• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Exports, COVID-19, JobKeeper, Tourism.
13 August 2020

Keith Topolski: Some really important news with freight services being continued for our exporters here on the Eyre Peninsula, to make sure those exports like wheat and seafood can continue to get access to those big overseas markets. The Minister for Trade and Tourism, Senator Simon Birmingham, is responsible for that and he joins us in the studio. Senator, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Keith. Great to be with you.

Keith Topolski: Where are we with the export? Obviously, that package of $240 million is a big thing for the exporters but what does it look like in terms of the future market being able to get access to those markets in pandemic hot spots?

Simon Birmingham: So, we saw at the start of the crisis was, of course one of the first things we did as a government was to seal off Australia’s borders, and that was really important in terms of making sure that we protected Australians in terms of the health outcomes from the inflow of people from overseas, and that we were able to manage that carefully. We’re still managing that carefully with only, really, returning Australians coming into the country and then facing tight quarantine.

But of course, the consequence of that was aviation took an enormous hit, and more than 90 per cent – close to around 95 per cent of Australia’s airfreight usually goes out in the belly of passenger aircraft, in the cargo hold of those passenger planes. Obviously, with them not flying we faced an enormous problem which was why we stepped up and stumped up with money to make sure that we kept enough planes in the sky flying into different markets around the world to be able to keep our fresh produce leaving the country – live seafood, premium seafood, premium horticulture, chilled meats. These are all crucial exports for Australia, and our investment has now supported more than $1 billion worth of exports out of the country by making sure those planes are available.

Keith Topolski: And when it comes to those exports, obviously it’s a major factor in the economy here on the Eyre Peninsula. Has there been any sort of consideration given to those industries? I know that the oyster industry has been doing it a little bit tougher than normal because of restaurants closing down and hospitality industry suffering a hit as well. Has there been any sort of consideration given to those particular industries that may not have had the overseas exports, but certainly have been affected closer to home?

Simon Birmingham: So, obviously our big measures like JobKeeper applies equally to everybody across the economy. So, if you’ve taken a hit to your business that’s seen a reduction in revenue of around 30 per cent, or greater than 30 per cent, then you’ll qualify in terms of the eligibility for JobKeeper. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a radio station, or an oyster farmer, or whether you’re a cafe or a hotel, or whichever part of the industry you might be working in – if you’re part of- if you’re suffering as a result of COVID then that support is flowing through as an automatic assistance and lifeline to so many businesses.

You know, we’ve been looking at how we make sure we taper that off over a period of time; we don’t want people to become absolutely reliant on it, but we know that it was a necessary step up at this point in time. In terms of those in the export space, we’ve taken those steps – not giving them a free ride; they’re still having to pay for their own freight and pay a premium for that freight as it is – but we’ve made sure at least that there is that extra support there for them so they can still get their goods to market. We rely as a country on being an exporting nation, we have recorded some 30 consecutive trade surpluses – exporting more than we import as a country month after month after month under our Government. We’re very proud of that record, and we want the reliability of our exporters to still stand as a key market asset, and that’s why we have to help them get their goods to market.

Keith Topolski: Speaking this morning with Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Investment and Tourism in the Federal Government. And that last title, the Minister for Tourism, brings you to the Eyre Peninsula at the moment – Smoky Bay, Ceduna, Streaky Bay so far. What is the tour for the EP targeting at the moment in relation to tourism?

Simon Birmingham: So, coming across here, I’m often in touch with Rowan Ramsey and Peter Treloar keeping in touch with what’s happening across this key part of SA. Rowan was keen to get me back over again – talk to some tourism operators, talk to some exporters as well to really get across the whole range of different issues in the trade space – be they grain growers, the seafood guys we were talking before.

But yes, in the tourism space a really mixed bag that many people are feeling right now. We’re seeing in South Australia, thankfully having managed the COVID crisis as well as we have here and the State Government’s done an incredible job positioning us where we can be pretty free to move about the state, there’s a real step up in people coming out of Adelaide wanting to book holidays and travelling across the state. And so, during the July school holidays, and even for some places throughout, they’re seeing a lift in activity – that’s quite good for a number of the accommodation providers, seeing some more activity in restaurants and so on.

But still, many of the tour operators – those who traditionally take international visitors and take them to explore the outback, take them out to see the rugged coastline or the wonderful marine experiences available here – they’re suffering, and they’re suffering really badly at present. And JobKeeper has been a real lifeline to those sorts of businesses, but I’m listening to them to try to understand, well, what more can we do to try to ensure that as Australians hopefully travel more across this country – whilst they can’t leave how do we make sure that we get more of them? Not just to stay a few nights in a nice place and relax, but to immerse themselves in the experience, to book that tour, to undertake that extra experience that is going to help keep those businesses afloat too.

Keith Topolski: I’ve certainly just come back from doing exactly that, and we will let you get back to doing that yourself. Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure, Keith. Anytime.