Simon Birmingham: It’s very exciting to know that the Prime Minister, in coming days, will write to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge proposing dates and places for them to visit as part of a tour, we hope, of bushfire-affected regions. And this is so critical for those fire-affected regions in terms of engaging with communities but also for our tourism industry. We know when Harry and Meghan visited, there was a 120 per cent increase in visits to the Tourism Australia website and a 30 per cent spike in bookings. And our tourism industry needs nothing else at present but a spike in bookings. So we want to make sure that so far as possible, we project fabulous images of them visiting pristine beaches, recovering bushland with Australian wildlife; making sure the rest of the world knows Australia is still a fantastic place to visit offering world class experiences.
Question: Surely, you want this to be New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, not just New South Wales and Victoria?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I hope that they will be able to commit as much time as possible and visit as many communities affected as possible. Clearly, as a South Australian, I’d love to see the visit extend to SA but I know Victoria and New South Wales have had, of course, their share of tragedy through this fire season as well and I’ve got no doubt that they will be very considerate of the different fire-affected communities.
Question: What do you say to people that have criticised the fact Australia will have to pay for the royals to come out and instead want that money to go to the bushfire recovery efforts?
Simon Birmingham: What fire-affected communities tell me in large part is they need people back in their caravan parks, back in their hotels, back in their restaurants visiting those communities again. There’s a real economic dividend that we need to chase out of this too. We know there were horrific images of Australia splashed across television screens over the New Year period. This is an opportunity to correct the record and to show the best of Australia and remind the world we are still an awesome place to visit.
Question: Is it distracting that we’re seeing more leaks against Michael McCormack this morning?
Simon Birmingham: It’s not distracting me from getting on with the job.
Question: Is it disappointing the Prime Minister has had to step in on this particular occasion regarding the trip to Melbourne?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we obviously have clear rules the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority oversee and I would expect that everybody lives by the letter of those rules and they are enforced entirely.
Question: Even if it is within those rules, do you think it passes the pub test?
Simon Birmingham: I think it’s critical that everybody lives by the rules and lets the Independent Expenses Authority do their job without political interference and that’s certainly my approach.
Question: But after Bridget McKenzie lost her position because of the sports grants scandal, do you think that taxpayers would be comfortable with their money being used in this way?
Simon Birmingham: I think that everybody should live entirely by the letter of the rules when it comes to parliamentary expenses and that the independent authority ought to enforce it to the letter of those rules.
Question: What do you say to Nationals who are still agitating and causing further division?
Simon Birmingham: I’m getting on with my job and everybody else should get on with theirs. Thanks guys.