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Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia
06/07/2017
Opportunities and methods for stimulating the tourism industry in Northern Australia

GSCHWIND, Mr Daniel, Chief Executive, Queensland Tourism Industry Council

ROBSON, Ms Sophia, Executive Shadow Student, The University of Queensland

[09:05]

CHAIR: Welcome. These hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament. The giving of false or misleading information is a serious matter and may be deemed to be a contempt of the parliament. Evidence today is being recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I invite you to give us a brief opening statement and we'll fire off some questions.

Mr Gschwind : Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee. I appreciate it. This is a matter dear to our hearts and very close to our organisation's interests. I will follow my script, just to make sure I get it right, but I'm more than happy to discuss anything afterwards. We are the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, QTIC. We are the state's peak representative organisation. We are a not-for-profit, member owned organisation. We have more than 2,000 regional members and also include in our membership 13 regional tourism organisations in Queensland and more than a dozen sector associations. We are a complicated industry, as I'm sure you would appreciate. We are not a marketing organisation; we are solely focused on industry representation and business development.

My initial comments here I put under the headings of your terms of reference. First, you inquire about domestic and international tourism and its various segments. Since our submission, which I assume you have, was completed, the official stats have been updated in relation to tourism, and they confirm that tourism is not only the most significant contributor to income and jobs in northern Australia but is also showing the strongest transit growth. The tourism regions of Queensland that fall into northern Australia, which are Southern Great Barrier Reef—Gladstone, Rockhampton and Bundaberg—Mackay, The Whitsundays, Townsville, Tropical North Queensland and most of the outback, combined attract $6.6 billion worth of visitor expenditure from more than eight million visitors annually: about 1½ million international visitors and six point something million domestic visitors. Those figures are for the year to March 2017. Domestic visitors make up about 80 per cent of all visitors to North Queensland. About half of the international visitors to Queensland go to North Queensland, but only a third of domestic visitors, which is interesting. I am not sure how to interpret that, but those are the facts. Growth has remained strong that year. I will draw your attention to the fact that the growth in the northern part of Queensland has been less strong than in the southern part. It may have something to do with the decline in business travel to northern Queensland, but, nevertheless, it does illustrate the fact that we cannot assume anything about the future. We can take nothing for granted and have to work for our share of the pie, as it were.

The outlook and the potential for tourism is very positive and is driven by economic factors, demographics and consumer changes. You are all consumers of tourism, as am I, and we all know how our own tastes have changed, and it works in our favour. We have rising affluence in many of our source markets, particularly in South-East Asia and northern Asia. Air travel is relatively cheap. So international and Australian forecasts predict that tourism demand globally will grow at at least twice the rate of the rest of the economy. This is actually a modest expectation, considering that the latest detailed analysis provided by Tourism Research Australia, only the last week, reveals that for gross state product in Queensland and Northern Territory and Western Australia in 2015-16—the figures lag a little bit but are the latest we have—the contribution by tourism to the overall economy has grown by a staggering amount. I can give you those figures. In Queensland, not just Northern Queensland, tourism has grown in terms of contribution to GSP by 8.7 per cent, while the rest of the economy grew by two and half per cent. In the Territory, the tourism economy has grown by 6.1 per cent, when the overall economy did not grow at all. In WA, the tourism economy for the year grew at 6.6 per cent, when the rest of the economy declined by 4.3 per cent. We can see who is doing the heavy lifting here, and where the enormous potential is.

Having painted this very positive picture, I do emphasise again that an opportunity, as it is presented in the forecasts will remain just that. It is opportunity and potential if we do not actually take decisive steps to capture it. Tourism is highly competitive, and most countries around us have long discovered that tourism is not only a source of enormous wealth but can also deliver all the other benefits we associate with it, like employment, across a very large range of professions, and I say 'professions', advisedly. They are professions, and not just short-term jobs. It's not just waitressing and cooking; it's all the other jobs that come with it like the engineers, the pilots, the coach drivers, the architects and all those professions that are needed and prevalent in the tourism industry. It brings local community development. Most of the tourism dollars that go into those regions stay in that region. They are circulated again and again in the communities. Local pride should not be underestimated. It is very important how we feel about ourselves and about our communities, when we can show it off to visitors. There are better amenity values for residents. Where would you rather live: a place that is attractive to tourists or one that is not? There is cultural heritage preservation and the way we value and enhance and sustain our natural assets. That is of huge benefit to tourism.

