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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Australian Trade and Investment Commission

Australian Trade and Investment Commission


CHAIR: We'll move to the examination of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission. I welcome the acting chief executive officer, Mr Tim Beresford, and officers from the commission. Mr Beresford, do you have an opening statement?

Mr Beresford : I do.

CHAIR: Do you have copies of it, please?

Mr Beresford : I'll provide copies, yes.

CHAIR: Are they available now so that they can be circulated?

Mr Beresford : No, I just have the one copy here.

CHAIR: Alright, read it through.

Mr Beresford : Thank you, Chair and committee, for providing an opportunity to give an opening statement. The Australian Trade and Investment Commission has continued at pace to deliver important policies and programs to support Australia's economic recovery through trade, tourism and investment. I'd like to recognise the dedication of all Austrade staff, both here and overseas.

On trade: Austrade has been at the forefront of assisting businesses most impacted by trade disruptions. Through the $72 million Agribusiness Expansion Initiative, Austrade is working across government and with industry to deliver essential services to our agricultural exports, expanding and diversifying markets. We have already had some major wins, including assisting grains exporters breaking into Mexico, for example. We're also delivering the government's recent decisions to extend the International Freight Assistance Mechanism, IFAM.

On tourism, we are the Commonwealth government's tourism policy lead and administer tourism support grants programs. We follow a data-driven process and consult with stakeholders to inform advice to government. Tourism recovery will occur in stages and, given the sector's fragmentation, different approaches are and will be required. The recovery of our tourism sector will be driven by Australians holidaying at home, with domestic tourism traditionally making up 70 per cent of the market. The government's recently announced $1.2 billion tourism and aviation support package, combined with the vaccine rollout, is part of the next stage of the government's national economic recovery plan. Key measures Austrade is supporting or delivering to help the industry rebuild and be prepared for when international borders reopen include the Tourism Aviation Network Support, extending several existing tourism support programs and allowing cheaper loans. We're also looking over the long term to work in partnership with industry to reimagine tourism and the visitor economy over the next 10 years. Finally, foreign direct investment in-flows into Australia fell by 41 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Austrade continues to promote Australia as a safe haven and an attractive and welcoming destination for investments.

Thank you, Chair. I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues.

CHAIR: Thank you. You may have heard previously where I was going with some questions. I referenced an article by Ben Packham, talking about Australia's trade promotion body conducting an audit of its website after it praised organisations with Chinese Communist Party links for sending tonnes of medical supplies to China as the Morrison government scrambled to prepare for the pandemic here. Was that audit undertaken? Is that correct?

Mr Beresford : I will pass to our chief operating officer, Mr Donelly.

Mr Donelly : Yes, I do recall that matter and we did review our websites. We had a look at the content of the websites to ensure there was nothing of similar ilk and also reviewed our policies in terms of how the material was published to make sure that similar matters didn't occur again.

CHAIR: Can you tell us how something like that actually found its way onto the website? These things don't happen by accident. Somebody must have proactively put it on, and one wonders who that may have been or what the motivation may have been.

Mr Donelly : I'd probably need to take the detail on notice, but I do recall that it was published by a locally engaged staff member, without supervision from the relevant A-based staff member at the post.

CHAIR: The article continues, saying:

... content praising groups with known links to the CCP's United Front Work Department, which directs foreign-influence activities by overseas Chinese, remained on Austrade's website until Tuesday afternoon ...

One of the organisations lauded was the Australia China Business Summit, which has previously admitted to being part of the United Front system. How careful are we with the organisations with which we collaborate to ensure that they aren't United Front aligned?

Mr Donelly : We undertake eligibility checking for each of the organisations that we deal with and, as part of that, we look into the background of the organisation and any affiliations that they may have. Obviously, in this case, the processes weren't correctly followed and, as I mentioned, we amended some of our procedures to ensure that such things don't happen again.

CHAIR: Have the protocols altered or changed to make them more robust?

Mr Donelly : Yes. The detail of those changes eludes me at the moment—it was a little time ago—but I do recall that we did make some amendments to those procedures to make them more robust.

CHAIR: Do you get any outside advice to assist in that regard?

Mr Donelly : To the best of my recollection, we did not.

Mr Beresford : What we can say is that, yes, there was a mistake, we've rectified the mistake, we've updated our protocols and we will absolutely put—

CHAIR: Look, Mr Beresford, I'm sorry, it doesn't cut it with me that it was a mistake. To praise that which occurred, which was against our national interest, was not just an accidental error; it was deliberately put up. We want to ensure that that sort of deliberate activity, which clearly is against our national interest, does not occur again. So its characterisation as a mistake, I think, underestimates the concern and importance of it. I hope it was just a poor choice of word by you, Mr Beresford, as I think it needs to be treated more seriously than as just a mistake.

Mr Beresford : We've taken it extremely seriously. We have changed protocols. I do recall the staff member was actually counselled for their behaviour.

CHAIR: That is reassuring. Thank you for that. Would you agree with the assessment that most of the Austrade representatives operating on the China trade front are from the PRC, the People's Republic of China?

Mr Beresford : Yes, they're locally engaged staff.

CHAIR: How many of them have links with United Front bodies? How do we test against that?

Mr Donelly : I think I need to take that question on notice.

CHAIR: Fair enough, let's take that on notice. I understand Austrade was a key sponsor in the United Front Australia-China Economic Trade and Investment Expo events held in Melbourne in 2019 and 2020. These were sponsored and organised by United Front bodies. Why did Austrade support these events when the aim seems to simply be to further Chinese interests in the Australian economy?

Mr Beresford : I think we're going to have to take that on notice. If you put those questions on notice, we'll be very happy to answer them.

CHAIR: Alright. I'll put my other questions on this on notice. Could you provide some background on your engagement with the China Australia Millennial Project, known as CAMP?

Mr Beresford : I think we will have to take that on notice and come back to you.

CHAIR: There's a United Front body, LCUAAA, the League of Chinese University Alumni Association Australia, which is directly under the education office of the People's Republic of China consulate-general in Sydney, and that comprises about 40 alumni associations. I'm advised that it has links and promotes Made in China 2025 extensively within Australia, and Austrade cooperates with that. Take that on notice as well.

