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Tourism Task Force criticises a Treasury proposal to significantly increase passenger movement charges.

PETER CAVE: Australia's tourism industry says that a proposal to increase the departure tax is sheer lunacy. While the office of Federal Tourism Minister, Andrew Thomson, isn't commenting, the Tourism Task Force, a lobby group for the top 100 tourism and transport organisations in Australia, says it's been told of a Federal Treasury proposal for a significant increase.

The tax, officially known as the passenger movement charge, is currently $27 a head, and it generates hundreds of millions in revenue for the Government. Tourism Task Force Chief Executive, Chris Brown, told Lorran Downer any increase would be a straight cash grab.

CHRIS BROWN: Were it not so serious it would be laughable, that in the face of the current crisis facing the tourism industry, particularly with the meltdown in Asia, that Federal Treasury could actually be considering a new tax on all departing passengers.

LORRAN DOWNER: Do you really think that an extra few dollars per person is going to deter tourists from coming to Australia?

CHRIS BROWN: It's not the taxing itself, it's another hike, it's another hit to our price competitiveness at a time when the Aussie dollar is strong against most Asian currencies, at a time when there's an increasing level of competition from those Asian countries for our tourists and at a time when most of our markets have already had a significant hit to their affordability of travel.

LORRAN DOWNER: But you believe it would drive down tourist numbers?

CHRIS BROWN: This would be another hit to our competitiveness, another reason to say: I'll go somewhere other than Australia.

LORRAN DOWNER: You are also arguing that it would be the last straw for the industry. Are you suggesting it could force some tourist operators out of business?

CHRIS BROWN: What I am suggesting is that we need to be going in the other direction. We need to be making Australia cheaper, more attractive and better promoted. Whacking a new tax on top of tourism at a time when the spectre of GST looms over us anyway, really is very hard to fathom. And that's why we're hopeful that it will get no further that some brilliant idea from some genius public servant in Treasury. And we look to our political leaders to do what you're meant to do with stupid ideas, and throw them in the bin.

PETER CAVE: Tourism Task Force Chief Executive, Christopher Brown; he was speaking to Lorran Downer.