There are also the business and personal relationships that are generated through visitations from tourism, whether you travel to visit friends and relatives for holidays or for other purposes. We have an enormous opportunity to do something very special in northern Australia. Geographically, it is the front of our block. It is not the back end. It is what is facing our nearest neighbours. It is rich in natural land and seascapes and rich in cultures. It is vastly intact and in its natural state and it is very big. It also lies in the tropical zone of the planet, which is where the fastest-growing populations are. That is where we are at, and that is where the planet and it's population will grow. But, uniquely, we are also in this tropical zone but have well-established urban centres. We have cities that have infrastructure and the capacity to deliver benefits into those tropical regions, which differentiates us substantially from our competitors around the tropical ring. We can and should be a leader in this tropical space, and we should be a leader in demonstrating how we can manage it and how we can successfully live in it and sustain ourselves.

I will draw attention to James Cook University's effort in that regard. Sandra Harding, the vice chancellor, is taking enormous strides and showing great leadership with their State of the Tropics reports and their conferences where they are really position the tropics aspects of northern Australia as an innovative centre. I think such skills can be accumulated and will become increasingly valuable, not least given the challenges the tropical zone will face as a result of global warming. There is absolutely no doubt about that, and we can be a leader in this.

I ensure that tourism in all its forms—and you mentioned them in your terms of reference; education, cultural business, scientific—can be a real catalyst for beneficial and long-term growth in the north, but we have to be realistic about our limitations. That is what your inquiry is about, I assume. I say this really deliberately: we also have to be aspirational in our goals, just marginal changes just north of Jakarta, if we really want to be competitive, if we really want to make a difference.

The second term of reference is the role of peak bodies, communities and governments. There are a number of very specific suggestions in our submission, but the three messages I really want to leave you with are that all the parties that you mention and all the parties that have a stake in this really have to get better at working together in a coordinated way. Each of us, whether it is government, industry organisations or communities, have specific skills, expertise and sometimes resources but I don't think—going to the point I overheard before—we need too many new structures and organisations. I shudder a little when I hear this.

We need to focus on common purpose locally and across the north. We have to have a shared ambition: we need to actually know where we're going. We all work together best when we're facing a crisis or a huge challenge—we all get together and save the neighbour's house et cetera. We don't need anybody to tell us how to organise, if we all know where we're going.

I've attended a number of conferences on northern Australia, and I occasionally leave a little bit worried that everybody is very enthusiastic, but everybody walks out with a completely different vision of what they think is going to happen. We are all in the cheer squad but, actually, there is something entirely different in all our heads that could really bring us unstuck on this.

The second message about working together is: we have to be open to what has already been discussed and worked out. You don't have to have been in our industry for very long to realise that we have an enormous library of strategies and plans, including for the north, that have been crafted out of long and in-depth consultations, including with industry. I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than for industry to be asked to go along—and I don't mean to this inquiry—to consultation processes, meetings and work improves over and over again on very similar topics. For us, it is one challenge but, for a small business operator, it is a big deal to take hours and days sometimes to travel to another place to discuss these things when you feel that maybe the stuff we already have planned and discussed is not going anywhere.

We don't need a new strategy every time somebody has a new idea. Most things are already somehow articulated in the plans that we have, and at least some of them are federal, state, local sometimes and industry plans. Let's make sure we pick out the best things from all of these and line them up in an effective way. Strategies can be adjusted, updated, to new circumstances, but let's not go back to square one every time. It's just not useful.

An important aspect of this is that—again, I heard you speaking about this in the previous session—we have to line up the investment and resources that are available with those strategies so we don't have a separate universe for funding, funding opportunities and grants and another universe for what we really want to do. We have to line all this up and make sure the investment that governments, industry organisations and communities make actually matches our estimations. I don't think that is always the case.

The third and final message under this heading is that we need to make sure that we broaden the scope of our tourism thinking a bit. Because tourism is so central and catalytic, we have to broaden it to include all the interest groups and sectors that are related but perhaps not really engaged in what we talk about. I am referring to education, science, research and Indigenous interests; we have to make sure that we include them in our tourism thinking. You cannot develop tourism separate to the community, separate to the business environment—you just can't do that. We have to make sure that we have a holistic approach and that has the potential to make Northern Australia a real leader in using tourism as a growth driver and in achieving development goals. I refer to these ambitious and necessary goals as they are articulated, for instance, in the sustainable development goals that the Australian government has signed up to—achieving 17 sustainable development goals which we have to start reporting on. How can we make sure that we take some cues from that and say, 'Well, here we have great opportunities and a great blank canvas to be really strong on that.' It would be a really good opportunity.

