• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Possible visit from Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; Coronavirus and Xenophobia.
12 February 2020

Ali Clarke: But now joining us is Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade and Tourism and also today the royal correspondent for the Morrison Government it seems. Good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ali. Yes, I’m definitely pursuing a bit of diversification. Not bad for somebody who, between you and me, might be a republican. But anyway.

Ali Clarke: Why do we want Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge here?

Simon Birmingham: Look frankly, I mean they want to come because they’ve been showing great compassion for bushfire affected regions, communities, people and that’s lovely. But from Australia’s perspective, the opportunity to project positive images of Australia back to the rest of the world is an incredible trade, tourism, economic opportunity for the country. We know that during the heat of the bushfires the prime part of that, that terrible part of the fire season we had awful, awful images of Australia right across the New Years period on television screens around the world. If we can now get images of the Duke and Duchess on pristine beaches, in bushland that’s regenerating with Australian wildlife, well that is going to help more than any marketing campaign we can afford to run to actually say to the rest of the world it’s still a great place to visit and it’s still open for business.

Ali Clarke: When you’re talking about those pictures though of them in regenerated bushland, in what timeline are you talking about for them coming out?

Simon Birmingham: Look, those timelines are part of discussions that have been ongoing with Kensington Palace and the Prime Minister will write shortly proposing some dates and locations. But we do know in terms of Australian bushland settings there are already those green shoots that are coming through and that will only enhance as we progress through the year.

So, the images absolutely will be important to us. Of course the Duke and Duchess will put their focus on engaging with people in the fire-affected communities first and foremost, but hopefully we can get the right balance there. We know that when Harry and Meghan came to Australia not that long ago there was a 120 per cent increase in visits to the Tourism Australia website over that period and a 30 per cent surge in bookings for accommodation in Australia. Now, that is absolutely what our tourism industry desperately needs at present given the bushfires, given coronavirus and so this is a big opportunity to make a meaningful difference in terms of visitation and therefore sustainability for small businesses and tourism jobs in many of these communities.

Ali Clarke: Now I understand Premier Steven Marshall has put his hand up, or wants them to come to South Australia, but how does this work? And who decides where they go? It’s- from the sounds of it, the Prime Minister will nominate this is what we think works, but then does the final call come to- down to the palace?

Simon Birmingham: Ultimately it’s their decision but of course they, they will take advice from the Australian Government around what’s appropriate. And clearly, with the significant fires that hit New South Wales and Victoria as well as the fires in South Australia, sadly, there is no shortage of fire-affected communities that they could visit. But Steven has- Steven Marshall has certainly been making sure that South Australia is at the forefront of every aspect of the Federal Government’s efforts in terms of fire recovery and I know that he’s lobbying pretty hard to make sure a visit happens on this case too.

Ali Clarke: So who pays for them to come here, Senator?

Simon Birmingham: The host government picks up part of the costs. There are no doubts that there are costs that that will be incurred but I think when you look at the economic benefit that can flow back into our tourism industry, back into those regions, it is real. We have, today I see quoted in the newspapers an economist from the University of New South Wales who potentially puts a billion-dollar dividend on this type of coverage and visit. Now I don’t know whether it quite stacks up to that but I have no doubt that from past experience there will be tens of millions of dollars at least, possibly even hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity that we get. And we have that tangible evidence from the analysis after the Harry and Megan visit that there wasn’t just a spike in visits to the Tourism Australia website, there was a spike in bookings as well.

Ali Clarke: You said a percentage, do you know what that is? I mean is it 90 per cent that the Australian taxpayer will pay, or is it 40, 30?

Simon Birmingham: No look, I don’t know offhand, Ali.

Ali Clarke: Okay. Alright. Well let’s move away from the Royals here. We were just talking then about the fallout from the coronavirus and that continues to bite with the Australian Chamber of Tourism Chairman, John Hart, saying in The Australian today that the Chinese tourism market which is worth over $700 million a week to the economy has come to a dead stop and this is a disaster for the industry. Is there anything your Government can do to prevent operators hitting the wall? Or are you expecting to see operators going out of business?

Simon Birmingham: Tragically there may well be some operators who were entirely reliant on the China tourism market who might find it hard to survive depending on how long this crisis goes on for. Now, we’ve stepped up with a $76 million injection into, into tourism funding which is the biggest single known injection to- on top of a record budget for Tourism Australia already. But obviously, in terms of international tourism, it’s a very challenging time right now. It’s not just the Chinese market that that has come to an end, and of course many other people around the world are nervous about travelling right now.

And so we’ve seen declines in bookings from some markets that had started to recover following the bad bushfire publicity. When I was talking with Alan Joyce, the Qantas CEO, last week, getting an update in terms of some of that bookings there was a dip occurring again in recovering markets and that’s a real concern. But from what we understand of the travel trade, that’s not just affecting Australia, it’s affecting travel and tourism businesses the world over.

Ali Clarke: So what will that mean then for the Government’s bottom line? I’m presuming that everybody is starting to do predictions, is starting to do forecasts. Everybody has to do that with their, you know, their family budget. So what are you looking at this possibly costing the Government?

Simon Birmingham: Well the hard part about trying to predict on this is none of us know exactly when we’re going to turn the corner. We’re obviously following public health advice first and foremost and that’s why we have the type of travel restrictions in place that we do and of course China has their own restrictions on travel that they’ve put in place. In some parts of our export markets like the seafood industry and the wine industry, I know there are real impacts being felt. Elsewhere, in talking to the Minerals Council last night, the resources sector seems to be holding up more strongly. So there will be mixed impacts over, over the next little while, we’ll obviously update all of the economic forecasts in the May budget and by then, hopefully, we have come out of out of this crisis.

Ali Clarke: Both the Prime Minister, Minister Birmingham, and the Leader of the Opposition have been speaking about xenophobia and racism towards Chinese, the Chinese community. Now, you’re an Adelaide resident, no doubt you’ve been aware of the reports of people that are staying away from Chinatown. What do you say to people to stem that fear?

Simon Birmingham: Last Friday when, when I got back from Canberra pretty much the first thing I did was sat down in Chinatown, at a Chinese restaurant with around a dozen or so local Chinese community leaders to have a yak to them about the impacts they’re seeing. Look it is really important that South Australians support South Australian businesses. Australia is a safe country in which to go about your business as usual. We’ve taken all of these steps in terms of protecting Australians so that people can go about their normal lives and their normal business.

There are currently only 10 active cases of coronavirus in Australia, there were up to 15, but five people are fully recovered now following their treatment. And so I would really urge South Australians, make a booking to go along to your local Chinese restaurant over the weekend, get out to Gouger Street and enjoy a fabulous meal there. Duck along and have a plate of dumplings. You know, it really is important to those local businesses that just as we turned out to help fire-affected communities and so many people went along and brought cases of wine from Adelaide Hills wineries, please keep doing that but also show some support to our South Australian Chinese community – they need it right now.

Ali Clarke: Looks like we’re buying a lot. Maybe you can take the Duchess and Prince William to Chinatown if they do in fact come to South Australia.

Simon Birmingham: It’s a long list and it’s getting longer by the minute.

Ali Clarke: Thank you very much. Minister for Trade and Tourism, Senator Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure. Thanks Ali. Cheers.