Mr Beresford : We'll take it on notice, Senator.

CHAIR: Thank you. Who from the Labor Party wants to kick off? Senator Farrell, you have the call.

Senator FARRELL: Minister, can you talk us through the methodology that the government used to determine which regions would be part of the Tourism Aviation Network Support Program?

Senator Duniam: Sure, I can provide some information on that. Ms Ralston, do you want to go first? Then I can add to what she says.

Ms Ralston : As Mr Beresford said in his opening statement, Austrade takes a data driven approach to our advice on these matters. In relation to the TANS program you refer to—

Senator FARRELL: We will call it 'TANS' for short, shall we?

Senator DUNIAM: Good idea.

Ms Ralston : We provided advice on the data that would help shape the selection of regions. We particularly looked at four sets of data. We looked at regions that have been most heavily hit by the loss of international visitation. We looked at those that are most economically dependent on tourism for jobs and for the GDP of that particular region. Those methodologies are very similar to the work we did last year on some programs. With this program we also then looked at those regions that are most dependent on aviation for access to encourage visitation. We also looked at seasonality, particularly in the period April to September, which is the period in which we're hoping to see an increase of activity and visitation.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. The methodology was different to the one employed in determining the nine regions eligible for funding through the Recovery for Regional Tourism Fund. Firstly, do you agree with that proposition?

Ms Ralston : We started in the same place. We started with the same proposition and the same methodology that we used for the recovering regional tourism measure last year. We added in, as I said, consideration around aviation access into locations. We also looked at some of the seasonality factors.

Senator FARRELL: How, then, do you explain, for instance, why Western Australia's South West received $1.25 million through this program but didn't make this list of regions?

Ms Ralston : It's a weighting of all of those elements. It's not an exact science; it's a combination of factors there.

Senator FARRELL: So it's an art, not a science?

Ms Ralston : It's a combination, I think. The data is definitely the driver and the data is definitely the piece that Austrade adds to the conversation.

Senator FARRELL: So how was this working? Was the government giving you a few hints as to where to look, or were you making your own independent assessment of this and giving it to the government, with the government then accepting your proposition?

Ms Ralston : One of the calls from stakeholders over the last several months has been about encouraging tourists to come back to regions and that the activity will drive economic recovery, so we're looking at a lot of demand-driving activities.

Senator FARRELL: That is a proposition we all support.

Ms Ralston : So we are looking at opportunities to do that. We've looked at a range of measures and opportunities over the past few months to see what would help stimulate that type of activity. Policy doesn't work in a vacuum; we work very closely with other departments and agencies; the development of infrastructure, who are also looking at the aviation challenges; and others.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but what was it about the South West that on the one hand they received 1.25 in one program but nothing in the other? You've explained what the criteria was, and I'm giving you an example of a region that got payments under one scheme but not the other. What I'm asking you is: what were the factors in particular? There's a real-life example here of a region that has missed out. Did you get the drift of my question?

Ms Ralston : Yes. It's a combination of factors, as I said. This is an aviation measure as well in particular, so aviation access and the impact of that in terms of getting visitors to the region is a part of the factor. We looked at the national averages. Every part of the country has been affected by the loss of visitation and international travellers. We took where the national average was and looked at those that had a higher impact. I suspect that, without going into the detail, that would be one that was one that fell in the national average when you added up the factors, including things like aviation. Certainly that part of the country is affected economically with jobs; that's why it was part of the first program last year. When you add in some of the other factors, it might have had less of a case.

Senator FARRELL: Are you saying something had happened between the two programs that had changed?

Ms Ralston : It is only that extra criteria were added into the consideration. It is when you start to look at the mix of those factors.

Senator FARRELL: So it was the connection with aviation that made the difference?

Ms Ralston : That was one factor. Seasonality was the other factor. In the northern parts of the country, a lot of their visitation happens at this time of year—April to September—and that's less so in the southern parts of the country. So that's one of the other factors.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. Obviously in the north it's important to take advantage of the dry; I understand that. But I would have thought the south-west would have just as much need of support through the winter.

Ms Ralston : As I said, we looked across the whole of the country. The whole of the country has suffered. I guess the question is where you put the extra effort to drive visitation that wouldn't happen through people travelling by car or from other sources. One of the factors here was definitely about supporting aviation and encouraging that activity as well.

Senator FARRELL: Let's do the same process with the Phillip Island region, which received $3.5 million through the recovery program but, again, didn't make it. What was the factor there? Was it the same thing?

Ms Ralston : It's similar but different. We took into consideration a range of factors, but there is no airport on Phillip Island and people don't travel to Phillip Island via air links, other than via Melbourne, and obviously then there are the broader economic factors affecting the city of Melbourne. So we had to weigh up those practical factors as well as the economic factor.

Senator FARRELL: So it's this link with aviation—

Ms Ralston : That's one of the features of this measure.

Senator FARRELL: The North Coast of New South Wales is connected by air travel, is it not?

Ms Ralston : That's right, Senator.

Senator FARRELL: They received $1.25 million under the program and nothing under TANS. That can't be the reason for that one.

Ms Ralston : Looking at the combination of factors, the Gold Coast is one of the regions in this measure. The airport of Coolangatta is about an hour or so from the other parts, so there's an element of combinations of these factors having come together. Austrade's input to this conversation has been largely on the data. We've used the datasets I referred to. We've looked at the national averages and provided advice around those factors.

Senator FARRELL: So you say they benefit by people flying to the Gold Coast, hiring a car and driving down to Byron Bay or something like that?

Ms Ralston : That's part of the consideration.

Senator FARRELL: In a sense, you've answered part of this question, but I'll ask it anyway. What modelling has been done to determine what actual effect these subsidies will have on international-tourism-affected markets? Will you be monitoring the impact of the TANS Program as it unfolds, or is that the role of the department of infrastructure?

Ms Ralston : The department of infrastructure is responsible for the overarching measure. They will have a role in that. We're obviously very interested in the tourism impacts and what is happening to the tourism sector across the country, so we'll be part of that monitoring effort, with the department of infrastructure.