Finally, the last term of reference is about communication and transport infrastructure. You know this better than I do, but we face a natural disadvantage with the cost of core infrastructure for business and the community. The second big challenge is that we need some additional tourism specific facilities that can act as a catalyst for private sector development. Specifically, I am thinking of transport connectivity and amenities in natural areas—in national parks we have to have more amenities and product development opportunities in those areas. Again, we can direct some of the existing government funding with more purpose, perhaps, towards those objectives. I am not professing to be an expert, but I struggle a little bit to see whether all the opportunities are covered off by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. Whether—

CHAIR: It is not intended to. It is for major projects. It is not intended for building a shithouse in a bloody national park.

Mr Gschwind : No, I know that. If there are bigger projects like roads—we just have to make sure that it lines up effectively. That is my point.

CHAIR: I agree with a lot of what you have said. However, as the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, you should have a good overview of what is happening right across the state. You say that you do not want additional structures, and I agree with you that it would be great not to have them—and we all get in to save the neighbour's house. You can argue that very well for established centres—whether it be Cairns, the Whitsundays or the Gold Coast; I think even Broome has a pretty good tourism structure, as has Darwin, Uluru, Alice Springs and many other centres outside of Queensland—but why isn't the industry as a group of good neighbours getting out there and supporting areas where there is huge potential. I will make reference to our previous witness, the Outback Queensland Tourism Association, who are really lost as to where they have to go and what they have to do.

There is no doubt that there is a huge amount of product available out there that is desperately sought by people when they land on the Gold Coast, in Brisbane, in Cairns or wherever. But, first of all, it is not available because, in many cases, they do not realise what they're sitting on in these areas. So how do we get the message out, whether it be out in bloody whoop-whoop in the Territory, in the Kimberley area or in the Pilbara area? They all have absolutely magnificent natural areas. A lot of these remote communities have the most amazing stories to tell of their culture, but they're looking at how they're going to get their next feed or how they're going to deal with a whole range of other things—unprecedented youth suicides and things like that. These sorts of opportunities could help them out.

Who's giving them advice and direction and saying, 'You guys have got a really great product sitting in here. All you need to do is focus on this, and we can offer you a little bit of mentoring.' We had a program called the Indigenous Tourism Champions program. It doesn't exist anymore—

Mr Gschwind : Ours does and maybe the national one—

CHAIR: They shut it down, and they have something else—a better one. We haven't heard about it, and we're going to be very keen to see what this 'better' program is and what is delivered. Do you understand?

Mr Gschwind : I am sorry to interrupt, but—

CHAIR: That's all right.

Mr Gschwind : The network of the champions that you're referring to is a federal initiative that has been discontinued.

CHAIR: We're talking federally here, right across northern Australia.

Mr Gschwind : I know. We have the Indigenous Employment Champions Network, which we have had for eight years in Queensland. We had no resources to fund that, other than a very small amount—I cannot remember the number—to get it started. The idea of the network is to do peer mentoring. We now have about 30 large and small businesses getting together and talking about, 'How do we get more Indigenous people into mainstream employment?' In the eight years that we have done that under our own steam, on the smell of an oily rag—and, most recently, thankfully, with the support of The Star Entertainment Group—we have placed more than 600 Indigenous people into mainstream businesses in Queensland. We are now starting to tentatively go into helping business development. We have no resources—

CHAIR: That's fine. There are lots of initiatives where young Indigenous kids get helped into a range of opportunities in established tourism areas. I'm talking about getting out past those established tourism areas and identifying product and saying, 'This is what's being discussed.' The RDA yesterday put up a proposal. It may be within the RDA—we don't know. We are saying that, when you've got a lot of people outside the established areas saying, 'What have we got? Where do we find it? How do we make it happen—

Mr Gschwind : That's a resource question. We know what has to happen but we are one business. I have two Indigenous employees in an organisation of 14 staff and we work on these projects. It's very labour intensive. We have no resources. We have no access to funding.

CHAIR: I appreciate what you are saying about why you're not doing it or why we can't do it, but the important question for this committee, and what we are trying to find out here is, how we identify opportunities for people out at, for example, Doomadgee, Borroloola, near Port Bing Bong—where they have now stopped the minerals—or out in the McArthur River area or in closer.

Mr SNOWDON: Or in Normanton.

CHAIR: Yes, Normanton. How do we identify opportunities out there and encourage the local landholders, who are often the traditional owners, to get involved? You're saying it's a resources issue, but I'm saying to you that that may well be the case but tell us how we cover it. This is what we're trying to find out—not why it's not being done but how can we do it.

