Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Support for the tourism sector following the bushfire crisis.
19 January 2020

Chris Smith: Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. He’s on the line right now. Minister, thank you for your time.

Simon Birmingham: G’day, Chris. Thanks for the chance to talk.

Chris Smith: That’s okay. You’re in Kangaroo Island. What’s it like?

Simon Birmingham: I am. Look, it’s a beautiful island and, beautifully, there’s a cruise ship docking here for the first time since the bushfires, so there are hundreds of visitors in the coastal town of Penneshaw visiting the local markets, getting out and about. Kangaroo Island is a big island. There’s much that is unburnt. There are magnificent beaches still to visit. Great wineries still to see. And indeed, plenty of wildlife that’s still there to be enjoyed. So that is just one part of, I guess, the story we’re trying to get out across Australia and the rest of the world: that Australia is very much open for business and our tourism businesses need people right now to be making bookings and getting out and about so that we can make sure we sustain those businesses and the jobs within them.

Chris Smith: Yeah, you made a good point there by saying: right now. Because they’re very shaky, these small businesses. They can’t wait until you decide to get to these places in 12 months’ time. We’ve got to get there now, right?

Simon Birmingham: This is peak tourist season for many people. Particularly of course, many of the fire-affected regions really relied on having tourists within them at this time of year. So helping them by getting people back in there where it’s safe to do so and where they can – that’s critical. It’s also peak booking season for trips to Australia quite often. So one of the things we’re grappling with, as you said in your introduction, is that downturn in bookings in many of our key markets. And that’s why we’ve stepped up with this $76 million package today to really try to stir Australians to think about making bookings on weekends that are coming up. The school holidays later in the year. For the family trip you might have been thinking about. Do it in Australia this year – to take that trip you’ve been thinking about, because that’s going to not just help local small businesses; it’s going to help save the jobs of your fellow Australians.

Chris Smith: Okay. With the $76 million, how will the money be spent?

Simon Birmingham: So, around $30 million of that is for domestic-type activities; ten focused to the fire-affected regions so they can put on events, festivals and things that get people into those communities throughout the year.

Chris Smith: Good.

Simon Birmingham: Twenty to work in partnership with our state and territory tourism agencies and other industry partners to really advertise, push product that people can buy instantly to get those bookings happening. And then $46 million for the range of different pieces to get the message out internationally, to make sure that we recover bookings from those markets that are down 30, 40, even up to 50 per cent, making sure that they understand that the vast majority of Australia is unaffected by bushfires; that they can still go to tropical North Queensland, they can still go to many parts of New South Wales, they can still go certainly to WA and to Central Australia and have exactly the same tourism experience as we’ve always prided ourselves on giving visiting visitors.

Chris Smith: You’re recruiting the strength of Thor and others, I hear.

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Well, look, well what we’re going to do there is there’s around $10 million we’ve budgeted to get international journalists, TV programs, others to Australia so they can get the facts for themselves and see how much of the country is unaffected by fire. Also, through the course of this year once hopefully we see some decent rains that we all want to see and hope come, that they can see the story of regeneration and renewal that happens in the Australian bush after fire and report the facts, rather than some of the misleading things that have damaged and hurt us over the last few weeks with these maps that have circulated online that show most of the country ablaze. We need to actually get the facts out there in this regard. And we’re certainly not going to be paying celebrities to come and visit but what we will do is, where we can lean on and leverage the goodwill of celebrities or personalities to help highlight and promote Australian tourism experiences, well, we’ll certainly do that and we’ll provide practical support of itinerary bookings and ideas to make sure that we get through every possible channel and medium available to us good news about Australia back out to the rest of the world.

Chris Smith: Yeah, some of those maps, like, there are some dirty dogs around online, aren’t there, that come up with these maps? Because they just about had every corner, every pocket of Australia, in flame.

Simon Birmingham: It really was something that created a false impression. You know, the news itself has of course been tragic enough and damaging enough. And first and foremost, of the $2 billion that, as a Federal Government we’ve stepped up in this space, it’s about helping the fire-affected communities recover. And your listeners need to remember: we’re doing that with mental health support, with rebuilding programs, with cleanup programs. So lots of other commitments have already been made, and more will be made to help our farmers and those communities get on their own two feet. But this is an important piece of it today, in terms of making sure that the harm that is being felt already by many small businesses doesn’t become contagious right across the country because our tourism industry suffers too greatly. So that’s why we’ve got to invest, invest now, and try to turn around that decline in bookings.

Chris Smith: Okay. Great to hear from you. Thank you very much for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Chris. My pleasure.

Chris Smith: Alright. Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, bringing Thor, bringing everyone – all the heavy hitters. Kylie Minogue, you name it, tell the world: we’re open for business.