Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming. Today the Morrison Government is announcing further support and assistance for our tourism industry to help the save yet more jobs through the coronavirus crisis. As Government we’ve provided more than $300 billion worth of economic support to make sure that we sustain and save jobs right across the country, and we know that our tourism industry is one of the most heavily impacted by the restrictions that have been put in place – impacting their ability to get customers and of course sustain their businesses and jobs.
The tourism industry has been and remains one of the major beneficiaries of JobKeeper, and of course has received billions of dollars in additional support across a range of measures like JobKeeper and small and medium sized business payments. We’ve also put in place measures targeted to assist zoos, and aquariums, and major exhibits – to make sure that we assist as well those in the conventions, and meetings, and exhibition space in our big cities.
And today we’re announcing some targeted support particularly for regional tourism. Major opportunities for new tourism infrastructure investment(*) to ensure that we build the community in tourism facilities and resources that are necessary to make sure our tourism regions are able to welcome visitors in the years to come with the best quality local facilities.
We’re also announcing $50 million in very targeted assistance for those tourism regions of Australia who are most dependent on international visitors to sustain a large proportion of jobs in their communities. That’s what this is about, making sure that the jobs in those communities can be saved by helping them to invest in attracting domestic visitors, in pivoting their tourism experiences to be more attractive to those domestic visitors, and in preparing for an international markets to reopen to be able to be ready and to appropriately, safely – in a COVID-Safe way – welcome those international visitors back.
This is crucially important because around $5 billion worth of international visitor spending usually happens in Australia’s regions, supporting around 300,000 jobs – 300,000 jobs. And so crucially, we’re investing this targeted $50 million to be spent by those internationally dependent tourism regions to help to save 300,000 jobs of Australians, just as we’ve worked so hard throughout the pandemic to keep saving jobs by providing the economic lifeline and support that’s necessary.
Journalist: Minister, when it comes to. Australia’s going offshore for tourism and holidaying overseas, what sort of injection would it be if those people started to spend that same amount of money inside Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Across Australia Last year we welcomed some $45 billion of international spend coming into the country, but Australians leaving Australia’s spent $65 billion in other nations of the world. So indeed, if every Australian dollar that had been spent overseas last year was spent in Australia instead, we’d be better off overall. But of course practically speaking much of that is business travel, family reunion travel – different things that you wouldn’t expect to necessarily occur without the opportunity. But there is still a huge opportunity for Australians to be able to support tourism jobs across the country where people can afford to travel and can safely travel for them to do so – they’ll have the time of their lives and they’ll also be helping to save the jobs and businesses of fellow Australians.
Journalist: Can you give us an idea of how it might work if you had a B&B on Yorke Peninsula? How do I benefit if I’m trying to get that business up and running again?
Simon Birmingham: What we’re seeing at present is that, in many small regional tourism products are actually doing quite well where they’re a drive destination from cities like Adelaide. If you take the question of a bed and breakfast on Yorke Peninsula they’re probably finding that bookings are up for weekends and school holidays as people from Adelaide are getting out and experiencing the nearby regions – and that’s fantastic. But the regions that are struggling and missing out are those that rely on international visitors. Think of tropical North Queensland, or Central Australia, or Kangaroo Island – all of them to host large numbers of international visitors who stay, not just for a day or two and a drive to, but stay for a longer period of time, book a number of tours and experiences – they’re the regions that are missing because state border closures mean it’s hard to get people who will come for those longer holidays and locals don’t tend to book those types of tours or experiences as you get from people further afield.
That’s why we’re targeting the assistance to those regions most dependent on international tourists to support a large proportion of jobs, so that they can really repackage their products and experiences, and really latch on to the domestic group of the market as soon as border conditions allow that to happen. And that’s why it’s wonderful here in a state like SA where Kangaroo Island will be well-placed to take advantage of this type of funding, because South Australia can right now welcome people from any state except Victoria and has lead the way into the smaller states demonstrating we can open up an COVID-Safe way, evidence based. And we hope that others like Queensland will continue to follow suit so that regions like the Gold Coast and North Queensland can really get the benefits of this type of investment.
