Topics: Border closures and coronavirus impacts on tourism over Christmas; travel credits & refunds;




David Campbell:          For more on this coronavirus mutation that’s reached our shores, I’m joined now by Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, in Adelaide. Minister, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham:       Good morning.


David Campbell:            Countries across the globe shutting their doors to Britain because of this new strain. Now, we hear just then that the strain is a completely new strain that we should be worried about, it’s just the virus adapting and growing. But, shouldn’t we be doing the same with, with Britain?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, let’s understand – our borders are closed and we have very small numbers of people, in relative terms, coming into Australia and they are overwhelmingly Australians returning home. So, we’ve been working to bring them home and to bring them home as safely as possible.


Now, we can see from what’s happening in Sydney at present, what’s happened previous times in Melbourne and in Adelaide, that this is a risk point and we have to be absolutely vigilant in terms of being across it and maintaining the strictest possible arrangements in hotel quarantine. But, also recognising that we can’t use that as our only safeguard, that we also do need to maintain the high levels of testing in the community, the outstanding approaches to contact tracing that we are seeing in New South Wales right now. And indeed, making sure that people isolate when there is any doubt in relation to their exposure to COVID. They’re the principles and practices that can keep us all safe while still acknowledging we will have to manage at least some degrees of returning Australians for, as your expert said before, some period of time.


David Campbell:          Minister, turning to the Northern Beaches outbreak. Were Premiers right to close the borders to Greater Sydney and New South Wales?


Simon Birmingham:     Time will tell in that sense. What we urge right now is for Sydney-siders to do as they’re doing and we’re very grateful for them in terms of responding to the health advice, doing what’s necessary. The border closures, of course, have been a fraught debate all through the year – at times they’ve been kept in place longer than necessary. What I’d urge states and territories who have now put them in place to do, is to keep an open mind and let’s see whether New South Wales, as they’ve done so many times before in terms of crushing this cluster and successfully getting on top of the virus, can do so again. And if they can then we ought to see the borders reopen and reopen as quickly as possible.


David Campbell:          But, it is distressing, especially for tourism out there? We’re hearing this morning that Queensland alone is going to lose $250 million worth of tourism just with this border closure over this Christmas-New Year period. That’s money that’s not going to come back, those are businesses that have been through so much this year and that they may not be able to recover. What is the message to them?


Simon Birmingham:     Historically, one in 13 Australian jobs rely on our tourism and hospitality industry. So, these sorts of disruptions come at huge cost in terms of many small businesses, many people whose livelihoods depend on this work, and it’s why we do want to see travel resume as quickly as possible. And my message to people that’ve had their plans cancelled is, if you’re in a position to do so, if you can afford to do so take a travel credit; make plans to rebook as soon as you can into the future. Understand that there are Australian small businesses and Australian jobs doing it tough and on the line at present, and we do really want to see support for those sectors through people continuing to travel as soon as it’s safe and possible to do so.


David Campbell:          So, let’s focus on families for a second, because Christmas and holiday plans for millions are now in disarray. People don’t even know if they can leave their homes in some cases – flights have been cancelled, people are keeping grounded. What rights do consumers have when they’re looking for a refund if they’re looking for a refund if they can’t take that credit?


Simon Birmingham:     This is certainly where I’d urge for understanding and patience on both sides, that businesses to maintain confidence amongst the travel public do need to provide refunds and credits and do so, as quickly as they possibly can. But, consumers also need to acknowledge that for many of these businesses, they are seeing a huge wave of people looking to cancel or change their plans at very short notice – so it will take time sometimes to work through.


Ultimately, if people think the terms and the conditions of their bookings have not been met then they should reach out to the ACCC or Consumers Affairs Authorities to get support. Everybody should show just a little bit of understanding and compassion to one another at present. The tourism and travel businesses are doing it tough, of course, peoples travel plans have been disrupted. My heart goes out to all across this equation; people who aren’t going to be able to reconnect with loved ones, but also businesses who just thought they were about to get back on their feet, seeing the rug pulled out from under them again. These are tough times for all.


David Campbell:          Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time this morning. Hopefully some of those businesses will be able to pull through. We really do appreciate your time.