• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Future of domestic travel in Australia.
07 May 2020

Gareth Parker: The Federal Tourism Minister is Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Gareth. Good to be with you.

Gareth Parker: So that’s sort of the internal state debate which I’m going to come back to. But it seems that you and the Prime Minister and the Federal Government are keen to start, you know, states opening back up to each other again at some point. What would that look like?

Simon Birmingham: Well we hope that will be the case that at some stage in the not too distant future. But that will be a determination for each state or territory. They have their own sovereign rights there; they’ve made their determination themselves at different times and in different ways as to how they’ve applied those restrictions on interstate travel and we respect that. We’ve seen great success in WA and my home state of SA, NT and also probably in Queensland now and the ACT in terms of really suppressing the spread of the virus and good positive signs in some of the other states too. So hopefully, if that success can be continued and states can have confidence in each other’s systems, well that might enable for example travel between SA and WA even if perhaps there were some restrictions elsewhere. So that will be an iterative thing for each state or territory to think about.

Gareth Parker: Okay so you might actually- if, I mean so South Australia, I think, what? You’ve had 15 days in a row with zero, we’re up to seven. Could you foresee a situation where perhaps there’s- and even the Northern Territory, perhaps the western two thirds of the continent become their own travel zone sooner than opening back up to New South Wales and Victoria.

Simon Birmingham: Those things might be possible. Look, anything that sort of enables people to get moving again and to then spend and support local businesses and sustain local jobs is what’s critical here. Of course, the health considerations will continue to come first, as they have right throughout this pandemic. But there’s no- there’s nothing good about saying we keep all the restrictions in place longer than necessary if that comes at the expense of people’s jobs and people’s businesses.

And so that’s where we’ve got to get the protection of lives but also the protection of livelihoods working the right way for Australians and so far thanks to the sacrifices Australians have been willing to make and their compliance with different restrictions, we’ve done an incredible job as a country saving lives. And if we think back to some of the horrific scenes we saw at mass graves in New York or of overflowing hospitals in parts of Europe, well we can all be grateful that we’ve avoided that and we want to continue to avoid that first and foremost. But we also have to make sure that we don’t sacrifice people’s livelihoods unnecessarily and that we maintain key parts of our economy and the tourism sector employs one in 13 Australians.

And so if we can progressively get people back first and foremost into hospitality venues, they’re a key part of the tourism ecosystem, but then travelling a little bit further across their own states and then ultimately, hopefully, across state borders, Well, that’s going to help sustain a lot of small businesses and a lot of Australian jobs.

Gareth Parker: In an ideal world, would you like the states to be able to open to each other for travel by the end of the school term? By July?

Simon Birmingham: Well in an ideal world, there’s much that I hope for and that would certainly be one of those things. But you know, we live in a world we’ve got to put those health considerations first and I respect the fact that states will rightly think that they want to facilitate travel within their state first, see how that goes before they entertain the idea of having freer travel across those state borders.

And that makes perfect sense that if we have to ease the restrictions in a graduated way, let people see how that plays out in terms of its impact on the spread of the virus. If we can have that more liberal travel across a great state like WA and get people out to those wonderful tourism regions, again, from Perth, then that’s a big tick. And if that all proves to be safe, well the, they can perhaps have a look at whether the people from SA or even further afield across the country might be able to join in.

Gareth Parker: So obviously international travel is going to be off the cards for some time. This is something we’ve been speculating about on the program. Do you think that if Australia becomes its own sort of island for the purposes of thinking about travel and tourism, maybe with New Zealand in it as obviously Jacinda Ardern joined the National Cabinet earlier in the week. Do you think that there’s sufficient domestic demand in an environment where people can’t travel overseas that might actually give our local tourism operators a big opportunity here, provided that they can get to the other side of this crisis?

Simon Birmingham: There’s certainly a lot of Australians who take trips overseas every year or two who hopefully will still be for some of them, many of them, would trust in the financial position where they can afford to undertake a break. And sadly not all Australians will be. But for those who can, we’ll be working hard to encourage them to think about doing the bucket list items or even the previously unthought of trips around Australia that can sustain the tourism industry here.

Very few people across the eastern states of Australia have been to Ningaloo Reef, plenty haven’t been to Margaret River, many other wonderful WA tourism attractions that we’d love to get people out and experiencing. And so when it’s safe to get people travelling across Australia, even if we can’t have international visitors, well we want to sort of shake people out of just going to the tried and tested domestic holiday regions and actually make sure they get out and visit those regions that traditionally rely a bit more on international visitors.

And we’ll be slowly- even from the end of next week, we’ve got Tourism Australia, you know, run a full weekend of live streaming of Australian experiences just to get people to start dreaming, start planning about the things that they can do to support our tourism industry and support local jobs once the restrictions are eased.

Gareth Parker: Minister, thank you for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Gareth. My pleasure.

Gareth Parker: The Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham.