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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29261

Mr BALDWIN (11:55 AM) —I rise to speak on the Tourism Australia Bill 2004 and the Tourism Australia (Repeal and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2004. At the outset I want to acknowledge the leadership and vision that the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Joe Hockey, has shown in developing a white paper for Australian tourism. I do not think any tourism minister, federal or state, has ever awarded such importance to tourism as the current minister has, and I want to acknowledge his boldness. I know that the tourism sector was impressed with the work and the consultation that went into the white paper and the fact that it obtained a cohesive plan for the future.

I know a bit about tourism from the days when I ran a scuba diving business. I ran my own boats out of Port Stephens, Port Hacking and Jervis Bay and at times I have worked on the Great Barrier Reef—fulfilling divers' dreams. I know the value of having a product to sell to an overseas visitor keen to see something new and different. The product will attract the visitor, but the product must have a good reputation and it must be reliable to allow word of mouth to have a positive effect.

In 2002-03, tourism directly contributed to the Australian economy through: $73.3 billion in consumption, with 77 per cent by domestic tourists and 23 per cent by international visitors; 4.2 per cent of our GDP; over 540,000 jobs, or 5.7 per cent of all employed; $16.7 billion in export earnings, or around 11.2 per cent of our total exports; and, most importantly from my point of view, 47c in every tourism dollar was spent in regional Australia.

In my electorate of Paterson, I have two areas of the New South Wales region which attract mainly domestic visitors—in the south, Paterson takes in part of the Hunter tourism region; and, in the north, there is the North Coast region. The Hunter and North Coast regions are the second and third most popular regions in New South Wales. Most visitors come for the beaches—in Nelson Bay and Forster Tuncurry—or they come to go bushwalking in the Barrington Tops. New South Wales recorded 27.5 million domestic visitor nights in 2002, and 11 per cent of those visitors came to the Hunter and North Coast areas—around three million visitor nights.

The key strategy outlined in the Tourism white paper: A medium to long term strategy for tourism is structural reform leading to the establishment of Tourism Australia. Amalgamating the Australian Tourist Commission, See Australia, the Bureau of Tourism Research and the Tourism Forecasting Council makes sense and will provide an organisation that can research Australia's tourism market and provide a comprehensive and cohesive marketing plan for Australian tourism operators and the states. Tourism Australia will contribute to the return on the government's investment by allowing better interaction and increased cooperation within the industry. After all, we need the industry to contribute to tourism development, because they know what they have and they have some idea of who is interested in their product. The Tourism Australia Bill 2004 will establish Tourism Australia, and the Australian Tourist Commission Act 1987 will be repealed. Tourism Australia will be established as a statutory authority under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, and the main objectives of Tourism Australia will be to influence people to travel to and within Australia.

In my electorate, the Bucketts Way is a major road and when upgraded will provide tourists with an alternative route from Newcastle to Armidale and, of course, access to the Barrington Tops. I hope the grey nomads take the Bucketts Way and stop in at Stroud or Gloucester for lunch at the bakery or the local cafes, where the owners make jam and chutneys. In turn, Gloucester has made an effort to create a small town with a strong heritage feel. Old buildings have been preserved and new cafes have been opened to cater for the Sydney passing traffic. I was up there last Friday and I noticed that there were four sports bike riders stopping for a coffee break, and I observed them. They sat in the cafe I went to and ordered four coffees. Then they ordered four more coffees and biscuits. In total they would have spent $30 in the cafe. I also observed that one of the bike riders picked up a jar of chutney on the way out. That is another $10—and I hear that the chutney in Gloucester is something special. That is what it is all about. Tourism is having something worth seeing or going to a town to get to. This little cafe in Gloucester, which has the best coffee and chutney, made $40 out of four bike riders on their way to somewhere else. Having a good road for a car or an interesting road for a motorbike will attract people to take a drive and stop in areas like Gloucester. They could have easily stopped in Dungog or Stroud—perhaps they did on the way back.

If we are going to encourage Australians to go on, get out there and see Australia, we have to make sure they are safe on our roads. By increasing the yield of each visitor, we increase the value of their visit. Getting numbers through the door is not enough; we must encourage them to stay for a few weeks and visit more than just Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Tourism Australia will also help facilitate bringing major events to Australia and build a national events calendar so that long-term visitors can plan their trip to meet up with events held around the country.

The Australian Tourist Commission, formed in 1967, has done a great job marketing Australia overseas for the past 27 years, but obviously it is time to broaden the role of the ATC to develop strategies to increase the yield of the visitor, not just the number of visitors. Bringing See Australia into the fold of Tourism Australia will reduce infrastructure double-up and staffing overlaps. See Australia is the body that was formed to encourage us to take a holiday. I have to say that Ernie Dingo is the best ambassador for this program. Not only is he an identifiable character but he hosts a travel program.

I am not one of those Australians who does not take a holiday. I take them occasionally, and I like to take my family with me when I do, and I also like to pack in as many experiences as I can. But some people just do not take holidays, and one of the latest statistics I have seen is that more than half of Australia's work force did not take a holiday entitlement last year. That is bad for business and for our work force. See Australia has done a tremendous job in developing public-private partnerships to encourage Australians to go on, get out there. Its commercial flexibility will be maintained in the new organisation to allow it to set up some incredible deals for the government to encourage Australians to take a holiday. A good example of one of these partnerships is the MasterCard advertisement run last year, encouraging Australians to see Australia.

