Tony Pilkington: Well, there’s a $20 million national campaign calling on Aussies to holiday here this year because of the devastating fires we’ve had, and they’re saying the tourism industry is bracing for something like nearly a $4.5 to $5 billion, not million, but billion hit as a result of people saying: oh hang on a minute or so, here and overseas, cancelling our bookings.
The Federal Trade Minister has got an issue about this and he joins me on the program right now. Senator Simon Birmingham from here in SA. Senator, good afternoon and welcome to the show.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Pilko. Great to be with you.
Tony Pilkington: Okay. So what’s the initiative? A $20 million campaign to be launched throughout Australia, right?
Simon Birmingham: That’s right. This is part of an overall $76 million investment to try to make sure that our tourism industry can effectively recover, withstand and bounce back from the bushfire impacts which are being felt not just in the fire-affected regions but due to the cancellations and downturn bookings from some of our key tourist markets. It’s now being felt right across the whole country even in regions like North Queensland, Central Australia or Western Australia, which are all a long way away from the terrible tragedies we’re seeing this year.
Tony Pilkington: Because the bushfires got enormous publicity, Senator, didn’t they, in Europe and right throughout North America. It’s one of the few times, of course, that Australia gets on the television over there but it’s such dramatic footage that had massive coverage overseas.
Simon Birmingham: Huge, huge coverage. Of course, it was a big story understandably. It was a prolonged story as the fires went on. It was a sensational story in part as evacuations by the Navy and so on occurred. It also was right over the New Year’s period in terms of the peak of some of those tragedies and as you well know, that’s a quiet time for any other news so it meant that it firmly dominated news cycles day after day after day. And then we had the harm compounded by misleading maps, those exaggerations that were happening both online and in some traditional media that seemed to suggest that the whole country was ablaze. So, it’s unsurprising that international tourists have cancelled, that bookings have slowed down quite dramatically in some cases, in some of those key markets like the UK and the US. We’re seeing airline bookings to Australia in the first few weeks of the year down some 30 and 40 per cent and obviously, they’re visitors who come, they tend to stay longer, as in visitors from the South-East Asian markets, they tend to spend more while they’re here and that’s going to have a real impact on our tourist businesses.
Tony Pilkington: Senator, any consideration given to spending some money overseas? We’re going to spend, what, $20 million on a campaign here under the heading of a Holiday Here This Year. What about spending some of the money overseas to say to people, listen, it’s not completely devastated, we’re still open for business?
Simon Birmingham: That’s pretty much what the other $46 million is for. So, we’re investing in this instant local campaign because we know it’ll take some time to recover in the international market. Whereas, Australians understand what’s gone on. They know that most of the country is still firmly open for business and if Australians make decisions now to make bookings with our tourism providers, that can help see them through what’s going to be a tough few months or year ahead. But in the meantime, we’re also going to get on internationally and they’re already doing that. We’ve got more factual information out there from Tourism Australia in terms of maps and details about what is the most important, what is not fire affected. All of our international tourism offices and in fact, our diplomatic network have all be assigned to go out and talk to travel agent, tourism industry wholesalers, foreign governments and make sure they all understand the facts and then we’re going to invest, not just in international marketing but importantly, in bringing international journalists, TV programs, influencers and the like to Australia so they can see and report personally and for themselves, back into those key markets about the fact that we’re open for business and even of course the fire affected regions like the Adelaide Hills or KI have many businesses still open. And of course, we’ll recover as the year goes on.
Tony Pilkington: It’s 12 minutes past 1. Senator, before we let you go, the Bridget McKenzie thing. Do you think she should resign, or has she resigned? What’s happening up there?
Simon Birmingham: The PM, I think has done the right thing. He’s not only indicated that we’re taking the recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report seriously but he- to dispel any doubts that are circulating, has asked the Public Service head, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to look at these matters against the Ministerial Code of Conduct. That way we can deal with this once and for all and then everybody can get on with business.
Importantly, every sporting clubs that received those grants was indeed entitled to and eligible for them. But to make sure that everybody has confidence in the process and the decisions that were made, he’s taken that extra step of getting the Public Service head to look over the matter.
Tony Pilkington: Okay. We’ll follow that one. Senator, thanks for the time this afternoon.