Topics: Tourism campaign; Ukraine; July 1 cost of living measures; NACC

09:20AM AEDT
Friday, 30 June 2023


Danica De Giorgio:  Joining me now live is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Thank you so much for joining us. So, what do you think of this ad? Do you think it’ll attract Chinese visitors back down under?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s great to be great to be with you. We wish this campaign every success. I know the hard-working creative and marketing team at Tourism Australia are very focused on the success of these types of campaigns. But whilst we wish it success, it does come at a time when the Albanese Government has actually cut funding to Tourism Australia in its latest budget and increased taxes on tourists and on visas in its latest budget. So, the reality is that this is a government not moving in ways that are going to help our tourism industry recover. So yes, you’ve got the team at Tourism Australia launching a good campaign doing what they can to help the market recover there – but it’s up against the Albanese Government putting up a passenger movement charge and taxes on tourists and travel, putting up visa charges and cutting funding to Tourism Australia – all of which is bad news for our tourism industry.


The other important thing in this though is to make sure as well, and we should be expecting to hear more from the Albanese Government, about the diversification strategy. That of course we want to see tourists from China come back, but we’ve also seen the risks and the volatility in the Chinese market over recent times and so, critically, there needs to be a clear diversification strategy from the Government to make sure that we are seeking growth in India, in other Asian markets and of course in some of our traditional markets across the US, Europe and UK.


Danica De Giorgio:  Alright, want to get on to some of the day’s top stories. Now there’s a story in The Australian that Treasury has snubbed a request from Ukrainian business figures to make it easier for Australian companies to invest in the war-torn country to help it I guess, rebuild. Should Treasury have agreed to this request?


Simon Birmingham: Of course they should and they should’ve have reprioritised to be able to do so.  It’s completely ridiculous to have a situation where you’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of extra resources being put into Treasury and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and yet their response to this request for a double taxation agreement to be negotiated between Australia and Ukraine was ‘it’s not one of our priorities right now, we’ve got other negotiations that have been prioritised.’ Well, if a war and the conflict isn’t enough for you to reconsider your priorities, what on earth is? So of course, the Government should go back and prioritise this because this isn’t about ensuring the war is won, it’s about preparing and planning for the peace to come and the rebuilding of Ukraine that is so essential. And the Albanese Government should be doing more to help ensure that this war is won, but they should also be doing more to help ensure that there is that planning for the peace; planning for recovery and, in this case, a double taxation agreement would help ensure that Australian companies and investors who wish to, could invest in Ukraine and enjoy the type of tax arrangements that don’t see they’re disadvantaged by doing so and play a role in terms of that country’s reconstruction and rebuild once they have, we hope, won this war against Russia.


Danica De Giorgio:  Is there a fine line though, of course we want to help others out who are struggling, of course in Ukraine, but there’s also a number of issues here in Australia at the moment, so how far can help and assistance go?


Simon Birmingham: It’s important to remember that the support for Ukraine isn’t just about us supporting a far-away country that has been unfairly, illegally and morally invaded by its neighbour. It’s about us ensuring that we stand up for the sovereignty of all smaller nations such that bigger neighbours and powers don’t feel they can just invade those smaller neighbours. It’s about standing up for international laws, rules and norms that we rely on as a country – as a mid-sized country in the world – and that all other smaller and mid-sized countries rely on. So that’s really critical. Of course the Government has to balance its different spending priorities, but Australia started in response to Ukraine as the leading non-NATO contributor – the Morison Government providing some $285 million military assistance; $65 million of humanitarian assistance; energy assistance as well. The Albanese Government’s recent effort – an alleged $110 million – but how on earth they’ve actually calculated that with what is in an assortment of quite aged vehicles they’re providing – when instead they should be considering and looking at providing what Ukraine has asked for – Australian-built Bushmasters – Australian-built Hawkei vehicles – they can get more of those vehicles built in Australia – creating defence industry jobs in Australia and support here – and that’s the type of replenishment and commitment that we need to see from the Albanese Government and to make sure it’s effective for Ukraine and a win for Australia.


Danica De Giorgio:  Let’s move on now. Tomorrow of course is July 1, we are going to be seeing some of the Government’s cost of living relief play out from cheaper childcare to energy rebates – that’s something households will be happy to see isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think households are going to be happy to see the huge increases in electricity bills that come into effect from tomorrow. I don’t think they’re going to be happy to see the very big increases in terms of childcare bills that are coming into effect from tomorrow as well. There might be more government spending going into some of these areas but many, indeed most Australian households, are still going to be worse off because of the scale of those fee increases and the Government’s policies are making this worse over the long run. The fact that the Government is inhibiting rather than helping gas to come to market creates uncertainty in the energy sector and drives prices higher. The fact that the Government is acting in ways that are disrupting the labour market, they are making it harder to get workers in different sectors is driving up costs in areas like childcare which are being passed on to consumers. And so, that’s where Australians see the real pain and unfortunately that pain is just getting tougher for far too many Australian families.


Danica De Giorgio:  Just finally the NACC of course it becomes operational from tomorrow. The Greens already have a wish list of things that it wants the body to investigate from Stuart Robert to PwC. What do you hope is investigated?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope the NACC does its job fairly, independently, and in accordance with the legislation that we supported through the Parliament. I’m not going to sit and try to define what it should or should not seek to investigate. It should operate independently, fairly. It shouldn’t be out to trash reputations unfairly. But it should be out to ensure that if there are genuine instances of corruption and laws have been broken, that it gets to the bottom of it and that’s the job that’s been tasked to do.


Danica De Giorgio:  Will the Coalition be making any referrals to it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we will consider that on a case-by-case basis over time, but we won’t be doing so for political ends – we’ll be doing so if the evidence is there to support an investigation actually being undertaken because that’s the way these bodies should be approached.


Danica De Giorgio: Simon Birmingham, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.