Dave Marchese: Well, imagine bungee jumping in Queensland or- Queenstown, sorry, or trekking around beautiful Milford Sound on New Zealand’s South Island. This music kind of takes you there, doesn’t it? It sounds pretty good, and it probably brings back a lot of good memories of pre-pandemic overseas holidays. But this could actually be happening before Christmas. That travel bubble with New Zealand that we’ve been hearing about for months is now seriously on the cards. New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern says it’s possible now Melbourne and Auckland are getting on top of their infections. So would you be keen? Are you more interested in holidaying at home maybe? Let me know. 0439757555. But for more, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister, thanks for jumping on Hack.
Simon Birmingham: Great to be with you, Dave.
Dave Marchese: Now, I’m going to jump straight to the point here. When can we start hanging out with our Kiwi cousins again?
Simon Birmingham: Well, hopefully we can see some movement before the end of the year. It’s not fixed and pinned down yet, but some really encouraging sounds that Jacinda Ardern has been making today over in New Zealand, and encouraging that she thinks before Christmas. We’d certainly like to see before Christmas, so we just have to make sure we get all of those I’s dotted and T’s crossed to ensure that any movement between Australia and New Zealand can be done in a COVID-safe way.
Dave Marchese: Now, before Christmas, that sounds a lot sooner than maybe a lot of people had expected. If it does happen, this travel bubble, would it be only open for some states and territories in Australia or would it be for everyone?
Simon Birmingham: Well, obviously the question mark particularly continues to hang over Victoria, and everyone understands that. But I’d hope that we can see relative openness between all of those other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand. Of course where flights choose to come and go to is a bit more of a commercial decision, so that may narrow the field a little bit. But previously we’ve had direct flights from New Zealand into a number of Australian cities, and it would be great to get them back.
Dave Marchese: And what kind of impact would this have on our tourism sector here? How much of our tourism comes from New Zealand, or did come from New Zealand, before the pandemic?
Simon Birmingham: New Zealand’s a big part of Australian tourism: the Kiwis spent some $2.6 billion here last year, and so that is a big opportunity for us. Of course, Australia is a big opportunity, an even bigger one, for New Zealand. So this is very much, yes, it will be welcomed by the airlines, by the tourism operators, because it helps to get more people moving, and that will save thousands of jobs in both Australia and New Zealand. But it’s also just a very welcome step towards normality by recognising the mutual success of both of our countries. They’ve(*) really been two world leaders when it comes to suppressing COVID.
Dave Marchese: Obviously there are a lot of Australian tourism hotspots that are crying out for visitors right now. Do you think it’s right to be talking so much about New Zealand tourism when we could be encouraging people to travel domestically?
Simon Birmingham: Indeed, many parts of Australia are doing it so tough. And in terms of which states might be able to open up to New Zealand, I think first and foremost I’d be encouraging states to still be thinking about following the lead of South Australia or the Northern Territory in setting clear policies to open up to one another where it is safe to do so, so that we can get Australians travelling back across Australia again. Australians spent $65 billion on overseas travel last year, and if we can just get more of that harnessed into Australia then we can actually help to support some of those regions and communities, save jobs and businesses, and certainly my focus is overwhelmingly on getting people travelling across Australia into the regions hit hardest. It’s why yesterday we announced another package of support, some $50 million specific to a series of regions who are most affected by the international border closures. Places like North Queensland and central Australia, and what we really want to do is get travellers happening there.
Dave Marchese: Yeah, just on to that funding announcements that was announced over the weekend, boosting tourism in regional Australia. Where exactly is that money going?
Simon Birmingham: So, we announced at least $100 million for infrastructure investment, so that will really be about lifting the quality of product in a lot of regional communities, and that is for regional tourism product anywhere across Australia. It will be a competitive grants program. $50 million dollars is targeted very much to regions whose employment and economy depend on international visitors. So in that space it’s regions, as I say, like north Queensland, Whitsundays, Gold Coast, Central Australia, around Uluru, Kangaroo Island. These are iconic international destinations, and they’re really feeling the pain of the fact that the international borders are closed. They’re feeling it disproportionate to most of the rest of the country.
Dave Marchese: I think a lot of young people would be really keen to travel domestically, but the issue as you mentioned before is local borders being closed. Do you have a lot of confidence that young people will be able to get around Australia for the summer holidays?
Simon Birmingham: I’m seeing really good signs now that we’ve seen those decisions taken by the Northern Territory Government and the South Australian Government to open up to the ACT and New South Wales, having already opened up to Queensland, WA, and Tasmania. I hope to see Queensland build on their decision of opening up to the ACT. I hope Tazzie follows through in terms of looking at the end of October as a window to make some openings that could see nearly everybody except for WA and Victoria. And WA, they can make the decision any time, that it’s up to their government over there.
Dave Marchese: Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us on Hack.
Simon Birmingham: My pleasure, Dave. Thank you.