Senator FARRELL: How will you do that? What factors do you look at? What measures do you take?

Ms Ralston : Success for this program will be 800,000 tickets, or more, being utilised and Australians travelling into those locations. That's a fairly quick indicator of impact and success. We haven't considered the full monitoring regime yet, but I think we'll be looking at the impact of what happens and looking at the supply chain effects of that travel.

Senator FARRELL: Will the airlines be providing you with that information?

Ms Ralston : The department of infrastructure will work with the airlines. Our role, as I say, is the data that goes into the thinking.

Senator FARRELL: Can we perhaps talk through the time line. According to a document which was reported in that terrific Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury, a number of additional regions were originally listed to be included on the program, but when the program was announced, on the 11th of this month, those four regions had been removed. Do you know who made the decision to include them on the list in the first place and whose call it was to remove them?

Ms Ralston : Our advice into this process has been iterative, over a number of weeks and months. The particular timing of decisions and things are matters for government.

Senator FARRELL: Minister, can you answer that question for us?

Senator Duniam: Can you repeat the last part of your question, Senator Farrell.

Senator FARRELL: The Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury had a photograph of the original list that had gone up on the website that was announcing this program. The list included four regions, which I'll come to in a bit more detail in a moment, but by the time the program was announced those four regions had been removed. One of them I have an interest in—Adelaide. It was on the original website. The Mercury reported that. But, by the time the government made the final announcement, they'd been removed. My question is: who made the decision to include them in the first place, and then who made the decision to remove them days or hours later?

Senator Duniam: In terms of the list you've referenced, my understanding is that it was something put on the department of infrastructure website.

Senator FARRELL: Correct.

Senator Duniam: I don't have anyone here that's going to be able to assist me in providing information to you on why it was put up.

CHAIR: That should be a question to infrastructure, if it was on the infrastructure website.

Senator Duniam: That's right. That, and all the questions flowing from that, would be better directed there.

Senator FARRELL: That might explain why the list was put up there, but somebody in government then made the decision to take them off. Surely you can tell me something about that.

CHAIR: Once again, that was on the infrastructure website, and I would have to say that—

Senator FARRELL: With respect, Chair, the minister is answering the questions, and I think we should let him continue to do so.

CHAIR: These are matters that relate to the infrastructure portfolio, and we are examining the issues concerning the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.

Senator FARRELL: They have a direct relevance to the TANS Program, which the government announced and which, in part, this department has a role in administering.

CHAIR: Yes, but not the website of infrastructure, which you are asking about.

Senator FARRELL: Let's forget about the website. Can we get an answer to the question: who in the government originally put those sites on the list, and who took them off? Forget about the website. Somebody in government made a decision about these four towns, including Adelaide and Hobart. They were on the first list but not on the final list that went out. They were subsequently put back on—and I'll come to that in a moment—but somebody in the government must know who made the decision to add them to the list in the first place and to take them off. I'm just asking a simple, straightforward question: who did it?

CHAIR: That's a fair comment, but I think it needs to be addressed to another department.

Senator FARRELL: With respect, this gentleman is part of the government. He's an assistant minister. I'm asking him: who made that decision? Somebody in the government must have—

CHAIR: Senator Farrell, I'm sorry; I've got to rule your question out of order. Just because somebody is a minister in the government does not allow you to ask questions about all manner of things. We are asking questions of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, and unless they are relevant—

Senator FARRELL: Fair suck of the sauce bottle, Chair!

CHAIR: That is a Kevin Rudd expression and has become exceptionally discredited as a result, but you can keep using it.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. Fair crack of the whip, then. This department has a role in the administration. We've got this assistant minister here—

CHAIR: Ms Ralston has explained that.

Senator FARRELL: If you don't know the answer, just say you don't know.

Senator Duniam: Senator Farrell, I think the important point I'd like to make is that your question is premised on a list that appeared on a website belonging to another department. Ms Ralston has outlined the involvement of Austrade.

Senator FARRELL: I'm saying forget about the website. Just tell me—

Senator Duniam: I've not seen this list that was put online.

Senator FARRELL: You don't read The Mercury?

Senator Duniam: Occasionally.

CHAIR: Senator Farrell, I can understand your frustration, but the only list to which you are making reference—

Senator FARRELL: No, you can't understand my frustration, because—

CHAIR: The only list to which you are referring is one that has appeared in Infrastructure, and that is where you should have been asking your questions as to why they allegedly altered—

Senator FARRELL: No, no. It appeared in a story in a major Tasmanian newspaper—

Senator Duniam: That we do not write, edit or run, and sometimes don't read.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. I'll go back one step further. Do you dispute the fact that the government originally intended to include on the list Adelaide, Hobart and a couple of other places, and they were then removed from the list.

Senator Duniam: I'd have to look at this list to actually be able to answer that question for you.

CHAIR: And it's got to be asked of Infrastructure. As I understand the evidence this evening, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission provide information which is then used by the infrastructure department to make decisions. Was that in essence your evidence, Ms Ralston? I don't want to verbal you.

Ms Ralston : The government makes the decisions on these, so the government departments provide advice to government. So we've provided advice.

CHAIR: Yes. But you provided the advice to Infrastructure.

Ms Ralston : We provided the data and the information, yes.

Senator FARRELL: Chair, with respect, I'm asking the questions. You had your chance—

CHAIR: I'm trying to clarify—

Senator FARRELL: No, you're not. You're running interference for the government—

CHAIR: No, I am chairing on a matter which is very obvious.

Senator FARRELL: and, with respect, Chair, the tourism industry is entitled to know how this stuff-up occurred between—

CHAIR: And the shadow should have gone to another portfolio if he was on top of his game. That's the problem for you, Senator.

Senator FARRELL: No, no. That's an unfair reflection on me, Chair. Ms Ralston has been happily telling us—yes, you can smile about it, Ms Ralston. But I'm a gentle soul and—

CHAIR: You are indeed, Senator Farrell; you are indeed.

Senator FARRELL: I get easily offended by these sorts of criticisms of me.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That's why we like you, Senator!