Mr Gschwind : To be very specific, we have, for instance, an annual forum for Indigenous tourism, and in that forum we bring about 100 to 150 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together and talk about success. We have the example of north Queensland a couple of years ago. We had them present what they were doing, how they entered partnerships and how the business worked. That inspires other businesses, which has happened since, so we have other Indigenous businesses across Queensland—and some from other states as well—that take their cue. We all learn the same way: by good examples. So we have to create—and we are—platforms where people can come together and understand. 'Oh, this is how this works.' It is not a lecture in a university, school or something; it is learning from your peers and understanding what works.

It is hard work. You have to be out there. You have to talk. You have to engage. You have to use existing relations and build relationships. It is not putting up a brochure saying, 'Who wants to do a great tourism project?' It does not work. You have to go out there, speak to the people, show them, engage them in existing businesses and make them understand to do it. Most of the time in the past we have said not just to Indigenous businesses but to non-Indigenous businesses, 'Don't do it. It's not going to work. These are the reasons why your idea needs further development or potentially would never work.' You need to be realistic. You need to give good cues of what actually is an opportunity, why other things have failed and why things have been successful. By supporting these initiatives—and not just ours; it is others doing other things. We have the same challenge with the state agencies. There is a department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, and they try to support us, but it is so bureaucratic that, by the time we get around to actually receiving some money, it is too late.

CHAIR: You are responsible in Queensland, and we have the Territory and Western Australia and as well that we are focusing on. We are trying to do this as a regional inquiry. We are not targeting you specifically, but understand that, where we are going, people in many cases have no idea what they are sitting on. They are desperate to be engaged, but they have no idea what they are sitting on and they do not know where to meet. We had the people come to us the day before yesterday. Yes, it is an outstanding thing, but how do we get—and this is not a criticism. This was raised yesterday in Townsville by two different witnesses, and one was across the entire region RDAs. We found it quite amazing that in Townsville they have gone from three to 11 and are looking at 18 ships coming in very shortly. They have about 3,000 people disembarking for a short period of time. They have one—one—Indigenous experience in Townsville an hour away from the port. They have no real idea of what other products. They do not want to build Taj Mahals—and the last thing they need is Taj Mahals—but how do we get a message not only to Townsville but to all those areas that are off the tourism track and have huge potential to grow and are necessary for the industry? How do we do an audit, identify areas and then reach out to those that have the capacity?

Mr Gschwind : You say capacity. It has a lot to do with capacity and skills. We are obsessed with putting our tourism resources only into marketing. The federal government's effort in Tourism Australia is a 100 per cent marketing focus.

CHAIR: And that is all overseas.

Mr Gschwind : That is all overseas. Domestically across all states and territories the government's investment is in marketing. That is fine, but the things you challenged me on are product development and capacity building, and that does not get any support.

CHAIR: That is what I want to know. How do we give it the support? I am talking about northern Australia from Broome across to Rockhampton and down to Karratha.

Mr Gschwind : I will give you an example. The federal government maintains what is now called the tourism demand driver infrastructure grant, which has something of a history but is about $10 million. It is a tiny grant program. It was implemented to support product development and infrastructure development.

CHAIR: Is it the one with a $750,000 turnover for business?

Mr Gschwind : No, it is a sort of dollar-for-dollar thing. It has now been handed over to each state and territory. In Queensland, for instance, the port gets $2 million a year at the moment. We had to fight tooth and nail to get some of that $2 million allocated or available for capacity building—the things you talk about. The Commonwealth wanted all the money to go into bricks and mortar only. That is not the only thing we need. We also need soft infrastructure. We have to have it. The only, tiny pot of money we have available for the whole of Queensland is now $500,000 out of that pot that we get to spend with organisations like the witness here before. We go to them with that half a million and say, 'What soft infrastructure, what capacity building, what product development initiatives do you want to support in your region?' That is all there is. There is no other funding source.

CHAIR: Okay. How do we go to organisations like the Outback Queensland Tourism Association, which covers 13? They do not know—

Mr Gschwind : They are marketing things.

CHAIR: Yes, but they are marketing in bits and pieces that are established. They do not know what other opportunities are out there, and so those things get left begging. I do not disagree with you. I was talking about the adequacy of this. Maybe if there were a greater amount and it were leveraged by the states and territories it would put up a better contribution. And, yes, it could be softer infrastructure. There is another one—the Northern Australia Tourism Initiative—

Mr Gschwind : I have never heard of it.

CHAIR: There you go. I find it absolutely bizarre. But this one here you have to have a turnover of $750,000-plus to access. How are you going to do that with a lot of these small northern Australia businesses for which that is aspirational? It is out of touch. You are an expert in this field. We need you to tell us how we make this work.

