Interview on Sky News Live, First Edition, with Peter Stefanovic.

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism Australia domestic campaign; Borders; Reports on Australian coal flows into China; Gladys Berejiklian.
13 October 2020

This transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.

For a full transcript please visit www.senatorbirmingham.com.au


Peter Stefanovic: Tourism Australia has recruited the comedian Hamish Blake and author Zoe Foster Blake in a fresh bid to encourage Australians to holiday at home during the pandemic. Seven million dollars will be pledged towards promoting domestic travel to help crippled airlines and the struggling tourism sector. The high profile couple will help launch the second stage of the campaign across print, social media and radio. Here’s a bit:

[Tourism advertisement]

Peter Stefanovic: Joining us live now is the Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good to see you. I can tell by your smile, you like this one. Hopefully this campaign goes a little bit better than the last one.

Simon Birmingham: Well, look, this campaign is really targeted towards saving jobs in the Australian tourism industry while encouraging Australians to get out there and have the time of their lives. We now have a situation where slowly but surely those interstate borders are coming down. And we want people to think about the summer holidays that are coming up and think about the incredible experiences that they can have across this wonderful country of ours, be that indeed learning to surf, or going diving, or undertaking cooking lessons, or visiting a winery. The different types of experiences that are on offer right across Australia that are going to help save the one in 13 jobs that rely on our tourism industry, which have been so hit by COVID. And if people can make a booking and go for a week or two and have a proper break, then that is really going to do wonders for those jobs in those businesses.

Peter Stefanovic: Not all borders are open, though. So what good is the campaign if the borders remain closed, and particularly in WA and, still at the moment, Queensland?

Simon Birmingham: So to spend on this campaign is being targeted, as you would expect it to, reflecting the reality there that not every part of the country can move safely. We are, though, seeing the borders come down. We've seen Queensland open up to Canberra, to South Australia, and we hope soon to New South Wales and Tasmania, as well as to the Northern Territory. We hope to see Tasmania by the end of this month open up. And that will at least then give us a critical mass there of, ideally, if we can get New South Wales open to some half dozen of our eight jurisdictions open to one another. That's why we've chosen now to launch the campaign. Because as I said, we are targeting the spend and where those ads run, in terms of those markets where there's greater stability for people to book and move with confidence. And confidence is another factor there. People should know airlines and hotels have all changed their policies to make it much easier for people to shift and cancel bookings if need be if circumstances change. So people can book with the confidence that they'll have their holiday or get their dough back should circumstances change.

Peter Stefanovic: Is this really going to ensure business survival, though, particularly in those areas where tourism has been absolutely decimated? Can't save all of them, surely, particularly if these borders remain closed?

Simon Birmingham: Sadly, I said right at the start of this pandemic that we wouldn't be able to save every job or every business. And that remains as tragically true today as it was way back at the start of this year. But what we have to do is save as many as we can. And now our economic recovery plan is provide the cushioning through JobKeeper payments, small business payments, the new loss carry back provisions that will ensure previously profitable businesses can get back even more of the tax they paid previously as a result of deducting their losses from this year. These are all about ensuring business survival. But we also need to regenerate the demand. And that's what this campaign and the $230-plus million record budget for Tourism Australia is about: getting people moving again where they can do so and saving those businesses and jobs through genuine consumer demand.

Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, and by getting that domestic tourism on the front foot again, is that to suggest - and I noticed in the budget, we're talking about a vaccine towards the end of next year now - is that to suggest that international travel for next year, Minister, is out so we can't look at really going to Italy for a holiday until 2022?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I hope that we can get arrangements with New Zealand in place by the end of this year for genuine two-way travel to be facilitated and that might be a model that could then be extended to other destinations that have got similar success rates as Australia and New Zealand in suppressing COVID. But then, tragically, parts of Europe or the United States, for example, where we do still see very high transmission rates, continue to pose a threat to us, so long as there isn’t a vaccine or some other new breakthrough in the management of COVID. And the last thing Australia can afford is to have a circumstance where our health and our economic recovery are crippled as a result of a major outbreak. So we’ll continue to manage things very, very carefully, because successful health management has enabled us to reopen our economic in a way that is very much the envy of much of the rest of the world, and to save jobs, and that’s why in Australia, our health outcomes and our economic outcomes are by far superior to much of the rest of the world and we want to keep it that way.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Just a couple of quick ones. Are you able to confirm reports, Minister, that China is going to stop importing Australian coal?

Simon Birmingham: I’ve seen those reports and I’ve had discussions with the Australian industry and we are making approaches to Chinese authorities in relation to that speculation. We have over recent years, seen that there’s a pattern that has involved previous disruptions to the flow of Australian coal into China, but the market has then recovered as a result of a range of different factors including the application of some domestic quotas it seems in the Chinese system. So, look, I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves in terms of the speculation there, but we are working with industry and taking action and having discussions there with China.

Peter Stefanovic: Is there truth to it and are you worried about it?

Simon Birmingham: We don't have proof that this is occurring. But as I said, we're taking the accusations at a value where we are at least engaging with the Chinese system, seeking a response in relation to those claims that have been aired publicly and are working with Australian industry, as always, to try to save Australian jobs.

Peter Stefanovic: But the response hasn't come yet, obviously?

Simon Birmingham: No, we made those approaches through diplomatic channels overnight.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Alright. It's taken some time to get responses from China this year, so are you expecting a China- are you expecting a response on this any time soon?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I trust that our engagement through those channels will yield some response. Of course, you make reference there, I'm sure, to my desire to have a ministerial level dialogue with my Chinese counterpart. And from Australia's perspective, the door remains open and the invitation there for us to have the type of discussion that we should as partners in relation to our economic cooperation in this region. And that's why we are always ready to have that mature dialogue and engagement, even on difficult issues for which we may not agree.

Peter Stefanovic: When is your government going to stop messing about and putting in place a federal ICAC, Minister?

Simon Birmingham: Look, our government has worked through the process in relation to an integrity commission. That process, we've been engaging and consulting, in terms of how that is developed. But our focus is squarely on the economic recovery plan from COVID, and that's about saving the jobs of fellow Australians. And that's where my focus is particularly as Trade and Tourism Minister.

Peter Stefanovic: It's not exactly transparent, though, if it's going to be held behind closed doors, which is what Christian Porter is [indistinct] with at the moment, right?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think I think we often see the debate had about whether or not aspects of some of these ICAC operations in other parts of the country are kangaroo courts or that- or they’re show trials. And if you're going to have this sort of work, you want to make sure that it is focussed squarely on flushing out any wrongdoing, not just destroying reputations for the sake of it.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us here.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.

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