Senator FARRELL: It's hard to believe that they like me, isn't it, Ms Ralston? Ms Ralston knows a heap of information about how the decisions were made to allocate these things. I assume, and perhaps I'm wrong, that she didn't make the decision to include those four towns in the first place and didn't make the decision to remove them. I'm right about that, aren't I?

CHAIR: Yes, that's her evidence.

Ms Ralston : Our advice is to provide the lists of the data points to government, so we provided advice, all the evidence, all the data points—

Senator FARRELL: Okay, let's have a look at that. We know that four towns were originally on the list. When you look at all this data and you're making your assessments of all of the issues, including the aviation routes, were these four towns—you know the four towns I'm talking about, don't you? Adelaide, Darwin, Townsville and Hobart.

CHAIR: Which is a city, I add, not a town. You can talk about Adelaide being a town, but we'll claim Hobart as a city.

Senator FARRELL: I'm not going to buy into that, Chair, particularly this late at night. So you've done all this research, you've got all this data, you've given all this information. Was it your data that included Darwin, Townsville, Adelaide and Hobart, in the first instance?

Ms Ralston : We looked at four different datasets. We looked at different national averages for all of those datasets. We played around to look at what they meant in terms of things I said for the previous example—about whether there were airports on locations. All of those cities appeared on lists at various points in time—

Senator FARRELL: So they did appear.

Ms Ralston : because they all have some degree of economic alliance, or international, but the combination of those factors can vary.

Senator FARRELL: So they did appear on the list that you would have handed over to Infrastructure?

Ms Ralston : And our advice to the minister and to governments.

Senator FARRELL: Right. And to the minister?

Ms Ralston : Of course. We provide advice to our minister and to—

Senator FARRELL: Yes. So, in the data that you'd collated very scientifically, those four towns were included, but then, at some point, a decision was made not to include them.

Ms Ralston : Many locations appeared on all of those various lists. They weren't all exactly the same list. So the combination of those factors has to be weighed against practical costs.

Senator FARRELL: How many towns were included on the list that you provided to the government?

Ms Ralston : I couldn't tell you that, because it was an iterative process. There were four or five datasets. Where you draw the line—we looked at the national averages. We looked at different slices. We could slice it many different ways.

Senator FARRELL: I understand you didn't make the decision. The government won't tell me what they've done about it, so I'm now entirely reliant on you to tell the Australian people the truth about this.

Senator Duniam: We have given you the option of the other committee and putting those questions on notice around—

Senator FARRELL: But I have a witness, here, who can tell me exactly—

Senator Duniam: About Austrade's role in this. Yes, that's correct.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, and that's all I'm asking her. I'm not asking her about any other department. A list was prepared, and Adelaide, Hobart, Townsville and Darwin were included on that list that—I don't want to verbal you. If I'm saying something—

Ms Ralston : There were multiple lists and multiple datasets, so they all appeared on different lists at different points in time. That's all I can say.

Senator FARRELL: But I assume, at some point, a list was provided to the government from you that included those four towns or have I got that wrong?

Ms Ralston : I'd have to go back and check the data. This is an iterative process. There were multiple pieces of advice and multiple stages of advice.

Senator FARRELL: With respect, you are starting to repeat yourself.

Senator Duniam: Because the answer is the same.

Mr Beresford : I will try and help. Ms Ralston is basically saying we provided an evidence based approach, with all the elements that Ms Ralston—we gave a list and, at the end of the day, the government and the minister drew a line.

Senator FARRELL: I can't get any information out of this minister and the chair is blocking questions to the minister. So the only person who can tell the Australian people how these four towns, cities, came to be on the list—I'm assuming you gave a list to the minister that included these four towns. If I'm wrong about that, just tell me.

Ms Ralston : I said we provided several lists at different points in time.

Senator FARRELL: So one day you provided a list with five towns—

Ms Ralston : There's a series of datasets with different cities and different orders of cities, on those lists, depending on which of those datasets we're looking at. The combination of those factors is weighed up by government.

Senator FARRELL: So you just handed all that data to the government and said, 'You make a decision.'

Ms Ralston : Some of the advice we gave would have been through briefings, some would have been verbal and some would have been through lists of data.

Senator FARRELL: You wouldn't have recommended a list to the government of towns and cities that were worst affected by this catastrophe?

Senator Duniam: Could I—

CHAIR: Sorry, Minister, you go.

Senator FARRELL: The chair won't let me ask you any questions, so you're out of it, mate, with all due respect. I don't know if it has something to do with preselections, Minister.

CHAIR: We have to be careful that we do not traverse into the area of advice to government.

Senator Duniam: How about, to save you time, and I'm sure you have other issues or areas you would like to consider—

Senator FARRELL: Yes, many others, but we still have—

Senator Duniam: How about I take on notice the specifics of the question around what was added when—

Senator FARRELL: Okay.

Senator Duniam: even though it is, really, probably a matter for the infrastructure department.

CHAIR: We can refer it to Infrastructure.

Senator Duniam: I have, but we'll take it on notice and if there is capacity to provide information we will. But I would also advise, as I previously have, that the senator might take it to the appropriate committee.

Senator FARRELL: I was just rudely interrupted, I'm sorry. Somebody just came and spoke to me—

Senator Duniam: You're annoyed when I'm not answering and when I am you don't listen. I feel like I'm at home! My wife is not listening; it's alright.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Are you sure about that?

Senator FARRELL: You never know! They listen when you don't even know it. They have a sixth sense.

Senator Duniam: I said, Senator Farrell, a lot of the information you are seeking is in the remit of another committee and a different department, but we'll take it on notice and see what we can get.

Senator FARRELL: That's very helpful. I am particularly interested in what this department's advice has been, because that's the one I have responsibility for as a shadow minister. If you're going to do that, could you take this question on notice: were there any destinations which Austrade and the government had initially planned to be included within the TANS package but which were removed prior to the announcement?

Ms Ralston : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you. I'm going to defer to Senator Sheldon, who also has a number of questions in this area.

Senator SHELDON: I just want to clear something up. We've just sat here and you've been denying who has got responsibility in which department. Ms Christine Dacey, deputy secretary to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, on 22 March at RRAT estimates said:

It was a government decision informed by a dvice and input from Austrade.