Mr Gschwind : You were referring to the Outback Queensland Tourism Association. I do not off the top of my head know their budget, but they are flat out maintaining two or three staff. With the membership money that they get, every member wants to know: 'Where did you put me in the brochure? What have you done for my marketing?' They have no capacity to focus on the issues you are raising. They have no capacity.

CHAIR: How do we do it?

Mr Gschwind : By resourcing the existing structures. This brings me back to that point. Helping the people who are on the ground who wear out their shoe leather increases their capacity to focus on these non-marketing-type initiatives. Engage with them to find out what it is they need. 'Do you need to improve your digital skills? Do you need to improve your business management skills, whether you are Indigenous or non-Indigenous?' That is often lacking. How do you improve those skills so you can make an assessment of whether your idea is actually going to work?

CHAIR: We have a focus exclusively on northern Australia, and I know you guys have all of Queensland. One of these questions is whether we put extra dollars into an organisation like a coordination and tourism audit area within the Office of Northern Australia or something like that. I do not know.

Mr Gschwind : If it is about channelling support and funding to who is on the ground, you do not want to have a situation where people fly in, tell the locals what to do and then go away, that just does not work. You have to really support the locals. That is what I keep saying. You have to engage with them. Whether it is Indigenous or non-Indigenous, can you imagine if we rocked up somewhere up in Cape York and said: 'Here, this is what you do. We figured this out in Brisbane'? It fails. We have to sit down and talk this through.

CHAIR: We have this committee because people like you should have some idea how we can make this work.

Mr Gschwind : I will give you another example. A few years ago we decided we needed to push innovation into our industry more. Again we had no support, but we decided we were going to pick then and challenged our industry to tell us the most innovative thing they have done over the last year, so we could inspire others to do it.

Interestingly enough, the first winner of our prize, which attracted state government support and a mentoring program, came from the outback. You were, in the previous session, talking about outback products. This third-generation grazier from Longreach figured out that because of the drought he had to diversify his business and thought he would get into this tourism caper. As a consequence of his active engagement and hard work, he told me only recently that for the last four or five years he has never accessed a single dollar from drought relief. Instead, he funded his entire farm, family and business through the tourism dollars. That's how he fed his cattle. He's never accessed any drought subsidy because he was able to and clever enough to engage in this. Because he had that support, which we were able to give him because he won this prize of a long-term, multiyear, hand-holding mentoring program with business experts who helped him to diversify his program, he's now got retail, tours, accommodation and a boat—all sorts of things going on out there. It's still tough, but he was able to do that because he was given that support and that mentoring. We need more programs like this so that people are not just cutting a ribbon and saying to someone, 'We're helping you build some new thing' but are actually helping them to get better, improve their skills and engage with the broader industry. That's what we need. You need to put fuel through the pipeline—don't just get a new pipeline every five minutes. You need to support the things and the programs—do an audit.

CHAIR: Okay, we're going to throw some fuel into the pipeline. I have LNG. Which pipeline do we feed it into that is going to be able to provide information to these remoter areas that have potential? These are areas that they should be focusing on and giving the opportunity to. Which pipeline?

Mr Gschwind : Our country thrived on agriculture for a very long time. It still does. The reason why it was so successful is there was a coordinated effort to have extension programs in the industry. There were people going out, meeting with the farmers and sitting down with them—and they still do that—in different sectors. That kind of 'extension program'—

CHAIR: That's not a bad idea, is it? Maybe the pipeline that we need there is to add something to the Office of Northern Australia that will facilitate that to go out—

Mr Gschwind : If you sit out in a community or on your property somewhere in northern Australia—it doesn't matter which bit of it—often you're in a very lonely place. It's a long way to anywhere. I don't need to tell you that. It's all very easy for us here to say: 'I'll just go down the road and talk to so and so. I'll get a bit of expertise and attend a session somewhere.' That's not what it looks like from—

CHAIR: We've got Kununurra, Darwin and Cairns, and then there's Townsville and the other—

Mr Gschwind : You need trusted people on the ground with the right knowledge who are there for the long haul, who can engage and who can be trusted. I think that that is a very important thing.

CHAIR: Would you agree that, for a northern Australia tourism initiative, a $750,000 entry point makes it impossible or prohibitive for a lot of small ones to access?

CHAIR: That's a very scary amount of money for most of these people. Signing up to anything with that number of zeros is a scary prospect, so I think you do need, if you are not changing this program, other programs to make it more accessible—absolutely.

CHAIR: I'm sorry to hold the floor here, but there's one other point you made in relation to development. You were talking about the need for money to go into national parks and that for infrastructure facilities. That's come up regularly here. But, from what you're saying, there's an expectation that that money should be spent by the state or federal government to provide that?

Mr Gschwind : Yes.

