• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Ruby Princess inquiry, COVID-19, Tourism, JobKeeper
14 August 2020

Michael Rowland: Let’s bring in the Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, now from Adelaide. Good morning to you, Minister. In fact, we don’t have Simon Birmingham, he’ll be joining us very shortly to talk about the huge and pressing challenges facing Australia’s tourism sector; close to $12 billion lost just in the months of April and May alone and the fear is that this is not going to improve anytime soon. Minister, good morning to you.

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

Michael Rowland: I want to talk about tourism in a minute, but to ask you first about Ruby Princess. Andrew Probyn, our political correspondent, has the story this morning that both Qantas and Virgin knew that that cruise ship was a coronavirus ticking time bomb. They tried to get passenger manifests from both the Australian Border Force and the Federal Health Department because they clearly feared the impact of those passengers going onto their flights, but they were denied the passenger lists because of privacy reasons. Should those lists have been provided by the federal government?

Simon Birmingham: Michael, logically you would think that those things should be available. Clearly, there will be many lessons learned out of this inquiry into the Ruby Princess; those lessons no doubt will extend to the types of communication in future that is necessary for any type of analogous circumstance situation. We’re making sure there’s cooperation with that inquiry, and everyone wants to make sure that lessons out of this pandemic are learned for the future.

Michael Rowland: And speaking of which, Australian Border Force had direct control over disembarkation of those passengers, so can we expect some accountability from the Morrison Government today when that inquiry’s report is handed down?

Simon Birmingham: Michael, as I said we want to make sure lessons are learned, and those lessons are learned for the future as one would expect. We’ll make sure that we deal with recommendations when we see them, and deal with them appropriately.

Michael Rowland: Okay. I want to talk about tourism, going to your portfolio. Devastating news about the impact of the pandemic back in April and May. What’s your view on how the tourism sector can recover? Given all these border controls we have in place?

Simon Birmingham: Look, it is incredibly tough times for the tourism industry. Our $45 billion international tourism market is of course all but switched off right now, and domestic tourism, we see from this latest data through April and May, has taken a whopping hit of nearly $12 billion reduction in spend. That’s shocking news for so many small and medium businesses around Australia.

Now, what we need is that for Australians who can and are able to, to book travel and to not just go and stay at the beach and have a few relaxing days, but to make sure when they book travel they engage in local experiences. They get out there, and immerse themselves in the environment locally and support tour operators, those who provide amazing experiences that are unforgettable memories of your lifetime. Get out there and pretend that you’re overseas and do the types of things you would do overseas whilst travelling around Australia.

Michael Rowland: Many great places in Australia, everybody would agree. But again, I’ll ask you about those border controls. Even if people wanted to travel to parts of the country they can’t, depending where they are, because of border controls posed- imposed for very pressing and important health reasons.

Simon Birmingham: Nobody disputes the need to quarantine Victoria, and I understand the caution in relation to New South Wales as well. But I would encourage state premiers and chief ministers to take a pragmatic approach in terms of dealing with states who are in almost identical, or perhaps even better conditions than themselves. Some states have taken that approach of opening up to the states where it is safe to do so whilst keeping restrictions in place around Victoria, and for many of them New South Wales too. That’s understandable, that’s proportionate, and that’s the type of sensible approach that I would hope the premiers can bring.

Michael Rowland: Given so many tourism businesses around the country are still struggling, there’s a pretty important and pressing case isn’t there, Simon Birmingham, for the JobKeeper subsidy not to be tapered down for the tourism sector for starters from September?

Simon Birmingham: Michael, when you say the tourism sector, it is a very broad sector. You’re not just talking about hotels or tour operators, but of course each of those hotels has laundry services who provide support to them, audiovisual services who support the conduct of conferences and events. So, it’s a diverse sector and it’s very hard to draw a line around precisely the type of jobs.

But JobKeeper is there until March, we’ve provided certainty in that regard, and it is a lifeline that has been welcomed by the tourism industry, including the terms of the extension that we’ve provided. We’ve listened to the tourism industry too around some of the structural elements of JobKeeper to make sure that it is easier for them to access and that that ongoing support is going to be there. It’s part of more than $300 billion of support our Government is providing to get Australian business and employees through this economic crisis to the other side.

But we absolutely do need everybody to help where they can, and that does include saying to Australians who can take a trip, who can book a trip, to please do so and to please support the jobs and small businesses of many fellow Australians.

Michael Rowland: Simon Birmingham, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Michael. My pleasure.