Journalist: Minister, on border restrictions – how do you see and international trans-Tasman bubble work with New Zealand? And will it- do you think it’ll just be New South Wales and New Zealand to start with? Or New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand?
Simon Birmingham: Our government remains committed to hopefully seeing travel by New Zealanders to Australia open up by the end of this year. And of course, we hope that that can be a reciprocal two-way arrangement to enable free flow of travel movement between Australia and New Zealand. But it’s up to New Zealand to make decisions around their arrangements.
We’re working incredibly hard to ensure that we are prepared in our airports, and through our Customs, and Border Force processes to safely ensure New Zealanders can come through airports and not be mixed up with flights coming in from other higher risk parts of the world, and, to guarantee the COVID-Safe experience for-
I hope that in opening up to New Zealand that we can see as many states of Australia as possible welcome visitors from New Zealand when we do so. But of course you’ve got to be willing to open the state borders to do that. New South Wales is well placed, not just because of flight connections with New Zealand’s but of course because New South Wales is open to all other states other than Victoria, making it a logical entry point. South Australia would be well placed as well, the Northern Territory would be well placed, hopefully others will follow suit.
Journalist: When it comes to JobKeeper we know that the tourism sector has benefitted significantly from the JobKeeper. How hard is it going to be over the next sort of six months as JobKeeper starts to tail off, to maintain those business as the stimulus starts to be withdrawn from certain elements of the sector? And are you concerned about the impact it’s going to have?
Simon Birmingham: Our Government created JobKeeper and has extended JobKeeper to save the jobs of Australians. It is the most unprecedented multi-billion-dollar investment in job saving activities ever seen in Australian history. And that type of unprecedented scale of investment of course also needs to have a cautious and careful approach as to how we transition past it and out of it as we try to move towards the normal arrangements that we hope can exist by recreating people back into jobs, back into the workplaces where they are sustained by genuine normal economic activity.
Now, for some regions like Victoria, some sectors like the tourism industry we recognised there was an ongoing need for some assistance. In some sectors, firmly transitioning back to normality and that’s why we’ve made sure that JobKeeper has been established in a way that enables transition as well – a stepped, staged approach so that there is no abrupt end point, but instead a steady careful approach with a commitment and extension all the way through until March.
Journalist: The concern though is the withdrawal of JobKeeper though might trigger some sort of cliff for some businesses that have managed to get through to this point, but going forward as things start to- the stimulus starts to be withdrawn that they might go off that cliff financially?
Simon Birmingham: The whole reason that we have extended JobKeeper, having created it in the first place but extended it in a careful way where we are carefully staging different approaches to JobKeeper but make sure we ease the transition back to normality, is to avoid a cliff, but to ensure a careful, staged easing back to a normal approach. Where we want jobs in Australia to be sustained, not by government programs, but by real genuine economic activity again.
Journalist: Can you give us an idea of how the thresholds work with access to funding for the recovery program for tourism? If I’m a business, do I have X amount I can ask for? And how do I get hold of it?
Simon Birmingham: We’ll be working with regions – and indeed states representing those regions – but we’re working with regions as to how they specifically wish to invest the funding. There are different tiers of funding that will be provided to each of the regions dependent upon the size of employment in that region that is tourism dependent, and the scale to which they are dependent upon international visitors to be able to sustain their economic activity. So clearly some larger regions that have many more jobs on the line will receive more than some of the smaller ones.
Journalist: Specifically, can we look at Kangaroo Island as an example. It’s obviously had a double whammy this year not only COVID but also the bushfires, Just how important is it that extra funding is available to those businesses on the Island?
