SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (10:51): It is a pleasure to follow Senator Nash in this debate on this appalling piece of legislation, the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2012. Senator Nash has highlighted so many of the flaws in this proposal and just how much these flaws are a result of the hopeless management of this government. In this legislation we see, as we saw in the budget that was handed down last month, the chickens coming home to roost for this government. This Labor government has created the ultimate vicious cycle: a vicious cycle of wasteful spending funded by borrowing that ultimately, when all is said and done, can lead to only one place. That is a place called ‘higher taxes’. All the wasteful spending in the world can only be funded by all the borrowing in the world for so long. Eventually the rubber hits the road and taxes have to go up. The only way to pay for wasteful spending, the only way to be able to pay back government debt, is ultimately to tax Australians more-to increase the tax base.
That is what this government has sought to start doing in this budget. We see it on a grand scale in some areas, with the carbon tax and the mining tax, but then we see it on a sneaky scale in other ways, and this is a sneaky tax grab. This is a sneaky tax grab by a government that is addicted to wasteful spending and that can no longer fund its wasteful spending just out of its borrowing but has to now fund its wasteful spending by stuffing its pockets full of taxpayer dollars any way that it possibly can.
This tax slug on Australia’s tourism industry comes at the worst possible time for the tourism industry, when it is facing perhaps the greatest mix of cost pressures that that industry has seen for a long period of time. It comes at a time when the industry is dealing at home with higher labour costs and higher input costs around energy, water and key supplies in transport and other sectors, all of which, of course, will be added to by the carbon tax coming in just a few days. But the industry is not just grappling with that. It is also grappling with a very high Australian dollar, the highest it has been for a long period of time, which of course makes Australia a less competitive destination internationally. This is the worst possible time in the world to have decided to start increasing costs on tourism, increasing taxes and making Australia a less competitive place for international tourists to choose-which is what the government is doing through its actions.
The tourism market is one in which people are very choosy. We know from all the market research that has been undertaken that people around the world love the idea of visiting Australia. Why wouldn’t they? We love the place and we know what a great place it is. We welcome tourists to this country with open arms. But the biggest problem Australian tourism has and has always had is not getting people to like the idea of visiting Australia but converting them from having that sense of wanting to come to Australia to actually deciding to come to Australia. What impacts on conversion? There are some practical things that have always made it difficult for Australia, like our distance from any key markets, but then of course there are some key competitive aspects which go to the quality of the facilities available and to the cost of coming here.
This legislation will directly increase that cost. There is no getting away from that, no matter how many stupid, idiotic or senseless the Prime Minister’s comments makes, comments to which Senator Nash referred to earlier. Prior to coming into this place, I spent most of my career working in industries associated with the tourism sector. I spent about five years working with the wine industry, a sector that has cellar doors in states right around the country. Many members from across the parliament celebrated with the industry last night its successes and noted its challenges. It is an industry that is very much reliant on tourism spending to support many of its smaller businesses. I notice Senator Whish-Wilson in the chamber at present, and I look forward to his maiden speech later today, and I note that, as someone with a background as a small winemaker, he of course would acknowledge the significance that the tourism industry has for the wine industry and small winemakers in particular and the correlation that exists between those small winemakers and our tourism industry. Prior to that, I had worked with the hotel industry for a couple of years. Indeed, even when I was working as an adviser and chief of staff to a couple of different state ministers, they happened to be tourism ministers. So I have some background in this industry.
Nothing astounded me more than hearing Senator Nash quote the Prime Minister as saying, ‘This tax will only impact Australians who choose to go on holiday overseas.’ What a remarkably stupid thing to say. How could the Prime Minister of Australia, imposing this significant tax grab on our tourism industry, a tax rise that is a 17 per cent increase in the passenger movement charge, get it so ridiculously wrong? How could she fail to recognise that every inbound tourist who comes to Australia also ultimately gets on a plane, in nearly every circumstance bar perhaps a few, and leaves Australia as well, and when they leave Australia they have to pay this passenger movement charge as well?
This budget was not just a hit to the tourism industry and it was not just a double whammy; it piled pain upon pain upon pain. It increased the passenger movement charge, which has up dramatically from the $38 it was when Labor came to power. It will be $55 after this legislation passes. This budget reduces Tourism Australia’s budget. It passes on the additional costs of AFP security in airports, which will flow through to higher ticket prices. And it cuts the number of Customs staff, potentially increasing waiting times for people coming to and from Australia and reducing the quality of their travel experience. So, all up, there are multiple slugs and hits that the tourism industry takes from this budget. If I return to where I started-I am sure it is not that this government have it in for the tourism industry, rather it is that this government are incapable of getting their wasteful spending under control, incapable of getting their addiction to debt, deficit and borrowing under control. Ultimately, as a result of that, they have come back to the only thing they know and that is to go for a tax grab-and, in this case, a very sneaky tax grab-that is hitting our tourism industry at a time when they can least afford it.