Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Supporting the tourism sector following the bushfire crisis, Minister McKenzie allocating sports grants to clubs in marginal electorates.
19 January 2020

Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks very much for coming over to Kangaroo Island today. It’s a thrill to be here with Premier Steven Marshall, the Mayor Michael Pengilly, and importantly with hundreds of visits on the first cruise ship to come back to KI since the tragic bushfires. And this sends a really important message that Kangaroo Island is open for business, but also that Australia is open for business, and that tourists and visitors can still come and have the same incredible time and experience that we’ve always prided ourselves on offering. One in 13 Australian jobs rely upon the tourism and hospitality industry. So today’s $76 million investment that the Morrison Government is making into supporting our tourism industry is a job-saving investment.

This is about responding to the fact that, for many communities of Australia, the fires have affected the viability of businesses and especially tourism businesses. But also globally, we know that there is an impact in terms of people’s concerns about the safety of travelling to Australia and the impact of these fires on Australia. Some of those concerns have been driven by misleading online maps and coverage that has exaggerated the scale of the impression created about the fires.

So we have got a big job to do to make sure that we rectify that. That’s why we’re stepping forward with this $76 million investment. It’s targeted in ways so that $30 million is focused very much on local activity, in regenerating tourism activity by Australians in Australia. Australians have shown enormous compassion and support for fire-affected regions and the best thing many people can do right now to support those regions is to make a booking to visit them. Just like these visitors on the ship are visiting Kangaroo Island today, we need tourists right across the country to visit fire-affected regions, but also to plan that trip to other tourist-dependent regions, because we want to make sure that regions who might be suffering from a downturn in international visitors can actually benefit from an upswing in Australian visitors into their premises.

So it’s a very clear message to Australians today: if you want to support tourism-dependent businesses doing it hard, fire-affected regions doing it tough, think about making a booking for that next long weekend, for those upcoming school holidays in the middle of the year or later in the year. Send a message that you support those businesses, and in doing so, you’ll be helping to save the jobs of fellow Australians.

We’re also investing significantly some $46 million in making sure the rest of the world knows that Australia is open for business; that people can still come to Australia, and indeed that the vast majority of Australia and our tourism attractions are completely unaffected by bushfires; that people can still come and have the same fantastic time. We’ll do that through marketing measures. We’ll do that through getting visiting journalists, television programs, other media to come and project back to the rest of the world the truth about the fires, and of course to highlight our incredible tourism experiences. And we’ll do that as well by making the Premier showcase a tourism event – the Australian Tourism Exchange – more accessible both to Australian tourism providers and operators and also to those international buyers.

Overall, we’re going to run these domestic and international campaigns in close cooperation with the states and territories. And I acknowledge South Australia stepping up with their domestic campaign today, and other states I know are similarly looking to do likewise. We’re going to make sure these dollars are available so that states, territories and industry partners can directly sell products out to the rest of the world and to consumers. Because the most important thing that can happen over the coming days, weeks and months is to get bookings flowing again to make sure that we save our tourism businesses and save the jobs of those who depend upon them.

Journalist: Minister, there’s been some criticism over your plan to pay social media influencers and celebrities to promote Australia during this time. Do you understand why there’s that concern over the taxpayers’ money being potentially wasted?

Simon Birmingham: So I think there’s some misunderstanding about that. Firstly, the $10 million is largely going to go into getting visiting journalists, television programs, others from overseas to come to Australia to report the truth back to the rest of the world in seeing the large parts of Australia that are not fire-affected. And also, seeing the regeneration that will happen over the months and seasons to come as the fire-affected communities get back on their feet. And that’s critically important. Now, might there be some role for others that we’ve used previously, whether they be cricket stars from India or celebrities elsewhere who we get to project to their millions of social media followers through modern marketing tactics positive images of Australia? Yes. But we’re certainly not going to be paying them millions of dollars to do so. We’re going to be calling upon their goodwill, as they have shown through giving money to bushfire appeals and the like, to help us get that message back out there. And that’s the approach we’ll be taking.

Journalist: So you won’t be paying them at all? You’ll be asking for all this Goodwill?

Simon Birmingham: What we’ll be doing is, as we always do, provide support for programming, itineraries, make sure that we get the best possible images of Australia out into the world. But no, we’re not about to go and spend millions of dollars on paying celebrities to visit Australia. That’s not the point of this. The point of this is to carefully apply dollars to get the facts out there that Australia is open for business, safe to visit and can still offer people an incredible tourism experience.

Journalist: Minister, do you have any statistics on how much the fires have already cost tourism over the past few weeks, given that a lot of Australia’s most popular tourist regions have been shut down completely over the holiday season?

