economic situation, but also the plans to help business and people get through the next few years.

Peter Stefanovic: And just finally, Minister, a report this morning that suggests that airlines had concerns about passengers leaving the Ruby Princess, but they were powerless to stop it. They even requested that passenger logs be given to the airlines so they could basically stop those passengers from getting onboard those planes, but they were stopped, those logs were stopped from Border Force. Is that acceptable?

Simon Birmingham: While I'm obviously not privy to or aware of the details of the communications between airlines and authorities at the time, there are no doubt lessons to be learned from the Ruby Princess issue. And I expect that the inquiry that's underway will provide a number of areas where systems will have to be changed into the future to make sure that if ever we confront something similar again all of those systems are better prepared and that the information flows as it should, when it's necessary, to protect people's safety.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Tourism, Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning. Good to talk.

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