Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 11 March 2021
Richard Glover: Well, I wonder if you've been daydreaming about a holiday today. The federal government is hoping you have been, today they announced that 800,000 half price airline tickets will be made available as part of a one point two billion dollar support package for the tourism industry. But there is a limited list of destinations and some questions today about why New South Wales in particular has largely missed out. Simon Birmingham is the minister for Finance and joins us on the line, Simon good afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Richard. Good to be with you.
Richard Glover: Why did you why did you pick and choose why? Why 13 regions?
Simon Birmingham: We've started with those regions where the data shows that they are most dependent in terms of regional employment on the tourism industry and where there are particular examples in relation to their dependence on international visitation or tourists and the like. So it has very much been a data driven process to work through the regions looking at tourism impacts, employment impact in those regions, and making sure that in those economies, communities who have such high local dependence on the tourism industry that we are supporting, getting more people there, filling up. It's filling up their restaurants, getting more people, undertaking the activities and experiences on offer.
Richard Glover: Yeah, I mean, when you first look at the list, though, it does look a bit random. Alice Springs is there, but not Darwin. Merimbula on the south coast of New South Wales is there, but not Bourke or Tamworth or Byron Ballina. You'll make some friends through this policy, but you'll also make some enemies, some hoteliers who'll think, well, why not us?
Simon Birmingham: I think it is tough in that sense. But as I say, it's been quite a data driven process to look across the states, making sure all the states are included, all have various degrees of international exposure, but then looking at where there is greatest dependency of local jobs and the share of the local economy, on the tourism industry. And from there, of course, trying to work out where planes go and wanting to make sure we're getting people travelling, knowing that if you are taking a holiday in a regional part of another state or the different part of Australia, then there's every chance you'll also spend some time in that capital city as you fly through that capital city to get to the regional destination, that there will be other knock-on consequences. And that, in fact, our evidence shows that for every one dollar an Australian holidaymakers spend on their airfare, they'll usually spend 10 dollars on the ground supporting other local businesses. And that's the type of support and expenditure we're really trying to leverage here by supporting 46,000 discounted flights a week, 800,000 overall. And we've been clear as well this has been an initial list, we will work with the tourism industry and the airlines to adapt those destinations as necessary through the months this programme operates to get the best bang for the buck in saving tourism jobs.
Richard Glover: Simon Birmingham is with us. You mentioned the capital cities and this has been one of the main bits of criticism today in the Tourism Council says our capital cities drive Australia's visitor economy, particularly Sydney and Melbourne. They are very dependent on overseas travel and with shut borders. You know, they are really desperate. They're not on this list at all.
Simon Birmingham: A couple of points there, Richard. The first is that capital city economy is a far more diversified. So unlike many of these regional areas where tourism is overwhelmingly the number one economic contributor, the number one employer in those regions, the number one reason for businesses to exist, that's not the case in Sydney. There are many other industries, jobs that are operating in Sydney or in any other capital city around the country. So we've targeted the regions because they have such a high, disproportionate reliance for their economy and employment on tourism. But also, as I said, we realised that once we get people moving, then cities benefit. And there isn't just this tourism support programme that we're announcing today of the total one point two dollars billion in support there is also a continuation of the Domestic Aviation Network Support Programme, which is absolutely about keeping planes flying between our capital cities in particular and flying at affordable rates between those capital cities. So we've been working right through the pandemic with airlines to make sure they survive and the planes keep flying. And that continuation and extension of domestic aviation network support through to the 30th of September will give far greater benefit into the capital city markets too.
Richard Glover: Our minister, who's from your side of politics, Andrew Constance, he's not impressed with this. All he says, he points out that there's one city in New South Wales, one town in New South Wales, which is on the programme, that's Merimbula, nothing else whilst Queensland is bristling with offers. He says you're rewarding Queensland for blowing up its own tourist industry because they're so badly off, because they've shut all their borders and in his view, behave petulantly. It's the federal government to the rescue.
Simon Birmingham: That's not the case at all. The fact is that regional Queensland reached areas such as the Gold Coast that particularly those three North Queensland, Whitsundays and Tropical North Queensland are, as regional destinations, far more heavily reliant on international visitors than we usually see across regional New South Wales. So Sydney is a major entry point, of course, for international visitors to Australia. And that's why the Domestic Aviation Network support programme supporting flights between capital cities across the country, keeping them in the air and making them affordable. And of course, also even under these half price tourism subsidised fares, many of them will be flights in and out of Sydney. And I've got no doubt that some of them, although they might be structured to try to get people from Sydney to other parts of the country, may well see people come from other parts of the country to Sydney utilising those discount air airfares as the airlines released them to the market.
Richard Glover: Hmm. Back to the idea. That's a bit random, Merimbula. I mean, beautiful place is one of the most spectacular places in the world, but it's not particularly an international destination. For instance, Byron Ballina, I would have thought, would have a bigger share of international travellers in normal times.
Simon Birmingham: Yes, I think in that case, there's probably a cascading series of effects on Merimbula as a destination is the broader regional question of the proportion of jobs and of local businesses that are tourism dependent. And that drives the focus there. There's the COVID effect of border closures. And knowing that those closures have had a particular impact on some of the border communities within striking distance in Merimbula, particularly those that usually have visitors coming up from Victoria, but also recognising that the other impact felt over the last 18 months, in particular, warrant inclusion in that regard.
Richard Glover: Okay, that may be more to come. Simon Birmingham is just finally, if you won't get any time to take off, I'm sure, this year. But if you did, where would you go?
Simon Birmingham: Well, because as a South Australian, I can say that I took my family last year to Kangaroo Island for a few days and school holidays and had an amazing time with them. But looking a little further afield, I think heading to heading to the northern climates to Broome or to Tropical North Queensland, you know, they're pretty amazing parts of Australia and there where people can have a fair dinkum holiday take longer than you might ordinarily on a domestic trip and treat it like you would an international holiday go and explore book experiences. You know, you're actually supporting Australian jobs in doing so. And that's what this programme is all about.
Richard Glover: I still remember being chased by that seal on Kangaroo Island and it moved pretty fast. Hey, Minister, thank you very much for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much. My pleasure.