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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 298

Mr WHITE(6.56) —I am sorry that the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) is not present, because we had a little exchange last night. I ask him in all sincerity to reconsider his decision announced last night that the audio-visual contract for the Australian pavilion at Expo '88 is to go an American company, because we will be the laughing stock of the world if it does. Tonight I wish to raise another matter which is also within the Minister's responsibility; that is, the operation of the tourism overseas promotions scheme.

Mr Humphreys —You've got some good leaks in that Department.

Mr WHITE —I would be concerned if I were the Minister. It is leaking all over the place. That usually happens before there is a change of government. The tourism overseas promotions scheme is a very important scheme in the tourism industry in Australia because it means that some of our entrepreneurs can go overseas, with some government assistance, promote Australia and increase the number of overseas tourists coming to this country. The problem is that the scheme is always running into hiccups. To be more precise, it is always running out of money. Five million dollars was budgeted for last August. By November the Department of Sport, Recreation and Tourism had run out of money. A further $4m has been allocated but in the meantime approvals are being held up. People want to know whether they can go overseas, whether they can get a brochure printed, and whether they can undertake a program. They are being held back until more money becomes available. By the time they are told they may go it might be too late.

The problem is that under the scheme one must have forward approval before one can go ahead, and then one puts in a claim later. So there is a hiccup again. The approvals that have been given are being paid when the claims come in. People seeking forward approvals for brochures or any other promotion overseas are having their submissions sat on because there is no money to cover them. The Department, quite rightly, cannot approve them until there is money to cover them. How long that will go on we do not know. In the meantime half of our entrepreneurs-those who wish to develop and improve the flow of international tourists to this country-are told that no approvals will be granted until more money is received.

The Minister was warned last December that the Department was running out of money. I understand that a minute has gone to the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), but nothing has come back. In the meantime we see many submissions seeking prior approval under this very important scheme. Tourism is the only growth industry in this country. It is timely to say so with our overseas debt now running at over $100 billion. Here is an opportunity to reduce that overseas debt by bringing in international visitors, but the whole scheme is in limbo. I ask the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) to relay to his mate the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism the importance of this scheme. The Minister has just entered the chamber. I am glad to see him. This TOP scheme is important but, as the Minister well knows, there is another hiccup. There is no money in the system to allow submissions for forward approvals to proceed and so we have all our tourism entrepreneurs sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Perhaps the Minister might care to respond. As he is here, I repeat a plea I made earlier: Please reconsider the decision to allow that contract to an American company for audio-visual work at Expo '88 to proceed because it will make him and this country the laughing stock of Expo.