CHAIR: A lot of people from within the industry have been complaining about the difficulty, because, for most of the areas that people would like to see, they generally put some sort of protection around them, right?

Mr Gschwind : Yes.

CHAIR: There is a lot of concern about the fact that operators—experienced operators who know what they are doing and are quite prepared to provide that infrastructure, whether it be accommodation or tours or whatever it might be—are having huge problems with access, whether through permit issues, on the water or on the land. They are finding it almost impossible to get joint venture arrangements and so on. Would you agree that that is a major issue?

Mr Gschwind : I would 100 per cent agree. There are different models. You can have the public sector or the government build the infrastructure or operate it. That is generally not very successful when it comes to commercial—

CHAIR: The federal government built a whole lot of boardwalks up in the Daintree about 15 years ago, on national parks, and the national parks have not spent a cent on them and now they are coming back saying they want them to rebuild them because they have all fallen down—no maintenance.

Mr Gschwind : Well, we are 100 per cent on the same page as you. We have been arguing for appropriate maintenance. We think the maintenance budget is woefully inadequate. So, yes to all the things you said. We need more innovative models for investment. Sometimes it may be the private sector that provides the capital. If it is in a national park it will always be some sort of lease arrangement, or the ownership will always revert back, obviously. But we clearly need innovative models that are appropriate for the setting. It is quite different whether you are in the Daintree or a vast savanna park. It may be a different solution that is needed. But surely we can get over the sometimes very entrenched positions about what a national park is and what it is for. We can get over that and find solutions—

CHAIR: And review access issues.

Mr Gschwind : Absolutely. That is critical.

Senator DODSON: In another life, when the North's ministerial forum operated—I am not sure whether it still does, but it was operating at one stage—I co-chaired a committee with Mr Yu and we drew on Indigenous representation from North Queensland and the Kimberley precisely to look at some of these challenges around employment and how it could enhance capacity of soft infrastructure and hard infrastructure. The Commonwealth and Western Australian governments were also injecting that funding into the Ord Stage II development—the hard and soft infrastructure development for the town of Kununurra. And what emerged from there was the notion—not a commercial sense of a prospectus but a prospectus concept—that the challenge was that you needed to consult with the Indigenous peoples, and what of their lands they were prepared to discuss for the various forms of development, tourism being one of those things, and build that profile up so that if investors were interested, or to get collaboration with others, then you would have a list of people you would go to and say, 'This is what this mob are talking about; are you happy to have a dialogue or discussion or negotiation?'

Now, that never gained any traction. When we get to the Northern Territory I am sure that Joe Morrison from the Northern Land Council will want to speak about the prospectus. It never got any support either, but the resourcing to get the work done, to get the data, and the opportunities—which I think is part of what you are raising—and then to leverage that in a manner that is compatible with industry goals: it has to take on board conservation matters if it is a national park, but also the Indigenous people's aspirations in terms of participation. But it does require the mentoring and the support et cetera. So, there is some work that has been done in that field. I am just wondering whether the Queensland component of that ever got picked up, because the minister responsible from this state, the Territory and Western Australia at the time, and the federal minister, were grappling with these ideas. How much of that fed back anywhere I do not know.

Mr Gschwind : I can't answer that and that is a shame. I should be able to say, 'Yes, that's great. That initiative went here and there and was built on,' but I can't.

CHAIR: Our secretary has a ready put a note on that to see whether that may well be the way we go on this.

Mr Gschwind : It is important to shape this vision and to share where we are heading. Then you can build expertise and knowledge around this.

Mr SNOWDON: But we also need to think about what already exists.

CHAIR: Yes, and how we can build on it.

Mr SNOWDON: Not only that, but there are organisations in the Commonwealth domain that have money that is not being deployed in a proactive way, like IBA. What the hell do they do?

CHAIR: Bugger-all, and a little bit less.

Mr SNOWDON: I reckon we should get IBA up and we should talk to them about how they are promoting investment and what they are doing to mentor and build new businesses.

CHAIR: And what they are doing with tourism.

Mr Gschwind : That is precisely my point.

Mr SNOWDON: Yes, that is understood. The interesting question here is the figures you used for potential demand for new workers: nearly 23,500 by 2020.

Mr Gschwind : In Queensland.

Mr SNOWDON: In Queensland. Currently there is a shortage of 10,500. How do you overcome the employee shortage when you are providing a product and, more importantly, how do you build a pipeline of employees?