Simon Birmingham: It’s impossible to put a dollar figure on it just at present. But we do know in terms of looking at, for example international airline bookings, that bookings out of the United States to Australia are down an estimate of around 40 per cent in some instances; from other key markets in that 30 to 40 per cent place. So that of course, is thousands of people who we would have expected to visit Australia not making bookings at present. And that will cost Australian businesses millions of dollars. We know that cancellations and downturns in bookings haven’t just affected fire-impacted communities; they’re being felt in north Queensland, in Central Australia and Western Australia. And that’s why we’ve got to project the message not only that we’re open for business but that the vast majority of our country is not impacted by the bushfires and can still offer exactly the same experiences as people have looked for before. And that’s why this campaign will be seeking to do so, leveraging every tool that’s available to us. And as I say, it is about saving the jobs of Australians working in tourism businesses, because ultimately, fewer international visitors coming means less business in those tourism businesses. And that of course, means fewer jobs for people. And so, we’ve really got to turn that around. But in the interim, we are running what is quite unprecedented for Tourism Australia: domestic tourism campaigning to encourage Australians to step up and to fill that gap while we get the international markets to recover and to think about holidaying here in Australia throughout the course of this year, to help make sure that fellow Australians don’t lose their businesses and don’t lose their jobs.

Journalist: How unfortunate was it that you had to shelve that Matesong campaign with Kylie Minogue given the fires? Has that campaign lost some of its power now?

Simon Birmingham: It was very disappointing. It was a campaign that, on all reports, was resonating very strongly in the United Kingdom, that the market research behind it really did hit the right spot. But tragically of course, it ultimately came just before we saw tragic, terrible images broadcast over the New Year’s period. And obviously, it became incompatible to continue that campaign at full speed alongside those images.

We’re having to recalibrate all of our international campaigning at present. It doesn’t mean that we’re completely out of the market. In places like India, we’re still promoting to the people to come as part of the T20 Cricket World Cups that we’ll have this year; the opportunities that the Australian Open and Tour Down Under, the Grand Prix will provide to be able to project positive images of Australia back to the world are ones that we must seize, and ones that we’re determined to pursue.

Journalist: Just how much does the Australian economy itself rely on that international tourism as a whole?

Simon Birmingham: One in 13 Australian jobs depend on tourism or hospitality to some extent. And many of that is generated by domestic activity and we want to supercharge that domestic activity of Australians travelling around Australia at present to make up for that drop in international visitors. But international visitors are critical, and especially critical in places like Kangaroo Island or tropical North Queensland for these are destinations that rely upon a large part of their visitor market being international tourists. And that’s why we’ve got to recover those markets as quickly as we can.

Journalist: So with the research that goes, what’s the best case scenario of being able to recover those markets? How quickly can a perception like that be overturned?

Simon Birmingham: Look, that is very hard to tell at present, and we’re going to work hard in those markets to make sure that, where we go in, we go in with the right type of messages that are honest and open: the bushfires have happened. They’ve had a tragic impact. Not as widespread as some perceptions believe, but we acknowledge it’s a tragic impact, and it’s why telling the stories of regeneration and recovery will be an important part of how we turn that around. Making sure that the world understands how the Australian bush responds to bushfires and recovers from bushfires. And we’ll be looking to find authentic ways to do that. Indigenous voices, for example, knew for thousands of years, understood the impact of fire, but also the recovery of bush from fire. And they’re the types of things and stories that hopefully we can have told by getting more international media to come to Australia and to take the time to reflect those genuine and authentic stories.

Journalist: Is there any money available for tourism businesses in fire-ravaged communities to keep them going during the downturn?

Simon Birmingham: So, there are various elements of small business support that tourism businesses certainly can and will be able to access. And the Government will have more to say about that, I have no doubt, over coming days and weeks. Our $2 billion recovery package is, as the Prime Minister has emphasised, an initial investment for rebuilding, for supporting people with relief in terms of their personal financial hardship in circumstances, for cleanup. Of course, for critical support in areas of mental health, for supporting small businesses and industry. And here of course, we can see the initial $76 million investment in recovery for our tourism industry is an important element sitting alongside that small business support.

Journalist: So this is phase one then? You’ll expect [inaudible] than just the $76 million?

Simon Birmingham: As the PM has made clear with each of the announcements thus far, it’s important that we support the industry; important we support the affected communities. And if more needs to be done as we analyze it while we go through the recovery phases, more will be done. Every dollar of this $76 million is budgeted to be spent this year on initial recovery activities. If more is needed beyond that, we will assess that through the usual budget and fire recovery processes.

Journalist: Just on another topic, do you support the way your colleague Bridget McKenzie personally allocated [indistinct] in sports grants to clubs in marginal electorates?

Simon Birmingham: Bridget’s answered many questions on that. And what’s clear is that all of those who have received grants were entitled to those grants. They were eligible projects for those sorts of grants, and ultimately, the Government will work through the ANAO report there, like we do any such reports.

Journalist: Just back on tourism: the Prime Minister holidayed over in Hawaii, and now Australians are being urged to holiday at home. What message does that send?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I can assure you that it’s a message that I will be providing and the PM and all of us will be providing to everybody: that this is a year now after these tragedies where we encourage people: if they can afford to do so, if their plans and their circumstances allow them to do so, to think about, whether it’s a short weekend break, a school holiday break, or any other type of holiday, this is the year, if you’ve been thinking of going somewhere in Australia, to make it happen.

Thanks guys.