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Tourism and Transport Industry Leaders' Summit, Canberra: keynote address.

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National Party of Australia  |  Liberal Party of Australia

Speeches AS26/2002 26 September 2002




Well Chris, thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here today and to be able to talk to you. I do regard you as a very important industry - I've never been your minister, and you're probably very relieved about that, but certainly my portfolio responsibilities I think are important to you, and I certainly acknowledge your importance to the overall economy, but more particularly in terms of my interests for regional Australia.

So Chris, thank you. Good morning to you all, and I certainly also acknowledge that your father I think is retiring shortly - what's he going to do? - and that Les Cassar will be your interim chairman. It's great to be with you, and can I say we do attach a very great importance to your industry, as befits an industry which now generates over half a million jobs and more than 10 percent of Australia's exports. It always amazes people in country regions - because I don't think they are very conscious of it - that well over 200,000 people now, depending on how you define regional areas, derive their livelihoods from the tourism industry. So we take it seriously, we're refining our vision for the industry - we recognise there are some challenges before you -- with the development of our 10 Year Plan for Tourism. I understand that Joe Hockey will be talking to you about that later during the day with something of a focus on the importance of tourism to regional communities.

If could focus today, though, on two of our key policy areas: transport, for one, and secondly, strengthening regional Australia. Both of them, I think, will see an interconnection with the future of your industry. We're seeking to look beyond the short-term issues and tomorrow's headlines; we're looking to make the hard decisions that will set us up for the longer term.

Transport, as you in the industry keep reminding me, is of incredible importance to you. It's going to be of very great importance to Australia in general over the next couple of decades. Quite simply, our transport needs are growing very rapidly indeed. It's estimated that by 2020 our freight task will have doubled and the task of passenger movements will have increased by around half. We really, I have to say, are not, at this point in time, well enough equipped and prepared to ensure that we're going to be able to cope with that sort of increase in traffic. So we really need to look very closely at how we're going to handle it. A couple of interesting statistics in relation to regional tourism: private cars account for over 80 percent of the total passenger transport task, and they're the strongly preferred mode of travel for domestic passenger trips that are less than 400 kilometres, and remain important even in longer trips.

So we do face this problem, though, of the overall passenger task growing so rapidly, coupled with some real issues surrounding things like the cost of congestion, which is estimated - in the case of our major capital cities - to rise from a costing today of around $13 billion to around $30 billion a year over the next fifteen or so years if we continue on our current course.

Our current transport planning approaches simply are inadequate. So we're looking ahead, and Chris touched on AusLink. I will be releasing a Green Paper in November. We'll then be inviting submissions from the public including, of course, your industry and you as individuals.

The key elements are that the Federal Government will sponsor the development of an indicative 5 to 10 year transport infrastructure development plan. On the basis of the national plan, the Government will seek project bids that advance the plan's strategic priorities. For the first time - and I think of very great importance to you -- the private sector will also be able to submit proposals.

The second broad point that I'd make is that the Government will allocate money to the projects that have the greatest benefits, which would also be of very great interest to you, and do away with the separate and inconsistent treatment of road, rail and intermodal investments. Transport solutions involving, where applicable, new technologies will also be eligible for funding.

I am delighted that, as again Chris noted, the states and the territories are now working collaboratively with us as we finalise the Green Paper. They had some concerns about whether we would continue, for example, to accept 100 percent responsibility for the funding of the National Highway System. We've actually said that at this point in time we don't intend wearing any straitjackets. We're prepared to go into funding transport solutions that we've never considered in the past, but we don't want to be tied to the old models either. That would be intellectually inconsistent; we're looking for a better model. We want to be able to identify strategic corridors for transport development and upgrading, and then be able to fund them without narrow straitjackets in relation to the transport modes that we fund, as strategic corridors.

We'll carry out a very extensive consultation process that will include a series of workshops in regional Australia, and we'll develop a formal statement of Government policy - a White Paper - for release next year. That will then lead to a new intergovernmental agreement.

Now I know that the Tourism Task Force is finalising a position paper on the regional transport needs of the tourism industry. The paper will highlight the importance of the transport system to the tourism industry. For example, it points

out that the Great Ocean Road in Victoria is recording a 15 percent growth in visitor numbers each year, which is quite extraordinary.

I trust that the study will be a valuable input into the Government's transport policy and we'll consider it closely as part of the consultation process on the Green Paper.

