Transcript, E&OE

Topic: Bushfire impact on tourism.
09 January 2020

Tom Tilley: And for more, I’m joined now by the Federal Minister for Tourism, Simon Birmingham, who’s in Adelaide this morning. Simon Birmingham, welcome back to Breakfast.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Tom. It’s good to speak with you on RN.

Tom Tilley: Yeah, great to speak to you on RN. We’ve spoken many times on Triple J throughout your various portfolios. You’re in a very tricky one right now, given the bushfire situation. How big do you estimate the damage to Australia’s tourism industry?

Simon Birmingham:  Tom, the harm no doubt is significant, but differential across the country. The excellent package that you’ve just aired, I guess shows very much the fact that there is devastating lost for some businesses, there are for so many families and individuals across the country where businesses have been wiped out. But then, of course, there are so many businesses in fire-affected regions, or close to fire-affected regions, who are still open for business and who desperately need their visitors to still come to visit, and to travel and to spend in those regions. And that is a very important message that we’re trying to get out that people, of course, firstly, do need to heed warnings from authorities where they’re given to make sure that safety is put first. But then where those warnings are not there, where the warnings are not suggesting that people should stay away, then we’d encourage people to still follow through on their travel plans, wherever they possibly can. Because these communities will only have the harm through them compounded if people simply stay away. And indeed, listening to Hailey Bailey(*) talking about Kangaroo Island, yes, there’s widespread damage but also so much of the island is still accessible. So many of the tourist attractions like Seal Bay that people have gone for so many years to go and enjoy, all that wildlife is still there, that scenery is still there. It’s still a beautiful, magnificent experience. And most of the accommodation beds on Kangaroo Island are untouched by the fires. Yes, there are devastating losses like the Southern Ocean Lodge, but there are so many other operators still open for business who need people to keep coming.

Tom Tilley: Was it a bit rich for the Prime Minister to stand there on Kangaroo Island yesterday and tell people to keep holidaying in Australia, when he took his family to Hawaii?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Tom, we’re not- We don’t say that every Australian needs to only ever undertake their holidays in Australia. I think in the end; the Prime Minister has for many years spent many holidays in Australia. It’s understandable that- to get away from what if you’re the Prime Minister are constant interruptions by other people, that you might seek to find a quieter spot.

Tom Tilley:  Get away from the bushfires, potentially.

Simon Birmingham: No. Well, it was a quieter spot for him and his family to be able to enjoy some time away. He’s indicated and dealt with those issues in terms of the regret that he has and the apologies that he’s made. But the message for- and it’s not just for Australians, it’s of course for the international visitors coming to Australia, is that if you want to help fire-affected communities, then don’t turn away from them. Continue to support them by supporting the opportunities that are there to visit. By supporting the business, by buying their produce, where it’s, of course, looking at Bega Cheese, I see making an appeal today for people to think about their business, their brand, and the dairy farmers that they support in Southern New South Wales. Whether it’s Adelaide Hills winemakers, many others across the country. And so we’re working hard as part of the $2 billion recovery fund to be looking at how it is we support those businesses in those communities to get back on their feet. That’s not just across the tourism sector, but of course, our many trade and exporting businesses as well that I’m looking at in my portfolio.

Tom Tilley:  Simon Birmingham, we just heard in the story before our interview that the Matesong campaign featuring Kylie Minogue has been wound back. Was it a mistake to launch that in the middle of a bushfire crisis?

Simon Birmingham:  Look Tom, ultimately, we would of course wish the crisis had never unfolded. The Matesong campaign was incredibly well thought through and researched. It was seeking to also maximise the amount of talk and chatter that you get from these campaigns by being launched with an advert placed immediately prior to the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day so that was a central part of the launch of that campaign and the timing of it. But of course, that also tragically ended up being just days before we saw the massive escalation in fires that were already widespread in parts of the country…

Tom Tilley:  But the crisis had been going for three months Minister, sorry to interrupt. But we’d known about the bushfire crisis. People had already been dying. There’d already been international headlines about the huge swathes of bushland that were burning down here in Australia. Why launch a tourism campaign that doesn’t deal with that in any way right in the middle of that?

Simon Birmingham:  Tom, you also have to appreciate that we have entire states who are having a normal bushfire season such as Western Australia. Yes, there’ve been bushfires there but bushfires happen in Australia each and every year. You’ve got a tourism industry in Queensland, a state so reliant upon tourism, in the Northern Territory, and we have to actually continue to support the rest of the country’s industry. Now, ultimately, we’ve made the decision that as the media coverage which overseas escalated so dramatically around that New Year period, it was right to pause parts of the Matesong campaign.

Tom Tilley:  Okay. Minister, I just want to get to one more question before we hit the news in under a minute. Obviously the bushfires have captured global attention but so has Australia’s response to climate change. A lot of criticism about a climate policy that’s basically not doing enough in a lot of people’s eyes. We had Craig Kelly on British TV. Have we taken a massive reputational hit on that front too?

Simon Birmingham:  Tom, I don’t think so, but I want to very clear and I will be very clear as I travel the world as Australia’s Trade Minister and our Tourism Minister, about it’s our commitment to addressing to climate change and how much Australia understands the need to be part of a global effort and is part of the global effort to do so. That’s why we’re going to continue to invest in meeting – and I trust, well and truly exceeding our Paris targets…

Tom Tilley:  With our carryover credits from Kyoto.

Simon Birmingham:  Well that’s why I trust we will be aspiring as we have at each of the other junctures in terms of the Kyoto 1 commitment period and the Kyoto 2 commitment period, to exceed those targets as well.

Tom Tilley:  Alright. Minister, we’re about to hit the news. Thank you so much for your time, Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham:  Thank you Tom.