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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1274


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (18:45): According to Wikipedia there are around 150 recognised big things of Australia. The big things have become something of a cult phenomenon and are sometimes used as an excuse on a road trip where many or all big things are visited and used as a backdrop for group photographs. Many of the big things are considered works of folk art and are being heritage listed. Tony Abbott was spotted in the lead-up to Australia Day near the Big Golden Guitar at Tamworth for the 40th Tamworth Country Music Festival. That was, of course, the day before the actions of the Prime Minister's office brought the world some delightful antitourism footage of the Australia Day riots. According to the Australian newspaper's travel writer Peter Needham, perhaps it is time to build more big things. Whether eyesores or artistic installations, the sight of giant gumboots, lawnmowers or potatoes livens up a car journey and brings a smile to many. The somewhat bizarre website bigthings.com.au tells us we have about 6.7 things per million people. The figures show that for every million people somewhere between three and 11 big things will be built—that is, a big thing is built for every 90,900 to 330,000 people.

While it is well beyond our capacity to pay, the government is proceeding with plans to build a big thing for every tourist, inbound or domestic. But instead of announcing practical measures that the tourism sector wants, like incentives to build new accommodation stock, Labor will stick a great big new tax at every tourism pit stop around the country. Instead of sensible, practical policies and milestones measuring how Labor is helping tourism move forward, enough policy failures litter the roadside to make Ian Kiernan cry. Since Tourism Research Australia has been eerily silent on the carbon tax since it was absorbed into the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, it seems that every major transport and tourism operator I speak to is doing their own modelling on the impact of the carbon tax. Even ATEC has announced $20,000 for a project to look at how ever-growing passenger movement charges are impacting the costs of holidays.

Last week Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told a Senate committee that about an extra $6.80 would be added to a flight between Perth and Sydney. If the same passenger flew to Bali, they would get an extra discount without having to pay any carbon tax. 'So what?' you might say. If $6.80 were your only expense on a holiday, nobody should care. But what is really in store for a typical family on a road trip holiday—let us say from Hobart to Sydney and back? The family would pay extra for fuel used by the Spirit of Tasmania to ferry their car across Bass Strait according to CEO Charles Griplas, who told a government business hearing that its fuel supplier, Shell, is yet to determine new prices under the tax. Fuel makes up a quarter of TT-Line's costs. Mr Griplas says his company is investigating several strategies to minimise the impact on fares. This month I am expecting to hear the results of this modelling. Mr Griplas has told the parliament that TT-Line's vessels go into dry dock to receive a superpolymer paint which ensures a better glide on the vessel, which in turn will reduce emissions. Super-polishing propellers is a similar measure. No doubt TT-Line will be seeking the sort of compensation package that Wayne Swan was embarrassed into providing to Quicksilver Group in the last fortnight, and it has every right to do so.

The Prime Minister made no effort to respond to the question in question time last Thursday on the Quicksilver Group's increased fuel cost. This company will pay an additional $250,000 per annum, which puts pressure on the 450 local employees, to mention but one operator in Cairns, let alone across the country as a whole. It proves she does not understand her own policies and the impact on the Australians she is supposed to lead in their interests. This 6.2c-per-litre impact on marine tourism operators around the country, like whale and dolphin watch operators, ferry operators and fishing charter operators, will have a significant impact on the adventure tourism industry right around Australia—indeed, all tourism operators. But, after the Cairns Post ran a damning article about the carbon tax and the impacts on the Cairns Marine Park tourism operators, the Treasurer announced a reduction in the environmental management charge, or EMC, of $2.50 per reef visitor to offset the impacts of the carbon tax. This serves to acknowledge (1) the huge impact of the carbon tax and (2) that Labor has begun to pick winners. Things get messy, complex and unfair when the government starts picking winners in this way.

I am glad of this assistance to reef tourism operators. As someone who ran adventure tourism businesses in my own right involving the diving and fishing industry, I know how tough it is and how fine the profit margins are. But what will the government do for Port Stephens whale-watching marine tour operators? Where does it leave the Spirit of Tasmania ferry operating between Tasmania and Victoria? What will it do for fishing charter operators, not to mention those who rely on fuel for remote electricity generation? What about those land-based tourism and regional aviation companies not compensated? Will they be left high and dry?

The government's attempts to link the carbon tax to temperature increases and reef impacts only serve to highlight the strengths of the coalition's approach. The Liberal and National parties' focus on reducing run-off and limiting fertiliser types would have helped to contain the latest outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish impacting the reef, whereas the carbon tax will serve no environmental benefit. Furthermore, it is the marine park tourism operators themselves that have joined in the massive effort to contain the outbreak and eradicate the crown-of-thorns starfish—the same operators whose jobs are being put at risk by Labor's carbon tax. This Labor government seems to hide the fact that some $650 billion will be spent by 2050 buying offshore carbon credits, not spent addressing environmental needs here in Australia that would make a substantial and real difference.

Once our Tasmanian family drive their car off the Spirit of Tasmania to begin their road trip on the mainland, they can look forward to paying the carbon tax on fuel after 2014. At the TTF leadership summit in Canberra last year, the member for Lyons stressed that the exemption for private vehicle fuel only has his support for now. Transport accounts for some 14.6 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, and 90 per cent of that is private vehicles, so we can expect that the Greens will force Labor to remove this exemption.

If part of a holiday includes regional aviation, the carbon tax is more problematic for those businesses than for the larger operators like Qantas and Virgin. Regional aviation contributes only 0.4 per cent of carbon emissions according to the Brindabella Airlines CEO. They will pass on their $600,000 to $700,000 costs to their customers through a ticket price increase of $6 or $7. They might levy a further $12 to $20 per passenger to cover the cost that Tamworth Regional Council will impose for building new baggage-screening facilities. Sadly, they are also set to lose the en-route subsidy scheme and will continue to pay the cost of sponsoring new pilots from South Africa due to local crew shortages. Brindabella applied a special levy to bring in their last pilot. You cannot endlessly add to the cost of the ticket without affecting demand. This government does not understand that tourism in particular is a price-point-sensitive market. If Tourism Research Australia were allowed by the government to investigate the tourism impacts of a carbon tax, research would tell us that Brindabella Airlines' main competitor on the Newcastle-Sydney leg is private vehicles driving up and down the Federal Highway. Labor's carbon tax on regional aviation encourages the use of private motor vehicles, which for now are exempt. You will get the picture.

Tonight, for good measure, Senator Bushby will ask in estimates for modelling on the carbon tax impact on the tourism sector. I expect the government will, for the third estimates in a row now, avoid tabling research they have held onto since before the clean energy bills were debated. With accommodation providers, tourism transport operators, adventure tourism businesses, restaurants and others releasing information on how much more expensive holidays will be under the carbon tax, I would be surprised if before 1 July we do not see a sample holiday itinerary published with each carbon tax payment totalled with the standard one-week holiday. It is surprisingly complex. If Labor were genuinely worried about the unscrupulous operators using the carbon tax as an excuse to fleece customers, they would publish a sample itinerary. But the government instead have threatened the tourism businesses with ACCC action if they feel profiteering occurs. Faced with this threat, the sector needs the government to explain what costs can be reasonably passed on to its customers. For example, a restaurant meal would cost more because of electricity business input costs; groceries, including supermarket, transport and refrigeration costs; cooking appliances; lighting; vacuum cleaning; restaurant till; and computers. They will all go up. It is therefore entirely baffling that Tourism Research Australia has not researched the most significant financial challenges facing tourism businesses at the moment. Pressure can only grow over the coming months for a guide on holiday costs and by the next election the one million people employed in Australian tourism and hospitality, and anyone planning a domestic holiday, will have a clear choice to make. If elected, the coalition will not proceed with the damaging carbon tax that only advantages overseas airlines and forces small and medium businesses, and in fact all Australian restaurants, hotels and other tourism businesses to pay more for electricity, gas and transport, that will result in job losses.

When the carbon tax was first announced, the Tourism and Transport Forum produced a report that highlighted 6,400 job losses industry wide and agreed to support the carbon tax on the condition of an adequate compensation package for the tourism sector—assistance that never eventuated. In the same report the TTF stated that the net revenue loss for Australian tourism businesses after the imposition of the carbon tax will be $731 million. In a low-margin, labour-intensive sector this will prove to be a significant impost.

The coalition will rescind the carbon tax which will only add costs to the Australian tourism industry and discourage Australian holidaymakers by adding to their household budgets. Sure, Labor says that household budget impacts on the poorest people will attract compensation, yet the Australian Hotels Association doubts—and I share their doubt—that the recipients are those people who support accommodation hotels by vacationing—again, modelling TRA should be doing.

When asked at additional estimates on 19 October whether TRA has approached Treasury to access its carbon tax model so that TRA can better understand the impact of the carbon tax on the industry, the department answered no. When asked whether TRA had asked Treasury to undertake any modelling on the impact of the carbon tax on tourism industry, the department also answered no. This week, Senator Bushby will ask whether this is still the case or whether the department has begun to show an interest in the effect of carbon tax on the tourism industry.

At the last estimates officers from TRA mentioned the impact that changes in discretionary spending would have on the tourism sector and said that, because there was not going to be a large change in discretionary spending, there would not be a change for the sector. That is quite a claim. What modelling has been undertaken to support this assumption? How can TRA make this claim when it has done no modelling on the impact of the carbon tax and has admitted that it has not even sought advice from Treasury? The sector needs answers urgently on both household budgets of Australian holidaymakers and the cumulative business costs impacting restaurants, hotels, airlines, attractions, adventure tourism operators and other businesses involved in tourism.

Anyone reading media reports will sense the sector's growing frustration. Take those comments by John Lee, CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum in his media release, 'Tourism envies support for car industry':

Tourism’s GVA is $31.5 billion a year, compared to $4.5 billion for the car industry, while tourism exports are $23.7 billion a year, compared to $3.6 billion.

The car industry has received more than $12 billion in government support over the past decade and this week has received significant additional funding.

At the same time, Australian tourism is facing the same global challenges as all other industry sectors and tourism remains our only export which is subject to the GST.

And now the government has begun the process of picking winners by paying off the steel industry with a carbon tax assistance package of $300 million—double the Tourism Australia budget—and, through sneaky backroom payments, by lifting the Great Barrier Reef visitor levy. This is 'game on' for any tourism business expecting some relief.

This government does not understand the effects of its own policy and what the impact will be on any of the one million people employed in the hospitality and tourism sector. There are more employees in this sector than in any other sector in Australia, but instead of getting any financial support, any encouragement, any relief, in fact this government has reduced the funding for Tourism Australia—which already has a low budget. As I said in my speech earlier, the steel industry will get a $300 million carbon tax adjustment package. Tourism Australia's budget is less than $150 million and they received under MYEFO a $6 million cut in their funding. This government talks about saving and sustaining jobs. When you have one million people employed in the tourism and hospitality sector, cutting the budget of the very thing that produces interest and therefore product to Australia does not make common sense. In other words, this government is nothing more than a slave to some of the faceless men in grey suits who dictate who the Prime Minister will be, not those workers out there in the Australian workforce who demand the support of their government. This government provides no support. We hear all the excuses from members opposite, but we hear of no supportive actions for the tourism or hospitality industry in Australia.