We've separately proposed - and I know that some of you are interested in this as well -- an investment of more than $870 million in rail infrastructure over the next five years, provided that the Commonwealth body, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, is successful in obtaining a 60-year lease over the NSW interstate rail system.

This proposal is a very important one, given particularly that the north-south freight corridor carries the highest volumes of freight in Australia, but only 15 per cent of the freight on the corridor is carried by rail. In contrast, rail accounts for 80 per cent of the freight volume on the east-west corridor, across the Nullarbor, from one side of the continent to the other.

Our investment programme would deliver enormous benefits for the rail industry, but not only for the rail industry, for our roads and road users as well, and that's important for your industry, and the economy.

Rail transit times between Sydney and Melbourne would be cut by about 3 hours, from thirteen and a half hours to ten and a half. Transit times between Sydney and Brisbane would be reduced from 21 hours to a little over seventeen. Reliability - on time performance - would be dramatically improved, and the objective would be to ensure that rail could effectively turn the competitive tide on long-distance freight haulage against road.

The truckies are a little concerned that I might be talking down prospects for them. I'm not. Remember I said earlier that the freight task is likely to double over the next 20 years. There will be more than enough for both sectors. And if I can spell out one aspect that I think is very important for the tourism industry. The idea that it might all go on our roads, all of it, a doubling of the number of trucks, would not, I put it to you, be conducive to tourists feeling that they could safely travel the roads, juggling it all the way with big interstate trucks.

There's enough business for both road and rail. We don't want all of that freight on our roads, though. There will be a major effect on the useability of our road system for passenger vehicles if we get it right; a major deleterious effect if we get it wrong. We estimate that the investment will take some 111,000 heavy truck movements a year off the north-south corridor. Of course, most of those are the trucks that are coming, not the ones that are there now. Again, if there are any truckies amongst you, I'm not launching an attack on the trucking industry. Just the opposite. We're strong supporters of them.

The third major component of our land transport reform task is to establish a policy framework to underpin the growth of intelligent transport systems and new transport technologies, including the use of satellite positioning systems. I mentioned earlier that our AusLink plan envisages that we'll provide Government funding for the use of these technologies.

There are enormous potential benefits in it for tourism. The forthcoming TTF study emphasises, I understand, the importance of soft infrastructure, such as itinerary planning information, signage and advice. Over the coming years, we

will increasingly be able to provide this information directly to drivers in their vehicles. Able to warn them of congestion or accidents and guide them on to alternative routes. We'll be able to provide them with guidance to their destination, based on the exact location of their vehicle, and we'll be able to provide them with tourism information to make their trip more enjoyable and informative.

Coming to aviation, it's stating the obvious I think to say that the industry is experiencing very difficult conditions throughout the world. International Air Transport Association airlines lost $US12 billion last year and are expected to lose between $US5-9 billion this year, as part of the continuing and ongoing effects of the 11 September attacks.

Domestically, we have also had to deal with the grounding of Ansett. We did what we could; we continue to. The Government immediately provided $30 million under the Rapid Route Recovery Scheme to help maintain services to regional areas, $15 million in relief funding to tourism businesses that were directly affected by the collapse, and more than 29,000 rebates under the Holiday Incentive Programme, to encourage Australians to take domestic holidays.

We also committed up to $500 million to guarantee the statutory entitlements of Ansett employees, including redundancy payments up to the community standard of eight weeks.

We've now paid out $330 million under the scheme, to nearly 13,000 Ansett group employees. These are people who would otherwise have been unemployed, over Christmas, with no money at all.

I do want to say to you that we've only collected $123 million so far from the Ansett ticket levy. We hope to recover some of our expenditure from the Ansett administrators, but there's no way yet of knowing how much we will receive. There are still significant assets remaining to be sold.

We therefore intend to keep the levy in place until we are satisfied that the Government -- read the taxpayers' -- exposure is fully covered. We'll terminate, consistent with our commitment, including to your industry, the levy at the earliest possible moment.

I do want to say to you though, the ACTU has continued its very regrettable campaign of lies about this levy. Greg Combet has claimed - remarkably, unbelievably to me - that the proceeds of the ticket levy have not reached Ansett workers.

He is just not telling the truth. I repeat: we have paid $330 million to nearly 13,000 Ansett group employees. So far, we've only recovered $123 million from the levy.

That's nearly 13,000 people who not only received their statutory entitlements because of our scheme, but received them far earlier than they would otherwise have done. Not because of Greg Combet. Not because of the ACTU. But because of the actions of this Government.