Simon Birmingham: So this is $3.5 million of additional support for Kangaroo Island tourism, which is a crucial fillip given the bushfire experience and the COVID-19 experience, to try to get more travelers heading over to the Island at times that are not those peak periods where the ferries are full. For example, usually we would have seen international visitors heading over to there. We know and hear, by talking to the tourism industry, that ferry services are much down on usual visitation during mid-week periods, because of course that’s when you’d usually have holiday makers from overseas and interstate coming and travelling – and that hasn’t been the case of late. What we really want is to make sure that we fill up movements on the island outside of the peak times of weekends and school holidays where they’ve been doing okay, to also those times where they are still really feeling the absence of international visitors who usually visit an iconic destination like K Island.
Journalist: They’re- just on a different subject. There are porters today for the former senator, Susan Ryan – the Hawke Cabinet Minister who was instrumental in the Sex Discrimination Act, and she leaves an admirable legacy.
Simon Birmingham: Susan Ryan was a trailblazer and indeed, understandably for the Labor Party, this is a very sad day for them – indeed, a sad day for all. We reflect on Susan Ryan’s contribution in the Senate as a cabinet minister, as the Age Discrimination Commissioner in recent years where I had the pleasure of working with Susan on a number of issues during my time in the education portfolio. On behalf of the Government I extend our condolences to her loved ones, to the Labor Party and her former colleagues, and acknowledge the fact that Susan Ryan was somebody – who was a trailblazer for women in many ways, and continued to be so for older Australians through her post-parliamentary contributions.
Journalist: Senator, one more if I may. A little bit from left field. When it comes to crowds at AFL Finals. We know that there’s about 25,000 due for the Port, the match this week. Would you like to see, considering the importance of the AFL as a potential driver of tourism dollars over the coming months, would you like to see that crowd maybe increase a little bit further to encourage more people to potentially come to South Australia to see Port Adelaide play?
Simon Birmingham: I want to see as many people able to attend AFL Finals, or State of Origin matches, or other events at Adelaide Oval, or anywhere else for that matter as long as it’s COVID-Safe. Any and everything still has to be done on the basis that COVID can come back at any time and so we’ve got to keep things in a way that maintains safety, that maintain appropriate elements of social distancing, and that keep the community on their toes when it comes to the coronavirus. This thing hasn’t gone away, we’ve just managed to suppress it, and we all have to be ever vigilant when it comes to testing, and to isolating, and to being responsible around social distancing. So yes, more people at Adelaide Oval would be great, but only if all of the advice indicates that it can be done in in a COVID-Safe way.
Journalist: Just on the reopening to New Zealand. Can you explain what the final barriers are that we need to clear before we can let New Zealanders in. Surely we have the processes in place at airports and through border force to allow them in in a safe way already?
Simon Birmingham: Government has been working very carefully with the Australian Border Force, all of the Customs agencies, and the airports and the airlines to make sure that we have all of the types of processes and procedures in place to enable the safe arrival of New Zealand into the country without risking them in terms of cross contamination with flights coming in from higher risk parts of the world. And now ultimately, we will step to open up that border with New Zealand when all of the health advice tells us that it’s safe to do so, appropriate to do so, and when all of those procedures and processes have been cleared in that regard. And of course ideally we want to see this to be a reciprocal arrangement – opening up the Australian States aside from Victoria, where we recognise the ongoing difficulties, with New Zealand subject to of course New Zealand accepting all of the protocols and procedures, and the Australian states being sufficiently open to one another to be able to justify welcoming Kiwis into the country too.
Journalist: So to confirm, the procedures have not been finalised, they’ve not been given the green light for New Zealanders to come in?
Simon Birmingham: We’re continuing to make sure we dot every I, cross every T so that anyone who is travelling as part of an Australia-New Zealand arrangement, when we get to that point of opening up without requiring quarantine and have absolute confidence in their safety, and the community can have complete confidence in the processes around it.
Journalist: And will the Commonwealth hotspot definition need to be in place and applied to New Zealand before they can fly to the country?
