Gareth Parker: The Federal Tourism Minister is Simon Birmingham. Simon, good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Hello Gareth. You’re doing my job for me there. Right on.
Gareth Parker: Well I think it’s important we back these communities isn’t it?
Simon Birmingham: Sorry, mate?
Gareth Parker: I think it’s important that we back these communities, that we back these tourism businesses in.
Simon Birmingham: It absolutely is and this is the whole point of this campaign to make sure that we get the word out across Australia. And that it’s not only the fire affected regions who are now feeling the impact, that tragically because of some of the international exaggeration and misinformation, the contagion effect essentially, has hit other tourism operators across the country and it’s going to take us a little while to recover that confidence in the international markets. And that’s why the quickest thing we can do is to get Australians who understand where the fires were, where they were not, how regions will recover from them where they were fire affected, to really get those Australians to think about taking a short break, or a school holiday break or a longer getaway if they can somewhere around the country this year.
Gareth Parker: Statements that featured even at things like the Golden Globes, I mean sort of best of intentions in some ways but how damaging was it to hear things like Australia is on fire?
Simon Birmingham: Oh look, terribly, terribly. And obviously we saw misleading maps online and we saw some of that coverage that has seen cancellations happen right across the length and breadth of the country from the many regions of WA, you were speaking about the [indistinct] Margaret River up to Broome, right across through central Australia up to northern Queensland, all of whom have largely been spared or completely spared from significant fires this season. And so we really do have our work cut out internationally to get the message out. We’re doing that. Tourism Australia has developed online maps themselves to make sure that people are aware that- where the fires are, where they have been, but most importantly, where they’re not. And then making sure that we get our international representatives from Tourism Australia and our diplomatic networks right around the world talking to tourism operators, to foreign governments, to others, so that we can better make sure people understand the facts and the fact that most attractions, most destinations in Australia are still firmly open for business and can give people the same brilliant experience that we’ve always prided ourselves on offering international visitors.
Gareth Parker: The reports today that it could be $6.5 billion worth of economic losses as a result of cancellations. That’s a big number.
Simon Birmingham: It is a big number. Look, there’s lots of figures flying around at present and it’s hard to tell exactly where it will land. We know there have been lots of cancellations and we know that in the few weeks over the new year period, bookings to Australia of international flights were down from many of our key markets to the order of 30-40 per cent so you can just imagine sort of how that transfers right across the country. But those international visitors would often visit two or three destinations while they’re in Australia. They’re coming- their declines are most pronounced in some of the markets like the US and the UK who tend to be the visitors who stay for longer and spend more while they’re here too.
So these are real impacts, that’s why we stepped up on the weekend announcing a $76 million package of investment. Part of it, this domestic campaign, Australian campaign kicking off today. Part of it to rebuild internationally. Part of it to get more journalists, television programs coming out to Australia from overseas so again we can project the facts back to the rest of the world, tell the story of recovery in these fire affected regions as well which will be an important thing too.
Gareth Parker: Okay. Well we want to keep this constructive and we’re going to go the phones in a minute to get people’s ideas but I do have to ask you about the Bridget McKenzie affair. Surely it would be more helpful to the Government at this point if she just resigned, wouldn’t it?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think these matters- we’ve got an Auditor-General’s report, it’s one that clearly says that all of the recipients who got those grants were eligible. The Government’s going to work on the recommendations in the Auditor-Generals report. In the meantime, the PM’s got the Secretary of the department, the Prime Minister and Cabinet, making sure that there were no breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. And that there will be the proper process.
Gareth Parker: It’s not a good sign for her is it? That’s not a good sign for her, the PM calling or invoking ministerial standards.
Simon Birmingham: Well people are asking the questions so rightfully he’s getting the department, the Independent Public Service, to do the analysis and give him recommendations on that.
Gareth Parker: Alright we’ll wait and see. Thank you for your time this morning, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Gareth. My pleasure.
Gareth Parker: Simon Birmingham, Federal Tourism Minister.