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Speech to the Queensland Tourism Industry Council.

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The Hon Martin Ferguson AM MP

17 Jul 2009


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning.

I would like to start by thanking QTIC for hosting this event and for the constructive role they are playing in our development of a stronger tourism industry.

It is a very interesting time to be Australia's Tourism Minister.

At a time when Australia's tourism sector is gaining recognition for its economic importance, it is also faced with both significant challenges and opportunities.

You don't need me to tell you that the past financial year has been tough.

As one of Australia's premier tourist destinations, Queensland has suffered more than the rest of Australia as the global recession has caused the number of visitors to our shore to decrease for the first time in many years.

For the first time since World War II, tourism globally is set to this year decline.

Eight of our top twelve trading partners are in recession - so we have a long and hard road ahead of us yet.

But I have not come here this morning to paint a bleak picture.

My message is simple: the Australian Government appreciates the challenges you face.

I want to reiterate for you the steps we have already taken to shore up your industry in the face of the global recession.

But more importantly - I want to take some of your time this morning to outline the steps we are taking to prepare for recovery and to build a more competitive, more resilient and more innovative tourism industry in Australia.

As you will be aware, I have asked my Department to develop a National Long Term Tourism Strategy.

With a focus on the supply-side, this Strategy represents a significant shift in thinking for Australian tourism.

It is my view that for too long, our industry has been too focussed on quick fixes - which have invariably taken the form of marketing campaigns.

Yes - marketing is extremely important. And at this point I should note that I feel Tourism Australia is doing an exceptionally important job positioning Queensland and Australia as destinations of choice in a very difficult market.

Last month in Melbourne, I attended one of the industry’s largest business events: ATE.

And despite the current economic climate, and concerns relating to Swine Flu, the event attracted 600 buyers from over 40 countries, reflecting the strength our international tourism trade relations.

The Australian Government - through Tourism Australia - spends $90 million per year selling Australia to the world.

But marketing offers only part of the way forward.

Last month, I received the Jackson Report from the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy Steering Committee.

This report is a valuable contribution to the development of the Long Term Tourism Strategy and I was pleased to release it immediately to both the community and industry for comment.

Only this week, I met with the industry’s peak body - the National Tourism Alliance - to consider their input to this Strategy.

For too long, the supply-side constraints which have limited this industry's growth have been ignored.

Not enough attention has been paid to the quality of product, our unique indigenous experiences, the quality of tourism infrastructure, the adequateness of our workforce, or the breadth of our research.

The National Long Term Tourism Strategy I am releasing in the coming months will address this and lay a foundation upon which a more sustainable industry can be built.

I have already moved to implement important improvements.

As many of you will be aware - I recently decided to move Tourism Research Australia, back into the Department of Tourism.

My Department Secretary and Tourism Australia's Chair are working with ATEC’s Matt Hingerty - as an Industry representative - to finalise the details of this transition.

You may be aware that this is not a new arrangement, with TRA being located within the Department prior to Tourism Australia’s creation in 2004.

The reason I am doing this is quite simple:

Since becoming Minister in 2007, industry feedback relating to tourism research has revealed gaps, duplication of effort, and a general lack of capacity to deliver supply-side information for either Government or industry.

I plan to fix this.

The future research relationship between Tourism Australia and the Department will be a cooperative one with some areas of research, such as marketing, to remain the preserve of Tourism Australia.

However the return of TRA to the Department will produce research that serves the purposes of Tourism Australia, the Department, and industry.

It will heighten focus of research into tourism supply, industry productivity, international competitiveness, investment, infrastructure, skills and labour and business development.

Like you, I was disappointed that the bids for the CRC Sustainable Tourism have not been successful.

I am meeting with the CRC next week to hear their plans for another bid. My department has committed $100,000 to the revised bid as we are advised this will assist with the process.

If Australia's tourism sector is to capitalise on its competitive advantages, then a long-term vision is required.

But it would be wrong to believe that Government will not be there to assist in the short-term when extraordinary events occur.

Our support of a $10 million package for Victoria's bushfire-affected tourism operators is evidence of that.

Closer to home, the Australian Government supported Far North Queensland when Qantas said it would withdraw 35 per cent of its international flights to Tropical North Queensland.

I announced a $4 million recovery package to assist the tourism industry, matching the Queensland Government commitment.

The Government has also responded to the wider economic crisis with unprecedented support.

We recognise tourism is dominated by small business.

Operating within an extremely tough Budget position - we committed more than $500 million to small business incentives and support this year.

The program included supporting cash flow with incentives such as the 50 per cent tax deduction for eligible assets and the reduced pay-as-you-go tax instalments.

Additionally, the Export Market Development Grants Scheme has been extended.

This recognises the importance of tourism as an export industry in need of the same assistance opportunities as other traditional exporters.

It helps small businesses take their product directly to the international marketplace.

In 2008-09, more than 400 tourism businesses received $13.6 million in grants from this scheme.

In recognition of its importance, funding for this financial year has been increased by $50 million.

Programs such as this are designed to help industry participants who help themselves.

But this is half the equation.

The Government recognises your customers need the disposable income to spend in your businesses.

This month, new tax cuts will further boost incentives for hard work.

They build on the Government's economic stimulus payments which have delivered substantial benefits to low and middle-income Australians and kept Australia out of recession.

This new tax relief means more money in the pockets of Australian workers - your customers.

And Government support for a number of key transport and tourism-related infrastructure projects will boost tourism to and within Queensland and Australia

We are making it easier for people to get around your State and to your business door.

In the 2009 Budget the Australian Government announced an investment of $8.5 billion in transport infrastructure projects - of which $1.5 billion is being spent on Queensland road and rail.

This of course - is in additions to the $800 million Community Infrastructure Program, which is funding a tourism and community projects throughout Queensland and every other state.

Perhaps more importantly - this funding is supporting jobs, which is essential to an industry like tourism which is so reliant on disposable income.

But in recent years, we have found another challenge that the Australian Government is seeking to address - the hoarding of leave.

It is very hard for me to understand how Australian businesses have allowed their workers to accumulate 123 million days of leave.

This is presently worth around $33 billion in wages, but as we all know, this liability is increasing every year.

Unlocking even a small proportion of this leave and converting it into an Australian holiday will have an enormous impact on tourism in Australia.

Leave is there to be taken - and through Tourism Australia's No Leave, No Life campaign we are working with Australian employers and employees to support the domestic tourism industry.

Implementing the NLNL initiative is a high priority for Tourism Australia and the Australian Government and I have been very pleased by the strong response so far received.

So far - more than 300 major employers, with a combined workforce of close to 500,000 people have signed on.

I should mention that Accor Hospitality - a sponsor of this event - is also a major industry partner of the No Leave No Life program and I thank them for their support and decision to lead by example.

We know that Australian workers want to see their backyard. They just need the time to get out there.

We have some challenges ahead - not least of which is the need to return the Budget to surplus.

It is important to note that Australia is fairing far better than our competitors and we are positioned to emerge from the global recession stronger than a number of other nations.

As Minister - it is my objective to help boost you’re your industry’s productivity and competitiveness, and to support investment and infrastructure priorities.

I look forward to continuing this work with you and thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.