Interview on Triple M Central Coast, Breakfast with Paddy Gerrard and Rob Palmer.

Topics: Coronavirus; Australia’s Tourism Industry
06 March 2020

Paddy Gerard: But right now though, the Federal Government is taking action to try and head off disaster for the NT tourism industry. I think it's not just the NT, I think it's around Australia and in parts of the world which is under threat from the deadly coronavirus. To speak more we have got Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. So good to have you on a Friday morning, Simon Birmingham. Thanks for joining us, Simon, good morning mate.

Rob Palmer: Hello, Simon.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys, great to be with you.

Paddy Gerard: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for joining us, a pleasure.

Rob Palmer: Well look, Simon, I've had- this coronavirus, right, my wife is thinking about taking a holiday. And look, I'm going to start straight out, if someone's wanting to travel overseas – Paddy's more of the opinion that this is just a, you know, a serious case of the cold. I'm a little bit more worried and I think, well, should my wife be travelling to the UK and back in the next month with all the worry, and people at airports getting ill?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, the advice at present is that people can travel, and certainly that places where we haven't put in place tougher travel restrictions, people should feel free to travel and to go about their normal business. And this is a serious flu-like condition, it is fairly serious enough in terms of the rapidity at which it spreads, and the serious conditions that those who are elderly, those who have respiratory issues, are more vulnerable to it than others.

But, I'd say to your wife, of course if she could, holiday here in Australia this year, that would be even better. But just as we're encouraging UK consumers to still get on a plane to Australia, there's no reason not to get on a plane to the UK.

Rob Palmer: Yeah, sure. So if you're transiting through somewhere like, somewhere in Asia that's closer to the, I guess, the source of this problem - is that something that you're likely to find yourself in a two-week quarantine? Just on your way to a regular place and you think, I don't have an extra two weeks up my sleeve in case I get quarantined. Is that a possibility?

Simon Birmingham: So firstly, absolutely go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website and follow the Smart Traveller advice, and that will tell you at present the places where you will face quarantine circumstances if you travel through those countries – so that's China, that's Iran, that's now the Republic of Korea or South Korea, they're all circumstances that are clearly known. But that advice is updated regularly, and of course, yes, there is a risk that other countries could be added to those travel restrictions depending on how this virus spreads, both in those countries, as well as here in Australia.

Paddy Gerard: We're speaking with Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham. Simon, I love what the Prime Minister said yesterday: get on with your normal life. Like as Rob said about Gwen travelling overseas, his wife, but like, it'd be the same as I went to Coles yesterday, I went to The Sunken Monkey and hosted trivia. You imagine, and that's the same as if you go to Coles or The Sunken Monkey, what's the difference between getting on a plane? I just think we should all just carry on, and yes it is out there, we've just got to be cautious. And, you know, it's- I just wish some of the news services would allay the fears, I think they're putting the fear of God into people.

Simon Birmingham: Look, you know, there is the real risk that- and there's some irrational behavior out there. I mean, I was in the supermarket the other day with my nine-year-old daughter, and she found the empty shelves where the toilet paper was meant to be quite hilarious. And I [indistinct] to say to her, we weren't even looking to buy toilet paper, but she was bemused to see that the people had bought every dunny roll that was available, as a nine-year-old would be.

Paddy Gerard: [Laughter] Of all the things.

Simon Birmingham: But that's, you know, people should go about their daily lives. Yes, take the precautions you would during a bad flu season, apply extra hand hygiene, be mindful if you're coughing or sneezing, where you do it, if you have symptoms ring your doctor or your health service to make arrangements to go in. But otherwise- and of course, be mindful if you're in a higher risk category, as circumstances change or evolve, how we look after those Australians. And that's where governments focus really is, on making sure our public health system is as prepared as it can be and to look after those who are most at risk.

Paddy Gerard:  You mentioned, Simon, if you don't have to go overseas, why not travel in Australia, make that choice. How is tourism on places like the Central Coast going to be affected by this coronavirus, do you think there might be an increase of tourism into the Central Coast because people aren't wanting to travel overseas on planes?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I hope that places like the Central Coast, we can make this a degree of good news. You know, Australia's tourism industry nationwide has taken a real battering this year, those who are internationally exposed destinations where they get large numbers of international visitors have seen bookings plummet, first from the bushfires, then just as we started to recover from that and the negative global coverage, along comes coronavirus. In the last month we've seen international bookings to Australia down 56 per cent. Now, we're not the only country suffering through that pain, but that means if you are one of those businesses who really relies on international visitors, you're feeling the pain. And that's why part of our response has been to put an extra $20 million into a nationwide campaign to encourage Australians to Holiday Here This Year. Whether it's an upcoming long weekend, or a school holiday trip, or the like, this is the year where if you want to help save small Aussie tourism businesses, and the jobs of people who work in them, the best thing you can do is to make a booking to go and stay with them and visit them.

Paddy Gerard: Yeah. And serious- and look, don't buy so much toilet paper, save that money and holiday in Australia would be a bloody good....

Simon Birmingham: Tourism businesses across the country have the toilet paper ready for your visit.

Paddy Gerard: Did you know what, Simon? What I find funny, I went to Coles at Wyoming last night, once again, three days in a row, there's no toilet paper - I didn't need any - but the vitamin section is totally jam packed full. And one thing you do when there is the flu season, you've got vitamin C, Echinacea, whatever, and they are loaded to the hilt. People are grabbing this toilet paper but leaving the vitamins. You are mad.

Rob Palmer: It's mad, isn't it? We're going to run out of food before we run out of toilet paper. The two, it just doesn't work.

Paddy Gerard: Well, and we know, look, if someone's travelling, go to smartraveller.gov.au.

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. Look, that is the source of, the fount of all wisdom, when it comes to travel advice.

Paddy Gerard: Simon, thank you so much. At any stage, want to have a chat, join us on the show, we'd love to have you back someday as well.

Rob Palmer: Yeah.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you guys, my pleasure.

Paddy Gerard: Yeah. Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham. Thank you, Simon.

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