Transcript, E&OE

Topics: International media coverage; US travel alert; Australian tourism.
23 January 2020

John MacKenzie:         Now, to his credit the Federal Tourism Minister, he spoke the other day on these matters and he was in a hell of a hurry then, but today he’s got a bit more time. Simon Birmingham said, it’s up to all Australians to help solve the problem, and the Tourism Minister’s with me on the line. Simon, good morning. 

Simon Birmingham:     Good morning, John.

John MacKenzie:         I’m glad you were around to hear that account of what’s happening locally up here. I think you’re already across the very seasonal nature of our tourism industry up here, but you can see how even though we haven’t had a hint of problem from the bushfires in our tourism area here along the coast, they’re paying a dreadful price, these operators.

Simon Birmingham:     They are. And this is a very serious problem for so many operators right across Australia. We are well aware of the cancellations that have been happening in north Queensland, in central Australia, over in Western Australia are areas that, by and large, have been completely untouched by the tragedies of the bushfires this season, but are now finding themselves as collateral damage. In the sense that as that international coverage of the bushfires and particularly those misleading maps and the like have spread. We’ve seen these types of cancellations and even more profoundly now, the downturn in bookings that that many are facing. So there’s no easy solution to that and particularly we can’t expect that we will instantly just turn international bookings back on. That’s going to take a lot of work to restore confidence in our safety, in our experiences, and to make sure that people do come back internationally. And that’s why the first step we’ve taken is knowing that’ll take a little while internationally to make this appeal to Australians to think about taking the type of break that they may have mused about over recent years. Well, this is the year where you should bring it forward, make it happen. And in doing so, you know, you’ll be helping to save small businesses, save jobs, and keep our tourism industry afloat.

John MacKenzie:         Now, I’m sure you’ve pondered this conundrum and that’s how on earth to counter that misleading information, if you like, that was carried internationally on the net. Now, you would have seen that ridiculous map of Australia, the whole eastern seaboard on fire, totally irresponsible, and I presume not at all official. How on earth do you counter, you know fundamentally, a bald faced lie like that internationally?

Simon Birmingham:     It’s- you counter it with facts but, of course, it’s challenging because clinical facts are less likely to spread right across the internet, than will that type of salacious and exaggerated commentary. Nonetheless, we get out there and do our best to counter with facts. So, Tourism Australia has published their own maps and their own information, that are not just available on their website, but their overseas agents are talking to all of the different wholesalers and travel agents who make bookings to Australia, making sure that they’re aware of the facts. We will step up a big international media campaign through the course of this year, to have journalists, TV programs, others, come out to Australia and see the facts for themselves and will make sure that visits to north Queensland will be a big part of that. But also will make sure that visits into some of the fire affected regions will also be a part of that, because Australians know and understand. And that by the time we get through winter and into spring this year, the regeneration that will be happening in those bushlands will be significant, and there will be stories that can be told that bring some positive angle out of these terrible tragedies. And again, set the record straight that not only are we open for business, but also that we do recover from these types of fires that have existed right through Australia’s history and that our Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years, are simply in some way, part of the natural regeneration of the Australian bush.

John MacKenzie:         I’m so pleased to hear you underlining that- those facts. Now can I just take you back to the travel alert that was issued in the United States. I understand the Prime Minister interceded if you like, very, very quickly there. How effective has his effort been in countering that misinformation in the United States?

Simon Birmingham:     In terms of the government travel advisory that the US issued, Scott Morrison’s intervention certainly was effective in getting the highest levels of the US Government to take a look. He had personal conversations with the US Vice President about it and the Secretary of State and ultimately we saw that advisory changed. Firstly, as some of the descriptions changed, eventually the rating and so on also adjusted and that was really a case of encouraging the US authorities to do as I was just talking about before, look closely at the facts and make sure that they respond to them. But once again, and I should say probably from the story of that, there’s been some flow on positives in a small way that have prompted International media outlets like The Washington Post or other newspapers and outlets across the US to sort of step back and realise that if there was that type of exaggeration in the official US Government travel warnings, perhaps they should report the missed story of Australia that yes, there are these tragedies but also the rest of Australia is open for business. And there are some good international stories now out there, different ones that are starting to highlight the top nine or the top 15 places that you could go and visit in Australia at present and even a degree of that similar messaging that we’ve launched today in the domestic campaign, which is to, say if you really want to help well one of the best things you can do is to travel to Australia and to help. And I expect that we will see in some of these areas, perhaps even a lift in perhaps volunteering tourism, those who want to come and volunteer on environmental tasks and so on. And that’s something again that we will closely look at and engage with different organisations and there are opportunities there clearly for a pristine region like north Queensland to try to present opportunities unrelated to bushfires but certainly harnessing that desire of people to not just see the environment but also to experience it and to help preserve it.

John MacKenzie:         Yeah. Simon just before you go, I’m just wondering what we get for – what is it, $20 million – in this domestic tourism bushfire relief effort and specifically the terminology here, green and gold advertisements spruiking domestic trips. What’s all that about?

Simon Birmingham:     Obviously the marketers are the ones who come up with the imagery and the slogans and so on. They show them to me but as a politician I don’t seek to sway on those matters but take the marketing guidance from the experts. The $20 million investment we are seeking to leverage it as far as we can and I would like to thank many of Australia’s media organisations. I’ve been in contact personally with a lot of the chief executives and heads of the media companies, both traditional media and online platforms, encouraging them to provide advertising space, to do so either free or at significant discount so that we can get this message out there quickly and they’ve been generous in their response to do so. And that means that taxpayers are going to get even more value for their money out of this $20 million. We’re also going to partner very closely with the likes of two Tourism Queensland to make sure that they are supported to not just run the holiday here message but to run it with specific product that encourages people to make a booking in Cairns, to make a booking at different businesses so that we really use those dollars to drive bookings directly into Australian tourism providers.

John MacKenzie:         Excellent news. By the way you’d be very welcome up here if you get a chance for a visit out on the Barrier Reef you will see of course our Barrier Reef in full recovery mode, Simon Birmingham, and you could help spread the word.

Simon Birmingham:     Absolutely John and I I look forward to finding time to return again. I’m certainly always up there every year. It’s just a case of finding the right window.

John MacKenzie:         Yeah, excellent. Good to talk to you, Simon Birmingham. Thank you. 

Simon Birmingham:     My pleasure, thank you. 

John MacKenzie:         Senator Simon Birmingham there, Minister for Tourism the Federal Minister.