• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: coronavirus impact on the tourism industry.
16 March 2020

David Koch: So, how will the new border controls affect our tourism industry? The Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now. Minister, thanks for your time. Should- I know it’s always easy to question decisions, but should you have given travellers a bit more notice of the new restrictions?

Simon Birmingham: Kochie, our plan is all about trying to slow the spread so that we can save lives and that’s why we’ve taken steps at each juncture, in terms of the evolution of this coronavirus, to be one of the first countries in the world initially to restrict travel of those coming from China, all the way through now to putting in place these measures right across all international arrivals in Australia. I know that causes disruption for some, but of course, we’re seeing other countries around the world are applying similar types of measures but they’re doing so well after the spread has reached a rate far greater than what we’ve had in Australia.

And so, our approach has been vindicated in its success to date of slowing the spread and we’re going to continue to make sure we put public health first. But of course, I recognise firmly, as the Tourism and Trade Minister, that businesses and our economy is under immense pressure. And that’s why I’m here in Cairns today, talking to tourism businesses, understanding just how grave the situation is, and trying to explain to them the $17.6 billion package the Government announced last week, how that will flow through to them and to understand what else we may be able to do to get them through such tough times.

David Koch: Yeah. Because if you’re asking overseas visitors to come in and self-isolate for 14 days they’ll just- they just won’t come in, will they? They’re not going to spend 14 days self-isolated and go off then — many only come for two weeks.

Simon Birmingham: Look, travel bookings were already drying up internationally at an extreme rate. So the last data I’d seen showed that in terms of forward bookings coming out of United States, they were down by 90 per cent. Now, that wasn’t just affecting Australia, it’s just all areas of travel that we were seeing people cease undertaking. So, yes. These measures will inconvenience the smaller numbers who are coming through the borders now but that’s to protect the safety and well-being of Australians. Ultimately, what we have to do is try to help our small and medium businesses through what are incredibly tough times at present and of course, plan for the recovery and the rebound at the other side.

David Koch: Yep. Absolutely. Look, these regulations coming from today, I’ve got a mate that came back from America on Saturday. Should they voluntarily self-isolate? Would that be your recommendation?

Simon Birmingham: What I’d encourage people in those circumstances is to perhaps follow the lead of our Foreign Minister who got back from the United States last week. And she’s indicated that she’ll be applying the social distancing type of policy. So, not captured by the restrictions that came into effect in the last 24 hours but certainly respectful of the intent of that and saying: well, let’s keep a greater degree of distance, let’s make sure that we actually do apply sensible measures. And of course for everybody, whether you’ve come from overseas or whether you’re just going about your daily lives at present — increase your hand hygiene; be sensible about making sure if there are any symptoms that you’re unwell then you should be isolating, you should be staying away from others. And if the symptoms do suggest coronavirus, you should be getting yourself checked.

David Koch: Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us.