Mr Gschwind : That is a very strong focus of ours as an organisation and we are putting a lot of effort into this. There is often a mismatch between what employers expect and what training providers deliver. So we spend a lot of time bringing those two closer together, and, wherever possible, we line up the funding, if you like, that generally state government's make available for vocational education and training. We try to line this up and engage, and also engage trainees, students and people who may come in from another labour pool and make sure the dots line up. The Queensland government is currently—and we have an involvement in this—developing a tourism workforce plan, which has a very decentralised approach. Through consultation it has sought to identify what practical steps we can take in Cairns, Townsville and the outback to match this a bit more. What is the problem? Is the problem that the courses are not available, is the problem that the expectations are not right or is the problem that there are no opportunities for continuous employment because of the seasonality in the outback and in North Queensland? It is sometimes detailed work that you have to delve into. It is a bizarre situation when we say we need all these people and we have a shortage of labour and yet our unemployment rate is so high, particularly in North Queensland. What is going on? That is very important work.

Senator DODSON: I asked one of the professors from James Cook University the other day about whether there was any kind of overarching or seminal work around Indigenous participation in tourism which we could be directed to assist in some of the baseline discussions we are having here. Are you aware of anything like that or is there anything being conducted that would help respond to some of the questions that have been thrown up here?

Ms Robson : Within my degree?

Mr SNOWDON: Do you know of any?

Ms Robson : I know of the ones associated with the Queensland Tourism Industry Council but, as far as what I have learnt so far, I am not aware of that many.

Senator DODSON: Would you be able to give us a compendium of those?

Mr Gschwind : We can provide that to you. We are happy to show you what we have.

Senator DODSON: Particular the ones where there is something happening, and the challenges.

CHAIR: We are trying to find a solution here. Clearly we know what the problems are, and you are saying, 'These are the issues. There's lots of stuff out there, let's not reinvent the wheel,' which we absolutely agree with. But let's find the ones that are not working and let's find out whether or not we can put a new battery in and what we need to do.

Mr Gschwind : A good analogy.

CHAIR: Let's find out which cap we have to take off to pour the fuel in.

Senator DODSON: What adapters we have to put onto the taps.

Mr Gschwind : Some of the things are in our submission and that is why we put a fair bit of effort into saying 'This is already happening.' I think it is important to build on that.

Ms LANDRY: I just want to ask about the resorts along the Queensland coastline. We did go to Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach and had feedback from the northern part, but I live around Rockhampton, and there is Great Keppel Island off there which has been inactive for about seven years with the main resort. Have you got any thoughts about how we can assist some of those islands? Some of them are really struggling. Do you have any thoughts about how to market them more to Australian tourists and also to international tourists? A lot of people seem to go to Bali or Thailand and those sorts of places now rather than going there. As to your campaign to market particular areas, like where I am on the southern Great Barrier Reef, do you think people identify where that actually is?

Mr Gschwind : We are all marketing experts, I suppose, in some sense. I am not advocating one or the other, but, by all accounts, the southern Great Barrier Reef collaboration has worked well between Rockhampton or Capricorn, Gladstone and Bundaberg. They have at least pooled their resources. So I think they have done a pretty good job at that. The challenge with islands is, and will always be, access and cost. It is extremely expensive to run an island resort. Very few of them make any kind of money. Most of them struggle with costs, including labour, and the turnover on an island is very important. So I think we need to do a little bit more to address all the cost issues and to make the labour movement a bit easier. We had an initiative that we tried to kick off, with island staff moving from the snowfields in Victoria to the north of Queensland when the seasons allowed. There is some life in that. But to offer continuous employment, careers and a better sort of cost thing has to be a key focus. You know that all the islands struggle. It is not just Keppel; all the islands are really having a hard time.

Ms LANDRY: Yes, they are. Some of them were telling us that they had 120 per cent turnover of staff in those areas.

Mr Gschwind : Have you been to Hamilton, as an inquiry?

Ms LANDRY: Yes, we have been to Hamilton.

Mr Gschwind : I do not know whether they spoke about this to you, but what is interesting on Hamilton—and Glenn Bourke, the CEO there, would tell you this, I am sure—is that they addressed their staffing issues by amping up the training they do on the island and the form of training that they offer to their staff. And, since they started doing this a few years ago, their retentions have improved out of sight. That is not just a nice thing. It is actually a cost saving thing, because having a new staff member every six months is extremely expensive, so having them stay another six months saves them tens of thousands of dollars. These are some of the issues we need to address collaboratively.

Ms LANDRY: If you did work out something about, as you say, going from the snowfields to the islands or whatever, it would keep them all in work, wouldn't it, and your retention rate may be higher because they have a permanent job.

Mr Gschwind : Absolutely.