Simon Birmingham: We will certainly be ensuring that New Zealand is treated just the same as we would want to treat any part of Australia, and I think this is a key message for the states and territories as well in thinking about this – that there can be no double standard from states who might want to open up somehow to New Zealand but not to each other. We have to make sure that the same standards are applied. As a South Australian, and of course having followed the approach that Steven Marshall’s taking here, I think we have good examples in place now of where state leaders have committed themselves to opening up for when 14 consecutive days without community transmission in the state – like New South Wales – are achieved. I welcome the fact that decision was taken by SA and I encourage other premiers to follow suit, and that provides the model for them to look at in relation to New Zealanders. And if successful and safe we can possibly then have a look at whether that has any extension or application and to similar nations. So that’s some way down the track, now let’s make sure we deal with our own state circumstances and deal with the Kiwis in a way that sets good examples which gives everybody confidence it has done so.
Journalist: Just a question from my Sky News colleagues in the gallery. They wanted to know whether the Government would be willing to extend JobKeeper post March for the tourism sector given they’ll still be dealing with the international border ban?
Simon Birmingham: We have made clear that we will continue to monitor the circumstances around JobKeeper and evaluate that as we get closer to the extension date. Our Government created JobKeeper and extended it all the way through to March to provide a lifeline of support for Australian jobs, and in doing so we saved an estimated 700,000 jobs of Australians. We’ve been delighted to see 450,000 go back to work in jobs recreated in recent times, and our commitment in this budget, the mid-year budget update that will come following it, and the budget again next year is that it will all be about jobs – saving the jobs of Australians, recreating the jobs of Australians and getting our economy back to a position of strength fueled by high levels of employment.
Journalist: They also wanted to know why states like WA and Tasmania with hard border closures should be receiving Federal assistance for the tourism sectors there?
Simon Birmingham: Well I respond to you in a couple of ways there. JobKeeper and those measures have been created to support the jobs of Australians and the businesses in Australia. And of course created with a demand driven program where if you meet the eligibility, eligibility criteria then you receive the support and the funding. However, when it comes to the funding for these tourism regions and their activities that we’re announcing today, certainly it has to be spent in a way. It is about getting additional tourism activity from interstaters coming into those states, fueling activity in a way that sustains the regions in those states and jobs in those regions as we would have normally seen from international visitors.
So this is not a blank cheque handed across to the states to simply say you get to spend it in your regions to yourselves. We want to make sure that when it is invested and when it is spent it is about getting. Increased visitation and movement and will see more people on planes, more people in airports, more people supporting and sustaining all parts of our tourism sector.
Journalist: Is it true that there’s over one million going to the states South West in WA?
Simon Birmingham: So in terms of the different figures for different regions, I can’t recall them offhand, but the figures themselves in terms of how much money was going to each different region have been calculated on the basis of how dependent on international visitation a region is, and how dependent employment in that region is on the tourism industry and the international visitors who come there.
And so we have shaped that very clearly. That if your regions are more heavily dependent on other industry sectors than tourism for employment outcomes; or, in the tourism sector they’re more heavily dependent on local visitors or visitors from across Australia, they’re not going to receive as much support as those who are heavily dependent on international visitors to sustain jobs in their communities. Because they’re the regions that we know, from a Federal perspective, are feeling the greatest pain as a result of those international border closures.
Journalist: Same question, different region. Why has the North West and Kimberley been left out?
Simon Birmingham: Same answer in the sense that every region of Australia has been assessed, and they get this support based on the extent to which the region – the employment levels across that whole region are dependent upon international visitors coming to the country. And that’s why we’ve used very much the data from Tourism Research Australia and elsewhere about just how dependent a region is in sustaining employment on international visitors, and it is focused very heavily and squarely on those international visitors and a good extent to which they sustain jobs in the community.
Journalist: Is it safe to say that there’ll be ways lower amount than you’re given them is due to their tougher stance on the borders?
Simon Birmingham: No. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with that and it is all about the way in which a region, individually across the country- the extent to which, the proportion of which they are dependent on international visitors in sustaining jobs in their community.