Then Mr Atkinson said:

I think it's best if you talk to Austrade.

That was regarding the locations and also the other metrics that were used in making the decision. Mr Atkinson said:

It's my understanding that it's actually an Austrade program.

The Hansard then reads:

Dr Bacon: Yes. That initiative is being administered by Austrade.

Senator WATT: Okay; so we're better off putting questions to them?

Dr Bacon: That's right, yes

How many tickets have been earmarked for each region within the 800,000 allocation?

Ms Ralston : The actual administration of the tickets is actually department of infrastructure. Our role in this process was to provide advice on the regions, as I've outline. The department of infrastructure runs the commercial negotiations with airlines, and so that part of the conversation is part of the department of infrastructure's responsibility. Clearly, we've worked together very closely on this measure, but we bring different values to the table.

Senator SHELDON: With due respect, Mr Beresford and Ms Ralston, we've just being told that you've used a methodology and data—

Ms Ralston : That's right.

Senator SHELDON: I don't think there's anybody in this room, except maybe yourselves, who understand what that methodology and data is. What is the methodology and data? Can you give me a table of what the methodology and data was? Can you give me examples of the decisions you made about how that equated to this location being included or this location not being included? Can I have a copy of that?

Ms Ralston : We can take that on notice as a list. For the question on the datasets, they're the ones I've outlined. There were four lots of data we provided.

Senator SHELDON: Give me the dataset. You said you've got a methodology and a data set for each of the decisions that have been made over this period of time about recommendations on what should be included and excluded. You can show me both the dataset and also how it applies to a particular location.

Ms Ralston : I'm happy to take that on notice and see what we can do.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you. I understand that you said the government made this decision. How much funding is available in the total for the TANS program?

Ms Ralston : The department of infrastructure is operating under a funding cap, but that hasn't been communicated. It's subject to commercial negotiations with the airlines. They're currently in the process of those negotiations.

Senator SHELDON: So there is not a figure for what's being negotiated?

Ms Ralston : The commitment is to deliver the 800,000 discounted tickets. Ms Dacey indicated earlier in the week that that was a floor. If they can negotiate more, there might be more, but that was the commitment. It's in a funding envelope, but it hasn't been disclosed, because it's part of commercial conversations.

Senator SHELDON: So there hasn't been a figure on the size of the pool. It is up there in the air, so to speak.

Ms Ralston : The commitment is the 800,000 tickets.

Senator SHELDON: So we don't know how much it's going to cost and we don't know how many tickets we're going to get. Is the discount that the government promised consumers 50 per cent of the normal fares or 50 per cent of the full priced fare?

Ms Ralston : Again, this is a matter for the department of infrastructure. I think it's really a matter for the department of infrastructure. They have some data points—

Mr Beresford : We can take it on notice and confer with our colleagues in industry, including Christine Dacey, and come back to you.

Senator FARRELL: With respect to the officers, Senator Watt asked infrastructure in the RRAT committee about this issue and how the decisions were made. He was referred to Austrade by infrastructure. Now, maybe the explanation as to why this whole program has been so badly handled is Austrade thinks infrastructure is handling it and infrastructure thinks Austrade is handling it, but that was the answer Senator Watt got.

Senator Duniam: With regard to the questions Senator Sheldon was asking, a lot of that data was area being covered and traversed by the department of infrastructure. I was there at that hearing. I recall it. They are the appropriate department, but I think, as has been said, it will be taken on notice and we'll confer.

CHAIR: Either way it will be resolved.

Senator SHELDON: Ms Ralston or Mr Beresford, if you're aware of this it would be more helpful, did you receive any written representations from the Liberal Party or National Party seeking funding for their regions?

Ms Ralston : No.

Senator SHELDON: You said you had several different nuanced methodology and datasets that were applied. I will be very interested when I see the matrix. That matrix changed and that data and methodology changed as you were having discussions with the minister. Is that correct?

Ms Ralston : The conversations took place across government departments. We consulted with the department of infrastructure and others. We looked at the practicalities as well as the data.

Senator SHELDON: That included discussions directly with the government itself?

Ms Ralston : Certainly.

Senator SHELDON: The system changed, including with conversations with the government?

Ms Ralston : It's an iterative process of consideration, questions, responding to answers and reassessing.

Senator SHELDON: A report in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the other day described national MPs as being 'on a collision course' with federal ministers over the package. I understand they considered extending JobKeeper for employees in the aviation and tourism sector. That would have been a cheaper and more effective system. Is that the kind of support program the sector had been asking for? We're trying to be mindful of what we're going to do to get things happening. You've got methodologies and data. You're having input from ministers, the government, various departments. That methodology and dataset seems to be evolving—contracting and expanding at various points. I am very interested in the methodology, the datasets that were through these various steps, picking these various destinations and why they were selected. But if you then turn around and say, 'Isn't it on the basis of what the tourism industry was asking for in aviation to keep the industry going?' doesn't it seem that one of those considerations would've been also what the industry requested?

Ms Ralston : I think there are a range of stakeholders with a range of expectations and a range of ideas about how to increase the growth in the tourism sector and help stimulate activity. A call through the latter part of last year—there was a lot of focus on driving demand. People saying, 'We want our tourists back. We want more tourists to visit our regions.' That demand-driving goal was definitely inherent in this program and in many other considerations. I guess there are many ways that you can drive demand and drive activity. This is the current measure for doing that. It is already having quite good impact—even before the tickets go on sale. The demand for flights and Google searches for flights, accommodation and holidays has increased substantially. I think Ms Dacey gave evidence about that earlier in the week. The airlines are seeing higher bookings already—before the tickets even come on sale.

Senator SHELDON: I get the methodology and the data in its various forms. When the decision has been made about destinations I will be very intrigued. How did you come to the conclusion that the importance of international aviation should be the over-riding factor rather than what is happening with domestic aviation and the tourism sector more directly?

Ms Ralston : One of the big calls from various parts of the country last year was people can't get to our—with borders closed and things people aren't visiting—

Senator SHELDON: I'm very aware of that.