I do want to not only emphasise that point, but reiterate to you that the Government will not double-dip on the ticket levy. We will return any surplus from the ticket levy -- if it happened to come about that there was one -- through a scheme that will help the aviation and tourism industries.

Now despite the international situation, we have pressed on with liberalising international air services to Australia. We now have regional open skies or open skies agreements with twelve countries, including Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

The advantage of the new arrangements is that they enable state and territory governments and international airports in regional Australia to market their destinations to carriers without the need for airlines to worry about bilateral restrictions on local market access. Last month, we signed our latest regional open skies agreement, which is with Indonesia, and we're continuing negotiations with a number of other countries.

Turning to regional aviation, many centres, particularly in New South Wales, have lost air services over recent years. The Federal Government will provide $13 million in 2002-03 to support regional air services and general aviation. That's separate to the money that the Government has provided regional airlines under the Rapid Route Recovery Scheme.

I was, in this context, delighted to be able to launch Australia's newest airline, Regional Express, in early August. We have provided that airline with substantial assistance so it can maintain services on the routes previously operated solely by Hazelton and Kendell.

The second theme that I wanted to touch on is strengthening regional Australia. We're doing what we can to invigorate and secure a stronger future for regional Australia. The whole of the nation has benefited, of course, from Australia's strong economy and low interest rates. But in common, probably, with virtually every other western country in the world, many regional areas are struggling with the effects of economic and social change.

That's where a lot of my interest in your industry comes from. Developing regional tourism is critical; it's an important way of diversifying a region's economic base. It's easier for some regions than others. We are working in partnership with local communities to give them every shot at maximising their local tourism opportunities.

Our $100 million Sustainable Regions Programme, for example, is now well underway. It is supporting selected regions in their efforts to lead their own development. We have started to fund the first initiatives under the programme, and quite a few of them have a strong tourism focus. For example, we recently provided the Eacham Shire on the Atherton Tablelands with considerable resources for the Malanda Dairy Centre to help develop tourism and preserve the history of dairy farming in far north Queensland.

The task force's regional tourism report, Keeping the Bush in the Game, recently pointed out that the success of regional tourism businesses depends very heavily on the performance of the region as a whole. My department recently commissioned a joint research project with the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism to look at two small Queensland communities, Bedourie and Richmond. The results of the study have just been released and were discussed at the Regional Tourism Convention in Longreach last week. Longreach provides a very interesting example of what tourism, as an economic base broadener, can do. A tough year there in the late 90s saw tourism bring in twice the amount of money that agricultural pursuits did in that town and district.

Both Bedourie and Richmond have recently displayed positive economic results

and success in attracting tourists travelling by road. Richmond, of course, is becoming well known for its fossils, including the ten million year-old Richmond Kronosaurus. Richmond is now attracting up to 65,000 tourists by road each year.

It has achieved its tourism growth because it has the success factors to take advantage of the local fossil finds. The town has carried out a number of other economic measures, it has established the right infrastructure foundations, and it has developed supporting tourism initiatives, such as accommodation and the Overlanders' Way corridor.

Towns like that have shown the importance of local leadership in securing their future. We have assisted the town's plans with more than a quarter of a million dollars of Federal funding, including $88,000 for a curator at the fossil museum and more than $100,000 to support the development of a local aquaculture industry.

We're also in the process of carrying out a Regional Business Development Analysis; it's an important opportunity for regional tourism operators and organisations to have an input into the Government's policies. The panel is chaired by Dr John Keniry, and will recommend an action plan to the Government on how we can improve the regional business environment and reduce the impediments to growth.

That panel is holding extensive consultations across the country. For example, today it's holding meetings in Orange, Bathurst and Blayney in central New South Wales.

The Regional Business Development Analysis is another example of how we are focusing on getting our policies right for the long term. We'll be working closely with you as we finish developing the 10 Year Plan for Tourism and our National Land Transport Plan, AusLink.

So we see the tourism industry as being an integral part of Australia's future and the future of our regional areas. It really can make a major contribution in underpinning our vision for country Australia, where our traditional industries benefit from the latest technology and regional communities hum with new ideas and innovation.

And certainly I do pay tribute to you for your role in it. I thank you for your leadership, and I appreciate the fact that you're prepared to give up time to exercises like today. Thank you for the chance to be with you, and I'm happy to try and answer a couple of questions.



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