Tourism Australia need autonomy and flexibility to ensure their marketing strategies are responsive to their research findings. When market demands change, Tourism Australia should be able to adapt to the market accordingly. The sort of flexibility that allows responsiveness to market demand changes will also be invaluable when forming public private partnerships. For the first time ever, the marketing and research arms will be complying to make sure the numbers we are counting suit the marketing needs. The key function of Tourism Australia will be to carry out the objectives set out in the white paper for Australian tourism, which was released by the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Joe Hockey, on 20 November last year. The plan set out in the white paper goes beyond getting tourists to Australia; it sets about creating a product which people can depend on. It is also the first plan ever to recognise that Australian tourism is just as susceptible to downturns as other domestic products such as coal and iron ore. Most people think that tourism downturns started with September 11, but the reality is that Australia was losing its appeal in overseas markets as other products became new and interesting—just look at the popularity of New Zealand off the back of the Lord of the Rings.

Tourism in Australia depends on our reputation overseas. It depends on safety, so border protection is necessary to provide a safe reputation. It is not just physical safety; it is quarantine and health as well. If people know that we can respond rapidly to a crisis such as SARS, they will feel comfortable in coming to Australia. If they get sick here, knowing that there is a hospital system they can count on also helps attract tourists. One key concern for older Australians is whether or not they are covered by ambulance from state to state. Seniors from New South Wales will not visit Queensland if they are not covered for ambulance services. To date, I am aware of three constituents who have refused to take their annual holiday on the Gold Coast until they know for sure they are covered for ambulance in Queensland. There is food for thought for Premier Beattie in relation to his new universal coverage.

Around $360 million has been allocated over the next four years to brand together all the marketing activities of the new national tourism organisation. The big question on the lips of individual tourism operators last year was: `How do I get some of that money?' The short answer is that they cannot, but they can tap into the research and knowledge of Tourism Australia to target markets and maximise their yield. Gloucester might even set themselves up on an events calendar for a chutney festival—who knows. Or regional tourism organisations could band together, as they have in Queensland, and develop tourist roads—not just 20-kilometre tracks through the orchids or wineries but roads that go from the top of Queensland down to New South Wales and through the outback. It might be a great road for driving or an interesting road for motorbikes.

Then, if each town coordinates activities and attractions, they can create complementary towns which offer lots of different types of things to see and do along the way. The sky is the limit; the only limit is a town's determination and creativity. I am also pleased to see the Australian regional tourism grants program being run again this year, with the scope of projects allowed to be bigger. The larger categories—of $500,000 and $200,000—will allow those operators with larger projects a chance to develop them. I know that these grants are currently open, and I hope operators in my electorate will be successful in their applications for funding.

The most important thing to remember is that Australia is a product and it needs to be sold overseas. Trade delegations to China, Singapore, the USA and the UK strengthen trade relationships and allow Australian operators to show their products overseas. Many people do not realise that the Australian Tourism Commission has offices in key markets throughout the world, including the UK, Japan and the USA. These offices work closely with Austrade offices in promoting Australian products at expos—it works well.

The real issue is competition from within the states of Australia. Those who have read my maiden speech know that the duplication and waste that is, due to the form that our federation took, a recurring theme in Australian government is a bit of a bugbear for me. Each Australian state has a tourism office in the UK, the US and Japan, and each of them competes with each other for the European, UK and Japanese tourism markets. If you raise the logical argument that we are Australia—not Queensland, New South Wales or Victoria—to our overseas markets, parochialism takes over and logic falls to the ground. Putting an officer from each state and territory in the Tourism Australia offices overseas will ensure the interests of all states and territories are looked after. Until we can market Australia as a whole, without having to compete against a campaign for Queensland beaches or the Victorian jigsaw, we will waste our advertising dollar overseas—and it is not cheap to advertise overseas. When Asian governments are spending 10 to 20 times what Australia spends on advertising, advertising a segmented product with no cohesive strategy will let down the Australian tourism product.

Until the introduction of this Tourism Australia Bill, Australia did not have what the states have had for years—that is, a research facility and a marketing ability all in the one organisation. When Tourism Australia comes together and proves it can deliver the marketing and research ability needed to compete overseas and produce real results, maybe then the states will want to participate in a whole-of-Australia campaign. Until then, there will be seven Australian products competing against each other—and against Asian nations, which have many millions of dollars to spend on advertising. Their advertising budgets are almost bottomless. When Malaysia can offer a car each month to an Australian travel agent as a reward for selling the most Malaysian holidays, how can we compete, except on the quality and reputation of our product—and that only comes through a consistent message about Australia.

In conclusion, let me state clearly that I support the Tourism Australia Bill and the white paper that has been developed over recent years. This is the first opportunity I have had to speak on the white paper since it was launched last year. It is a testament to how seriously the Howard government take tourism in Australia. The additional funding for tourism advertising overseas would not be possible without strong economic management by the Howard government. Last November, $235 million was announced—the biggest increase in tourism spending that Australia has ever seen—but that would not be possible were there not a surplus and enough money for aged care, roads, defence and tax cuts. I notice that the Carr Labor government in New South Wales has reduced its tourism budget for the second year in a row, despite putting taxes up and being the highest taxing state in Australia. Tourism operators need to be aware that that is an example of what would happen under a Latham-Crean Labor government. Simply put, they are not good for tourism, they are not good for small business and, in particular, they are not good for the regions.