Ms Ralston : People wanted to get to places. Obviously, late last year we were seeing a little bit of recovery in some of the areas—

Senator SHELDON: In your methodology and data, did you only include international tourism and the effects or did you include international tourism and domestic tourism?

Ms Ralston : The loss of international tourism was one of the datasets we looked at. We also then looked, as I said, at the economic dependence on tourism in that region. Then we looked at the aviation—

Senator SHELDON: Which included domestic tourism? Sorry to interrupt.

Ms Ralston : Yes, total economic impact of tourism. The third one was around the aviation access into those regions and that reflects that fact that we are seeing green shoots of recovery in areas three or four hours outside of capital cities. People have been willing to take driving holidays and overnight trips into easily accessible areas in the last few months, but people have been less confident to get on a plane and travel significant distances across state borders. So this is really about helping recovery and helping confidence.

Senator SHELDON: Mr Beresford, we also heard the government say many times that every dollar spent on an airfare is worth $10 on the ground in the destination. The department of transport said at estimates on Monday that they had no idea where the starter point has come from and suggested we ask Austrade. So I'm looking forward to the answer, and please don't tell me it should come from the department of transport and infrastructure. Can Austrade explain where the figure comes from?

Ms Ralston : The figure comes from Jayne Hrdlicka, who's the CEO of Virgin and the former CEO of Jetstar. It's from a speech she gave in 2017. We actually haven't done the modelling of that—

Senator SHELDON: Is that when she was at Jetstar?

Ms Ralston : I think it was when she was at Jetstar. I'd have to go and check that, but I'm pretty sure—

Senator SHELDON: Under Alan Joyce?

Ms Ralston : I think it was in 2017. My notes say June 2017. It was a speech she gave and she used that ratio of one to 10.

Senator SHELDON: What's the methodology? I'm very, very interested in the fact that you're rightly impressing on us data and methodology. Mr Beresford, in your opening statement, you said data was king. I think that is the best way to describe it. You put a lot of emphasis on it. So you checked the data of one to 10? Is that what you did on some throwaway line by the ex-CEO of Jet Star two years ago?

Ms Ralston : We haven't used that number. That's been used in various media coverage. That's not come from Austrade. That's from Jayne Hrdlicka, who's the CEO of an aviation company.

Senator SHELDON: So there is no basis to the statement other than somebody else said it?

Ms Ralston : That particular statement is not our statement, so I don't know the methodology that was used to derive it. It is very consistent, though, with the analysis that we do of the supply chain. We haven't actually done that modelling in recent days, weeks or months. I don't have anything current on that point. But it is consistent with the spillover and contributory benefits of aviation to driving activity to accommodation and into cafes and restaurants.

Senator SHELDON: Could you give us the last modelling you had on the estimates of the impact on destinations—

Ms Ralston : I'd have to take that on notice. I'm not sure how long ago we last did that sort of modelling. I'm not aware of any myself, but I can look into it.

Senator SHELDON: Just to be clear, you said that you do modelling—

Ms Ralston : On certain things, yes.

Senator SHELDON: regarding those questions. I was raising the question of every one dollar spent in the air being $10 on the ground. These are significant questions of the economics of what is actually being done here and the money being spent. If one to 10 is not right, we're better off spending it where it is right. My point is about where there's bang for your buck rather than just relying on some hearsay evidence. I'm trying to get to what the department does on this sort of modelling. I appreciate we've now got to the bottom of where that figure of one to 10 came from. But, regarding your modelling and the data that you use, you mentioned that the department has done modelling before. Are you able to give us whatever the most recent modelling is—

Ms Ralston : Certainly. I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator SHELDON: and also previous modelling? Any modelling you've done over the last five years might be the easiest way to do it.

Mr Beresford : We will take that on notice.

Ms Ralston : Certainly.

Senator AYRES: I have a couple of quick questions. Mr Beresford, what's the progress of the appointment process for a new CEO? Where are we up to?

Mr Beresford : The new CEO has been appointed. The new CEO is Xavier Simonet. He is currently the incumbent CEO of Kathmandu. He is working out his time at Kathmandu and he is due to start with us in early June.

Senator AYRES: That's been announced, has it?

Mr Beresford : It has been announced.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: How was he appointed? What was the process?

Mr Donelly : There was a selection panel, including the Public Service Commissioner, the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and two private sector representatives whose names escape me at the moment, but I can provide them on notice if you are interested.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes. I am interested in the process. It just seems an unusual move to go from CEO of Kathmandu to running this organisation. He must have some exceptional qualities. I'm most interested to hear what they are.

Mr Donelly : Indeed, and we are very much looking forward to Mr Simonet starting with us and showing the leadership that he has shown in the private sector.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It will be interesting to see where his politics lay in his previous life as well. I hope that there won't be any conflict.

Senator FARRELL: I want to move to questions about the travel agents grants program. We're talking about the COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program. We know that there were significant structural design issues in the first round of this program and these issues were producing vastly inequitable results across agencies. Is the government taking any action to address these issues?

Ms Ralston : As you noted, the first program was announced in December. It's wrapping up this month. The government has announced a second round against the scheme. That will give us a chance to look at the design elements and see how we can line those up.

Senator FARRELL: In the last tranche of questions I asked you, you explained how you made different determinations in the second program to the first. What are you doing now to ensure that those inequities don't occur again and that there can be some confidence by the travel agents? You are aware that they were very aggrieved?

Ms Ralston : Sure.

Senator FARRELL: Did you see two of them sitting out the front yesterday?

Ms Ralston : I didn't.

Senator FARRELL: Michael West was one of them. He came down from Sydney. It was pouring with rain. I don't think any government minister went out to talk to them, but I did. They are fine people. They're just wanting to do their little bit to protest about how inequitable it is. Michael West was his name, a travel agent from Sydney. How many complaints have you received in writing or verbally about this program?

Ms Ralston : I don't have a number of complaints. I know there have been several thousand calls to the Services Australia hotline about the program. Austrade is responsible for the policy around this program. We're delivering it in partnership with Services Australia, who have a better payment system and better technology for doing quick payments, and with the tax office as well. There is a three-way group of agencies involved in delivering it. Services Australia run the hotline for the main question.

