• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Tourism Australia’s Live from Aus, interstate travel, international travel, border restrictions.
14 May 2020

Sarah Harris: Well, we’re not supposed to cross state borders just yet, or even travel too far from home for a weekend away, but if everything goes well it won’t be long until we are allowed. And there is a very big push for Australians to holiday here this year and help revive our crippled tourism industry.

Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Canberra. It’s nice to see you, Minister. Tell us about the Government’s plan to kick start the industry.

Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks so much for the opportunity guys. We are going to kick off from tomorrow night, live on Channel 10 with a special one-hour edition of The Project and then flowing, web streaming all weekend with Live from Aus. And this is about really getting people dreaming and planning, to think about how they can get out across Australia and experience the wonders that Australian tourism has to offer. And the program is going to contain a whole array of wonderful, fun experiences to get people’s imagination spinning and thinking about those opportunities. Whether it’s yoga lessons from Byron Bay, watching the sunset at Uluru, wine tasting at the wonderful d’Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale in SA. You know, these are the great things we want Australians to see as the light at the end of the tunnel that is the challenges everyone’s facing at present.

Narelda Jacobs: Oh, Minister, you’re talking our language. All of those images that we’re seeing are absolutely gorgeous and remind us of the beautiful country that we live in. But ultimately, states and territories have responsibility over lifting their borders to allow interstate travel. Is that going to provide- create one of the standoffs that we saw during the school’s debate, where the Federal Government is pushing states and territories to lift their border to allow interstate travel?

Simon Birmingham: Look, we respect the rights of states and territories when it comes to the border control provisions they’ve put in place. I’m thrilled that quite a number of states are now saying to people within their state, it’s time to get out to the regions, it’s time to start booking.

You know, one in 13 Australian jobs relies on the tourism and hospitality sector. So, if we’re going to get people back to work and ensure that businesses survive and jobs are sustained, we do need people to travel and move. Now, I hope that those intrastate travel movements will extend to interstate over the coming months, but any little step is a good step.

And you know, even just this week I was told that as South Australia said that people from Adelaide can start travelling out across regional areas and reopened camping and caravan parks, that the National Parks website was flooded with hundreds of bookings in the space of a few hours of people planning those regional trips and booking those camping spots. And that’s the type of activity we want to see return.

Angela Bishop: Of course, the really, really big step will be international tourists, once again being able to come to Australia. Can our industry really recover until they’re coming back?

Simon Birmingham: Our industry is going to really feel the pain, and particularly some parts of Australia more than others, so long as we don’t have those international visitors. But it’s going to be a while. You know, over the Easter weekend, there were just 33 international arrivals at Brisbane Airport and they would have essentially all been Australians returning home. Last year there were more than 40,000, so that tells you just how it’s completely turned off at present. And of course, that means all those people that we would usually expect aren’t up in Far North Queensland, they’re not in central Australia, they’re not over in WA, in the Kimberley or the like.

And that’s why it’s going to be really important that Australians, who usually contribute to around a $100 billion domestic industry, actually get out there and fill some of that void. Now, I know not everybody can afford to do so. But for those who can, they should know that planning a trip and undertaking that when it’s safe to do so, they’re not just going to have the time of their lives and a cracking experience, they’re also probably helping to save a fellow Australian small business and save a fellow Australian’s job.

Joe Hildebrand: I absolutely love this idea; I think it’s fantastic. And we’ve just booked a holiday, there’s a caravan park that’s about to be hit by hurricane Hildebrand and it is not going to recover from that, I promise you.

Can I ask you just to put your Trade Minister hat on-

Simon Birmingham: We’ll put a warning alert for that one.

Joe Hildebrand: That’s right… they’ll be trying to keep us away next year.

Can I ask you to pop your Trade Minister hat on for a second and tell us, have you been able to get a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador or any other representative from Beijing over their apparent sabre rattling over our beef and barley exports?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I haven’t yet secured a meeting with my- or a discussion with my Trade Minister counterpart in China. We have had discussions at official’s level with Embassy and between officials of the Australian Government and the Chinese Government.

We will put forward the strongest possible case that we can, and back our industry there, to show and provide all of the evidence that is necessary to show that our Australian barley producers price their barley competitively, don’t dump it onto the Chinese market, and certainly don’t deserve to have duties or taxes or tariffs applied to them. And that our meat processors provide quality, reliable, safe meat and that they will absolutely adhere to all labeling standards that are required in the future.

Joe Hildebrand: Isn’t it true though — and I know that you’re constrained in what you say — but this is not about labelling; this is obvious payback and they’re trying to apply economic pressure as they’ve done in the past, as their state media has said that they are doing, to pay us back for calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. I mean, isn’t that what we need to deal with, rather than how our meat is labelled?

Simon Birmingham: Well, what we need to do, and certainly what we are doing as a Government, is that we treat each issue on its merits. Now, China says publicly and privately that, in terms of beef and barley and these issues that have come up, that they are long-standing regulatory processes, and they want us to respond under those regulatory processes. So, that’s what we’ll do.

It’s not going to divert us from continuing to work with the global community in advancing an inquiry around COVID-19; because that’s necessary. You know, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have died, we were just talking about the fact that millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, and billions of people have had their lives disrupted. The least the world can expect is that there is a transparent inquiry. And that’s why we’re supporting the European Union to take to the World Health Assembly, a motion to set up this type of investigation. And we hope that everybody, including China, ultimately supports that and cooperates and is involved in it.

Sarah Harris: Alright. Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We do appreciate it.

Joe Hildebrand: Thanks, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you guys, my pleasure. And make sure you tune in over the weekend.

Sarah Harris: Absolutely.