Ms LANDRY: I think that is why they do leave, a lot of them—they do not get the hours they want, and they are stuck in an isolated area, and the novelty probably wears off quickly. But if it is a stepping stone in their career then it would probably move them along a bit easier.

Mr Gschwind : Absolutely. I want to go not off-topic but off-submission a little bit. I came here about thirty-something years ago, and, when I looked at the map of Australia, I always thought, 'This is going to be a great place. It is so close to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It sort of flows into Asia, really.' I have discovered since, of course, that that is not at all the case. You do not travel through these places to get here. But I think it is one of the great opportunities in the context of northern Australia to, as I said, make the front of our block a bit more accessible and a bit more inviting, and I think there are some great opportunities in the Torres Strait and then in the Territory and in Western Australia. There are some genuine frontiers, and we step over them as we go anywhere, really, from Australia; we just fly over them. But I think that, long term, there is something we can do and should be doing to connect this a little bit more and to spruce up the front yard of our block—

CHAIR: I honestly believe that the product overwhelmingly does not mean to say that we are going to be looking at mass tourism.

Mr Gschwind : No.

CHAIR: That is the last thing that is needed in a lot of these areas. But there could certainly be a focus on the boutique, high-yield and unique experiences not only in the Indigenous communities but also the remote properties and things like that. People are busting their guts to get out there. They would give their eye tooth for it. Accessibility to these areas is becoming harder and harder.

Mr Gschwind : That is a big issue.

CHAIR: State governments are locking up more and more areas. Every time you see a special area they lock it up. Clearly, they do not put in the necessary infrastructure, let alone the management plans—evidence supports this—to manage it. It is important with private property, particularly where you have Indigenous groups who are the traditional owners and who have had the land handed back to them, that the owners should be able to do more than just natural resource management. They should be able to identify key tourism opportunities. Whether they build five-star accommodation or tents or have interpreter tours, they should be facilitated in doing that.

Mr Gschwind : Absolutely. We have something really special. It is pretty amazing what is up there. Many of our markets are eager to experience some of this stuff and to share in it. It is a big place, with unbelievable aspects. We can make a lot of that, but there are access costs and skills in doing that.

Senator DODSON: It does seem to me that a lot of the discussion that we have been having is about potential greenfields in the tourism industry and thinking of it more laterally, as you are trying to challenge us to do, in terms of Northern Australia; that is fine. I am just wondering whether there is any thinking going into the encounter component of communication. Australia has this unique diversity of cultures. We use this term 'multicultural', but it may not be the proper term. The world is in a state of flux and there is tension in many places. Given that we have such a rich, diverse and inclusive cultural experience as human beings here in a very unique part of the world, I am wondering whether that is not in itself a product that is being utilised to enhance our tourism trade.

Mr Gschwind : We make nowhere near enough of that. If we said that we have discovered a tribe in Mexico that has direct links to the Mayan culture or if we suddenly found a town in Egypt that could trace its heritage straight back to the pharaohs, we would have millions of people trekking there immediately. We have that here. We have a culture that can look straight back thousands of years and that is still living and still functioning in many places. We can make a lot more of that. There is the non-Indigenous parts of the history in the Torres Strait and across Northern Australia—

Senator DODSON: I am talking about the contemporary Australian reality.

Mr SNOWDON: Polyglots live in Brisbane. This is a culture which is a melding of so many other cultures that live harmoniously together. 'Isn't that worth marketing?' is what Pat is talking about.

Mr Gschwind : Of course—including Northern Australia. Sadly, many people who live in the southern parts of the country have seen very little of Northern Australia, other than perhaps the Whitsundays and Cairns. The same way that most—

Mr SNOWDON: That is why they never come back!

Mr Gschwind : I think we could make more of this.

CHAIR: Your submission is very useful, and we appreciate it.

Mr Gschwind : Thank you.

CHAIR: It is excellent. This issue has been consistently raised. A lot of them have amazing stuff and had no idea that they had actually got it there or what to do with it.

Mr Gschwind : That is right. It is soft infrastructure, skills and capacity.

CHAIR: We have got to get that out. There were a couple of suggestions on how we could do that, and you have given us another focus there in relation to your empty pipes. We need to find which one we need—but we need to do what is appropriate. It needs somebody on the ground to go out, have a look at these areas, come back, do an audit of it and say, 'These are the areas here,' right across so we can develop opportunities here. Once they realise they have got something to offer, this is where organisations like yours can come in and offer mentoring or support in helping to develop that product, and that is going to benefit the respective states and territories.

Do you have any other insights you would like to offer?

Mr Gschwind : No.

CHAIR: Our cut-off date is 21 July. We will be inviting the IBA to say hello and will certainly have some questions for them. Thank you very much for your time.