Senator FARRELL: So they haven't told you how many complaints they've received?

Ms Ralston : I don't have a number for complaints. We have some queries—

Senator FARRELL: Have they told you that people have been complaining about it?

Ms Ralston : We are very aware of the complaints, and our staff have received complaints, too.

Senator FARRELL: Lots of complaints? A small number, a big number?

Ms Ralston : It's more than we'd like. There are some very—

Senator FARRELL: That's a very good answer. Have you passed on the feedback to the relevant minister?

Ms Ralston : I think ministers are receiving complaints as well as officials.

Senator FARRELL: He's been receiving complaints as well.

Ms Ralston : I think many ministers are and many members of parliament.

Senator FARRELL: So what did he do?

Ms Ralston : The government announced the second round of the program and it announced three ways of trying to address some of those issues. We want to simplify the assessment process and clarify some of the basis on which the payment would be made and the eligibility. We will be increasing the minimum grants from $1,500 at the bottom of the tiers to around $5,000 and reducing the number of tiers. The first program was run on a tiered program that had 41 tiers within it. That will be simplified as well.

Senator FARRELL: To how many?

Ms Ralston : Seven at this stage, but it's still subject to consultation with industry. The other thing we're doing to listen, we have very much heard the feedback from industry and businesses over the past three months and that's all coming into play as we design the second round. We're running some consultations with industry to make sure that we're testing the ideas and the different ways we might handle this. This is complicated. This type of bespoke program and support measure is not something that we have been familiar with. It is a subsector of a sector of a sector. It's something that we have all learned a lot about in the past three months.

Senator FARRELL: So is that an acceptance that maybe you didn't do sufficient consultations? Now that you're going out to the industry and asking them, 'How does this look?'—

Mr Beresford : In terms of the first round, it was about striking a balance. Clearly there was need; you've articulated that need; we needed to strike a balance to find something that was simple, that was verifiable, that was low in administrative costs and was timely and actually achieved some of the objectives. It's acknowledged that there were trade-offs made in that process, but the essence of trying to balance those elements led to round 1. We've learnt from round 1, as you've articulated, and as we think about how we frame round 2 we're taking those things in to consideration to make sure that those wrinkles are ironed out.

Senator FARRELL: I suppose the question I was going to ask was, is there an acceptance in your response now, including your response, Mr Beresford, that maybe you didn't spend enough time consulting with the industry in the first instance to get it right and you've now realised that you hadn't done that and you're doing it this time?

Mr Beresford : We were trying to—it's pace versus perfection. There are trade-offs that need to be made.

Senator FARRELL: I've got a few more questions on that particular topic, but because I have got a couple of other topics and I did tell the chair I would try to finish in a few minutes and there are a few other areas that I want to go over, I will put a few extra questions on notice along the lines that I was directing.

I want to move to the Business Events Grant program. Can the department advice how much money has been spent to date—not allocated, but actually gone out the door?

Ms Ralston : We've committed $7.9 million and $4. 5 million has gone out the door.

Senator FARRELL: How much has been allocated for future events? Is that the balance?

Ms Ralston : That's the balance. The program is open. Applications shut at the end of this month, but because the government has extended the program for three months, there will be another three months for an application period. So we're still taking applications through to the end of June. The actual events can take place up to 31 March next year. It's definitely a rolling program. For current applications—I don't have the number I'm looking for at the moment. There has certainly been an increase in applications over the last month as the borders have been more open and people have been more confident to travel, so we are seeing an increased take-up of the program. We're fairly confident it will be expended.

Senator FARRELL: The program targets attendees and organisers. Wouldn't the industry say that the risk in the event is at the organiser level rather than the attendee level? Has that proposition been put to you at any stage?

Ms Ralston : Certainly some in the event organiser industry would definitely prefer the funding be allocated to the event organisers. Again, the intent of this program is, like the TANS program, is to drive activity and to drive people to take action and to travel and to attend events. The incentive is there for the attendees to go to events. A lot of businesses have suffered. The cost of going to events is high, so for businesses to spend money on sending staff to business-to-business events is a cost that's also borne. The intent is that by driving the activity the benefit will come for the event organisers and for the supply chain that supports those events.

Senator FARRELL: Did you consult with the industry about how you designed the program in the first place?

Ms Ralston : Very closely. There were very deep and long consultations in the design of this program.

Senator FARRELL: The Business Events Council of Australia would say that that they weren't consulted. Are they right?

Ms Ralston : There were very extensive consultations with the Business Events Council of Australia, the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux and some of the other bodies that also represent event organisers. BECA were very much involved in the early thinking and the early conversations around the program. They provided ideas and thoughts into that mix.

Senator FARRELL: So, if they were to say that they weren't consulted, you would say that isn't correct?

Ms Ralston : I would disagree with that. I would acknowledge that they had a strong preference for a program that provided funding to event organisers.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but you say they were extensively consulted about the program.

Ms Ralston : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Did you do that consultation?

Ms Ralston : I was involved in several of those consultations, but my staff were involved in many, many more.

Senator FARRELL: I've got a few more questions, which I'll put on notice, about that. Can I move to the more general issues: obviously, this is one of the sectors in Australia that have been terribly badly affected by COVID. Pre COVID, the tourism industry employed over one million Australians. Can you tell us how many people are still employed in the industry?

Ms Ralston : The figures we use quite often for pre COVID are that, at a point in 2019, the sector was employing around 660,000 people.

Senator FARRELL: You don't accept that figure of one million?

Ms Ralston : It's not the number we used most recently. I would have to call on my chief economist, who is not here. I'm probably not the best, but I'm happy to—

Senator FARRELL: I'm sorry. I just missed that.

Ms Ralston : I'd call on my chief economist, and she's not with us tonight. She would have to break that number down. We use 660,000 as the point of reference in 2019. It's certainly dropped.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, it's certainly dropped. Do we have a clue?

Ms Ralston : It dropped by, I think, about 80,000 at the peak last year but I think we're seeing some recovery of that. I think that in the December quarter we saw about a 5.1 per cent increase in tourism related jobs, which is not enough to get back to where we want to be, of course. There was certainly an unusual bump in that December period, so we're seeing a little bit of growth but not enough yet. We want to see more.

