• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism Sector in SA; Border Closures.
13 August 2020

Emma Pedler: Yesterday, on the show, we caught up with our Federal Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey. He was telling us about how he and Senator Anne Ruston had been in meetings up the Coast there talking about predominantly the cashless debit card. But also with them, Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and investments jumped in the plane. Good morning.

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

Emma Pedler: Now, you’ve been travelling around up on the West Coast yesterday, in Port Lincoln this morning. I’d say I would’ve spoken to you the other day but the phones were a bit dodgy up on the West Coast.

Simon Birmingham: They were, they were. It was a bit strange. Couldn’t sort of make phone calls but you could manage to transfer data. So it was a bit of a conundrum in that sense. But look, I know that’s a big inconvenience for many, many people, particularly local tourism operators. I understand Telstra is working to try to fix it and hopefully they have done so or will do so very, very soon.

Emma Pedler: What made you jump in a plane and head up the West Coast?

Simon Birmingham: Well I speak pretty regularly with Rowan Ramsey and Peter Treloar and the local MPs, to keep in touch with what’s happening across the state. This was an opportunity to join Rowan and my Senate colleague and ministerial colleague Anne Ruston to fan out and visit a few communities. I’m eager at present, wearing my hats as the Trade Minister and the Tourism Minister, particularly to hear from business operators as to how they’re managing the disruption caused by COVID-19. Some of course are facing real logistical challenges in getting exports to market, others in the tourism space have got very mixed stories that those very reliant on international or interstate visitors are of course, feeling immense pain right now.

But some are seeing a real mini boom from people out of Adelaide getting around and travelling across the region which is great to see and we’re just trying to work out how we can harness that enthusiasm to really help all the businesses who need it.

Emma Pedler: Yeah. One thing’s for sure that business people are experiencing a certain level of stress with what they see as last-minute changes that they have to implement, write plans for and things in order to be able to continue to function about their daily tasks. Are you hearing that from traders?

Simon Birmingham: Yes. So this is a very challenging year for everybody. It’s a year that nobody could’ve planned or predicted in terms of the way it’s unfolded and I do want to extend an enormous thank you to those businesses and people who are doing it tough across the region right now. We should be very mindful of the fact that despite what’s happening in Victoria, Australia and SA, especially have done an incredible job stopping the spread of it and in doing so has saved many, many lives. But it’s come at a cost of disrupting businesses, jobs, people’s livelihoods and of course those disruptions continue as circumstances change. It’s why we’ve stepped up to provide record levels of financial assistance through JobKeeper programs and the like to keep businesses afloat, to keep employees connected to those businesses, to keep a lifeline out there for the economy. But it’s still very, very tough for many and we do appreciate that.

Emma Pedler: This change again yesterday of now not letting people from those border communities in Victoria cross over into South Australia; things like that for business owners in those areas who may just live just over the border; what’s your I guess words for them this morning?

Simon Birmingham: Well as I certainly understand that for people who may be heavily reliant on cross-border activities, this is another disruption. But I think we can all see the circumstances in Victoria are very serious and pose the single greatest threat to South Australia at this point in time and the State Government has done the right thing in putting in place tighter controls around movements across the Victorian border.

I hope that approaches to borders can be undertaken in a proportionate way and I think that the SA Government has done the right thing, importantly for those on the west coast, of opening up to WA. I only wish that the West Australian Government would take a similarly proportionate approach in terms of its assessment of the states and especially SA, so that those operators along the Nullarbor and so on could have a true cross-border travel under way again.

Emma Pedler: When do you think we might see that?

Simon Birmingham: Well that’s hard to tell. The WA Premier is being pretty firm about complete border closures in his state. And while that is right and border closures have been shown to have a place in terms of managing the pandemic, I hope that WA and that all states will follow Steven Marshall’s lead in taking a proportionate approach. Steven Marshall was right to keep South Australia closed to Victoria the whole way through. He’s done so in terms of New South Wales out of precaution, but he’s opened up to the other jurisdictions. I think that is a proportionate approach that reflects the enormous success that many states have had. And we do need to try to get as much of our economy functioning as normally as possible. And it’s really tough for many of those communities who aren’t able to do so. I was talking yesterday to tourism operators, very reliant on people crossing the SA-WA border, and of course they’re not seeing that happening right now. And that’s creating pain right across the local community.

Emma Pedler: Yeah, definitely it has been what we’re hearing. And even on the other side, up out at Cameron’s Corner, spoke to them the other day. They told me they’re down 100 per cent.

Simon Birmingham: And sadly, dependent on where people are, these are the stories. As I said at the outset, we’re getting some good news in terms of I think people out of Adelaide are showing an enormous propensity right now to go and tour the state and get out into regional areas and so some tourism operators, some accommodation providers, are telling us they had record times during the July school holidays. They are enjoying high levels of activity right now, but it’s very, very mixed. And families and people from Adelaide coming out just to enjoy a few relaxing days by a nice beach aren’t necessarily the same sorts of people who would usually go and buy a tour through the outback, or undertake a rich Indigenous and cultural experience, or go out diving with the sharks or touring around the oyster reefs. And they’re sorts of activities that we really do need to encourage people to do, and so we’re looking across Tourism Australia right now that as and when states open up more so, how do we really not just encourage people to travel, but encourage them to immerse themselves in the experiences that are on offer as well.

Emma Pedler: We’re speaking with Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. He’s been on Eyre Peninsula for the last few days, in Port Lincoln today. Today, will you be meeting with any of our seafood operators and businesses who rely heavily on things like overseas and interstate trade, or trading to, say, Melbourne restaurants?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I’ve met with as many operators over the last couple of days through Ceduna, Smoky Bay, Streaky Bay, and in Port Lincoln. Those involved in export markets who are getting enormous support from us right now through the Freight Assistance Mechanism that is keeping planes in the sky and enabling us to get abalone, premium and other seafood goods to market. Notwithstanding the fact that passenger planes which usually carry more than 90 per cent of air freight out of Australia aren’t flying at present. So we’ve stepped up there. In terms of the domestic market, obviously there are limits to what we can do there and it’s why programs like JobKeeper are structured to give support to all businesses if they’re suffering more than a 30 per cent decline in their revenue. But the more we can get economic activity back to normal and people travelling, then the greater the potential for restaurants to reopen and to see some of that food service sector picked up in terms of the premium seafood trade.

Emma Pedler: Thanks very much for touching on it, anyway. Simon Birmingham, enjoy your stay on Eyre Peninsula. Make sure you have a big old feast of seafood, maybe some lamb, and other delicious products that come from here and enjoy your stay.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much. It’s always great to be here.