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Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Page: 7305

Mr ENTSCH (LeichhardtChief Opposition Whip) (18:04): In rising to speak on the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2012 I have to say it has been quite an eventful couple of days that we have seen in this place. I am pleased to see that the government has finally come around to some semblance of sense in that, thanks to the pressure from this side of the House and from tourism industry leaders, they have backed down on the indexation of the passenger movement charge to the CPI. I have spoken to many industry representatives about this issue and I totally support their argument that it is both unreasonable and unfeasible to penalise visitors to the tune of $156.6 million on top of the $610 million over four years that the increase in the PMC will generate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The member for Leichhardt will resume his seat for a moment. For those people conducting conversations out of their place, if they are leaving the chamber would they do so quietly and quickly and allow the member for Leichhardt to be heard in silence. The member for Leichardt has the call.

Mr ENTSCH: I note that I will be losing a little bit of time there, too, Mr Deputy Speaker! As I was saying, I have spoken to many industry representatives about this issue and I totally support their argument that it is both unreasonable and unfeasible to penalise visitors to the tune of $156.6 million on top of the $610 million over four years that the increase in the PMC will generate. Frankly, it was a wise move by the government to introduce this amendment to its own legislation in response to coalition concerns. Otherwise, it would have had another very embarrassing defeat on the floor of the House yesterday—and I look forward to seeing how they are going to explain that one.

There are a number of issues with this aspect of the proposed legislation. Firstly, forward bookings are a major component of the tourism industry, so how can you set prices when you do not know where the CPI will be 12 or 24 months into the future, particularly in relation to the economic performance of this mob? And with the price sensitivity and inherent competitiveness in the tourism industry, how can you lock in an increase that does not consider any other economic factors or allow for the flexibility that is needed in the tourism industry in order that they can stay competitive?

This is all at the same time as the amount being collected far outweighs the actual cost of the government services that enable these passenger movements.

I would like at this time to commend the tourism bodies that have led a very concerted and well-researched campaign on this: the Tourism and Transport Forum, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, the National Tourism Alliance and the Australian Tourism Export Council. In my electorate of Leichhardt, tourism, of course, is one of the mainstay industries that have had a very, very tough time in recent years. No-one would argue that the tourism industry is not an industry that is exposed to factors such as the high value of the dollar and, of course, economic confidence.

I fully understand the need to pay off $140-odd billion worth of Labor debt; it is an incredible imposition on the Australian taxpayer and impacts on our financial standing on the world stage. But it is also obvious that I understand tourism and the unfair pressure that it has been subjected to. Time and time again, I have seen this government pay tourism lip service while at the same time, whenever they need to raise some revenue, they are quite happy to take it in the form of increased taxes from the tourism industry. They are happy to offer a support package to the vehicle-manufacturing industry when they hit a bit of a rough spot, but when it comes to the tourism industry and we see problems there it is, 'Sorry, you're on your own.' Then, when they see an opportunity to recover a few dollars, straightaway they whack another tax on this industry.

It has been like a triple whammy effect that has hit our airports in the last budget, inasmuch as they will still be forced to suffer the increases in the PMC and to continue to contribute to the Australian Federal Police costs. This, of course, will have a particularly negative impact in regional airports like Cairns. Of course, small business again will suffer from the slashing of revenue streams as a result of the ban on duty-free sales of cigarette cartons on arrival in the airports. In addition, eight staff have been cut from the front-line customs services at Cairns Airport. I do not know about you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I can tell you that after getting off a long international flight the last thing I feel like doing is standing in immigration queues that take forever to be processed. This information does tend to get back to users of that airport, and it acts again as a negative for people considering travel here.

This increase in the PMC is certainly not in line with many of our tourism goals in Far North Queensland. It certainly will not be helping to double overnight visitor expenditure to $140 million by 2020. It is not going to help to widen the geographic dispersal of tourism spending within our country. PMC will hit the most price-sensitive travellers hardest and will serve as a deterrent to overseas visitors who compare Australia with other destinations. As a flat rate, it also does not take into account the different abilities of travellers to pay. Somebody arriving in Cairns on a Jetstar flight from Auckland, for example, will pay the same as a first-class passenger arriving from London.

However, with the Treasurer saying that some of the money collected through the increased PMC will fund the establishment of an Asia Marketing Fund, that is a little bit of common sense that is coming out of this. I am pleased to see that it ties in with the need to target the high-growth Asian market. It is imperative that the Treasurer be held to his words. If people are going to be forced to pay to visit us then, as a key tourism destination, we will certainly be watching very, very closely to make sure that a significant portion of marketing is targeted towards our region, which will help to make up for some of those additional costs. With Cairns having taken a hammering in recent years, the opportunities presented by the Asian market may just be our saving grace. For example, there has been an ongoing campaign to woo the Chinese market, and it has been reported today in the local media that Cairns Airport may be close to an agreement with China Eastern Airlines on direct flights from Shanghai. In yesterday's Cairns Post there was an article saying that Australia is poised to benefit from the growth from the cashed-up Indian middle class, and yesterday afternoon we heard a report that direct flights from Singapore are likely to resume after a six-year hiatus. Again, it is interesting that it was the new LNP state government and the new state member for Cairns, Gavin King, who are kicking the goals and recognising the needs of regional Australia while this Labor government continues to penalise tourism, to try to put additional taxes on this very important industry and to tax it out of existence.