• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: …lifting travel restrictions nationally and internationally, JobKeeper assistance.
14 April 2020

David Penberthy: South Australian Senator and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham joins us now on 5AA Breakfast. Minister, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys.

David Penberthy: Over the weekend you encouraged Australians to start thinking about their next holiday and booking in a holiday here in Australia, which is exciting for a number of reasons. One of which is because it was thinking beyond our current restrictions regime and beyond the current pandemic ridden world.

Got to ask, before we get into the whole tourism element of this, are you clear on what the immediate post-restriction Australia looks like in terms of what the process is to relax things from here? And I ask it, not because there’s any expectation it’s imminent, but I think people are just curious as to get a sense of is there a plan?

Simon Birmingham: I think the plan is going to be very much of course still sticking to the public health advice. And my expectation is that that will most likely take it out of restrictions, pretty much in the sort of reverse order to how we went into the restrictions that we all face. And, you know, first I just want to thank all the listeners, all the South Australians who’ve done such a cracking job so far in abiding by those restrictions and staying home over the course of the Easter weekend, and continuing to apply the social distancing. Because it’s worked in slowing down the spread of this virus, and in doing so we’re avoiding the type of tragedy and chaos that we’re seeing in the US, the UK, parts of Europe and, and elsewhere. That’s really important and that’s why these restrictions are going to stay in place for some period of time.

But there will be another side and it’s important we remember that we will get back to normal eventually. We just have to be patient and we have to maintain those sorts of discipline, and the restrictions we face will most likely come off gradually, just as they came on gradually.

David Penberthy: You know, when you talk about them likely being removed in the reverse order that they that came in, one of the first things that happened — indeed I think the very first thing that happened — was the ban on travel from China, and to China, with China being the source country for COVID-19. And then after that, not that long after that, we had the ban on international travel.

Do you, as Tourism Minister, think that the ban on flying overseas and on people coming here might be one of the latter things to be removed? And is that part of the thinking behind your call that we should think domestically, about where we can travel domestically when all this annoying nonsense is over?

Simon Birmingham: I do think it’s highly likely that international travel restrictions will come off after domestic travel restrictions are lifted, that it’s more likely to be a gradual thing. Obviously if it becomes possible for us to even move a little bit more within our states first and then perhaps possibly across state borders again.

But internationally I think we are some way off given the extent to which we are controlling and limiting the spread of the virus, whereas other countries that are clearly failing terribly in that and would continue to pose a much higher risk for Australia. And that’s why we’re maintaining such tough border quarantine processes for even those Australians who are getting back from overseas, around a whole lot of scenarios in the world, who were going into that tight 14 day lockdown when they get back.

So, you know, this is what I described as a bit of the dreaming time for people. You can’t go out and travel right now and probably can’t even book right now in any real sense. But you can certainly dream, plan, and know there will be another side and particularly dream and plan about some of those spots in Australia that you’ve always wanted it. And if you’re in a position where you can, if you can afford to do so then it’s going to be really important to helping those communities recover and secure jobs back in them as soon as we’re able to for people to get out and about and support them again.

David Penberthy: Do you have any sense as Minister for Tourism, Simon Birmingham, as to how our tourism infrastructure is going to survive the challenges that are being presented with it now? I mean after the chaos fires, we had the book them out campaign. And Will and I went over there and interviewed people who were wholly dependent on tourists so for their income – like the Raptor Park people, a lot of the restaurants, the B&B’s.

So we’ve gone from book them out, to keep them out — not just on KI, but everywhere. How are these businesses going to be at the end? Do you think JobKeeper’s going to get them over the line?

Simon Birmingham: There’s been a game changer for many of them. You know, I had some of the most heartbreaking conversations of my life over, over the last couple of months talking to tourism businesses and owners. And many of them, small businesses who have put their entire life’s work into building up that business, employing a couple of other people in their region and I could see it potentially just all going down the drain.

And the JobKeeper payments, along with these payments of up to $100,000 that we’re making to small and medium businesses, are providing a lifeline that enables them to see through to the other side where they can continue to provide some payments to their staff, continue to provide some payments to themselves which is really important for sole operators and small and medium business owners as well, and have some degree of certainty that finance and options with the banks are there for them.

So I think the bulk of our small business sector should see it through this crisis. That’s why we’ve put all these measures in place, because we know that we need to have a productive economy on the other side. If we just sort of stepped back, and said oh well there are social security and social safety net payments that everybody fall back on, and we’re not going to do anything for small business, and we’re not going to provide this unique wage subsidy program, well then we would have had prolonged economic devastation. So that’s the highly interventionist approach we taken, and the pretty big decisions we’ve taken, have all been about — whether it’s in tourism, or hospitality, or retail, or elsewhere — ensuring that businesses survive so that jobs can be taking place as quickly as possible on the other side.

David Penberthy: Well Minister I imagine that once these restrictions are relaxed that people, if they’re able, will enthusiastically take your advice of booking a holiday and heading somewhere. Appreciate your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: I’m sure they’ll have seen enough of their backyard by then for sure.

David Penberthy: Yeah, I reckon. I’m ready. That’s the Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham.