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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 516

Senator PARER (6.22 p.m.) —I would like to take the opportunity to speak on the Export Development Grants Amendment Bill, particularly as it impinges on the tourist industry. During question time last Tuesday, Senator McMullan waxed lyrical about how great the government's support for small to medium business operators was as shown by the EMDG scheme. However, when we look at the practical implications we see that this claim is nothing more than specious when it comes to tourism. In fact, it is a sham. The government's working nation statement, released in May of this year, states that the government would be:

. . . expanding the export market development grants (EMDG) scheme to provide export marketing assistance to single service tourism operators to recognise the significant contribution of the tourist industry to export growth.

I remind honourable senators that the tourist industry is probably one of our greatest industries if measured by foreign export earnings and employment. It has enormous potential yet it is only half recognised by this government.

  When the change was introduced the tourist industry was only permitted to take 50 per cent of the grants that normally applied to other export industries and yet it is probably one of the greatest export earners in Australia today. The reason for the change, which I agree is a step in the right direction, was to enable small operators to be eligible for export market development grants along with other exporters. However, we must look at the way the government has treated the tourism operators.

  Austrade's current position for existing claimants is that they will be paid no further grants if a facilitator or middleman is in the marketing chain. This technicality either fails to recognise the essential character of the tourist industry—in which a facility customarily employs a number of people in its marketing operation to reap both domestic and foreign markets—or it is a device to enable the government to neglect tourism operators.

  This arcane administrative policy will inflict damage on the burgeoning theme park industry throughout Australia. Theme parks generate millions of dollars for the Australian economy both as an import replacement for Australians who travel domestically instead of overseas and as an export syringe into the international tourism market particularly of Asia. Most importantly, they also act as a trigger for Australian tourism in general. As an example which you, Mr Acting Deputy President, will appreciate, Sea World and Movie World bring in more than 80 per cent of all international tourists to the Gold Coast. That is an example of the dynamics of theme parks around Australia. However, all of this will be overlooked because these theme parks employ facilitators to promote their venue on an inbound and an outbound tourist basis—but more importantly from the inbound side, which represents the export part of the industry.

  This will particularly impact on those operators who quite sensibly join together to market regions—exhausting work in probably the most competitive industry in the world. Recently, I had the opportunity to travel in South-East Asia and in all of the very high growing market areas, such as Taiwan and Japan, I was informed by the wholesalers that those people market intensely to the benefit of Australian tourism. Everybody knows that this is the classic industry in international competitive markets. Really, the amount of output depends on the amount of input. So, if dollars are put into promoting tourism in Australia, the output will come through the additional tourists who will spend their money in this country.

  The government is denying those particular tourist operators the export market development grants which are so vital to them to persuade people overseas to visit Australia and to bring with them the export income which is so important to us. That is of particular interest today when we hear that our balance of payments deficit is running in the order of $1.8 billion for the month. If ever anything needed to be promoted it is an industry such as this which not only will improve our balance of payments but will also reduce the number of unemployed which, as everyone is aware, was brought about, according to the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), by the recession we had to have.

  Punishing the attractions that draw the critical mass of tourists in the first place will ultimately extend to and damage the accommodation, service and restaurant industries. Indeed, it will punish every one of those single tourism operators that it is meant to help. As I said, the thing has all the appearances of a sham. The tourist who takes a taxi from the airport, checks into a hotel or resort, eats a meal at a restaurant and then goes shopping, is a tourist who, it is over 80 per cent likely, has visited in the first place because of a theme park—as you, Mr Acting Deputy President, would be very well aware, living on the Gold Coast.

  So the government is effectively claiming to protect the interests of small business by including it in the export market development grants scheme and then undermining its potential by obstructing the influx into its market. It is a chain reaction. It is an assault on the industry as a whole—an industry which is the greatest Australian export of all. Tourism represents 10 per cent of Australia's total export earnings. It has a greater income for this country than wheat, wool, machinery, gold, manufactures, coal—the list goes on.

  Given that operators requiring marketing facilitators such as theme parks attract the bulk of international tourists and given that small, single service operators require this critical mass to thrive on, one has to ask how genuine is this government's interest in maximising the tourism industry's potential when it implements administrative discrimination against the tourism attractions.

  On behalf of the coalition, I call on this government to fully recognise the importance of tourism and come clean on export market development grants. Flowery rhetoric by the Minister for Tourism (Mr Lee) on this matter must be backed by positive action.