Senator FARRELL: It looks like you're getting a bit of data from a very helpful official.

Ms Ralston : I'll just read it. There were 80,000 fewer tourism jobs in December 2020 compared to December 2019.

Senator FARRELL: If we use your figures, there were 660,000 sometime in 2019.

Ms Ralston : Yes, probably about that.

Senator FARRELL: And by December last year there were 580,000 people in the industry. Have I done my maths right?

Ms Ralston : It's in that vicinity.

Senator FARRELL: As we know, JobKeeper is ending in 42 hours, and many businesses are fearful for their livelihoods and are predicting significant job losses when JobKeeper does end. Many in the industry are still recording revenue losses in excess of 85 per cent. Minister, how can you remove JobKeeper when so many businesses in this sector are going to be adversely affected when it ends and there's nothing seriously in place to continue JobKeeper?

Senator Duniam: I'd argue that, as has already been outlined tonight, the measures that have been put in place are set to help this industry not just limp along but actually thrive. The TANS, which we were just talking about, is a great example of something that will actually get people going to places where businesses have previously been surviving on JobKeeper.

Senator FARRELL: At some point it will.

Senator Duniam: Now we want people spending money in these businesses, so that's why there has been this announcement. The 800,000 half-price airfares will get people to the regions we talked about at length to spend money. That's what we're hoping they will do, and that's just one of the measures that have been put in place to support the tourism sector. There have been a whole range throughout the whole course of the pandemic, and I'm hopeful that we will see the result that all of us wish to see, and that is a thriving tourist industry.

Senator FARRELL: I agree with you there. That's exactly what we want to see. But why did the government wait until the death knell of JobKeeper to introduce a program like that? You knew JobKeeper was coming to an end. Treasurer Frydenberg said it wasn't going to be extended. Why did you wait until 10 days out from the end of JobKeeper to initiate this other program? Let's be honest about it. This program is not going to be up and running, in any significant fashion, by 1 April next week. Why did you wait so long, given everything you knew about what was going on in the industry and the problems that businesses were having? Minister Tehan went up to Cairns. He didn't go to Port Douglas, by the way. The Treasurer went up there weeks and months ago, and you still waited until the death knell of JobKeeper. Why did you wait so long? Why didn't you seize the moment, recognise the problem and do something about it when you really could have done something? My fear is that we're going to have a valley of death here: JobKeeper ends; there are terrible economic consequences to businesses and employees; and, if the TANS program works, it won't be working from day one. It'll be weeks or months before it gets off the ground, and, in the intervening period, all of those businesses will be lost. You're getting a little bit of advice there minister.

Senator Duniam: No, actually, I just had confirmation from my wife that she wasn't watching. I'm disappointed.

Senator FARRELL: How did she know?

Senator Duniam: Because I texted her, and I said, 'I told them you weren't watching.' I just wanted to make sure I didn't mislead the Senate. I didn't. Now I've lost where we were at, Senator Farrell. You'll have to do all of that again.

Senator FARRELL: Don't tell me I've got to go through that all over again!

Senator GREEN: Why did you make people wait so long?

Senator FARRELL: Senator Green knows all about this. She's been doing a terrific job.

Senator GREEN: Why did you make people wait so long to find out what your plan was?

Senator Duniam: If you wanted to try and argue that, perhaps, the only measure that's been put in place to support the tourism industry is TANS, then maybe your argument would hold some weight. But there have been a whole lot of other measures that have been put in place.

Senator FARRELL: Like what?

Senator Duniam: There's been the Regional Airlines Funding Assistance program, the Regional Air Network Assistance program and the zoos and aquariums funding, $94.6 million. We've just talked about the business events package. There's the Regional Recovery Partnerships funding, $100 million. That's on top of things like, in my home state of Tasmania, the free car travel on the Spirit of Tasmania to incentivise travel down there through the passenger vehicle equalisation scheme. There are a whole range of things that have been put in place—it's not just this one thing—and they will have a long-term effect. I hope we don't see a valley of death, as you suggested, Senator Farrell. People need to take Zoe and Hamish's advice and 'holiday here this year'. Go and support these businesses. That's what we want.

Senator FARRELL: I'm all for it. The reality is that you've closed the international borders. People can't come in, so the only option is Australian tourists. All I'm saying to you is that you knew that. You knew you'd close the borders. You knew JobKeeper was coming to an end. Why did you wait so long?

Senator Duniam: I've just gone through a whole range of measures.

Senator FARRELL: I'm talking about the TANS program.

Senator Duniam: So you only want to talk about TANS, as if that's the only thing that we've done to support the industry.

Senator FARRELL: That's the thing. The industry was waiting for it. Cairns was waiting with bated breath to find out what you were going to do to replace JobKeeper. TANS is the thing that you replaced it with. Why didn't you do it earlier? Why didn't you do it? You knew the problem. Why did you wait so long?

Senator Duniam: I've just outlined—

Senator FARRELL: What's the answer? Ten days out from—

Senator Duniam: I've just outlined a whole range of measures that will support the industry.

Senator FARRELL: That's the best you can do. Ms Ralston, you talked about those figures for the number of people in the industry and the number of job losses. The Tourism and Transport Forum estimated that the sector lost 470,000 jobs to September last year. I take it you wouldn't agree with those figures?

Ms Ralston : I don't know. They're not the numbers I have or am familiar with, but I'm happy to take that on board and look at that.

Senator FARRELL: Could you have a look? It's obviously a very significantly different number.

Ms Ralston : The tourism sector is complicated, because it's made up of integral and intervening parts. In the economy, if you look at the accommodation sector or cafes and restaurants—

Senator FARRELL: It could be a question of definition—

Ms Ralston : It could be a scale question, of scope.

Senator FARRELL: I accept that. The zoos and aquarium program—Austrade, how much has been expended from the $94 million allocated to the zoos and aquarium grants program?

Ms Ralston : Of the $94 million, $41.8 million has gone out the door and $62 million has been committed. There will be two more rounds, because that's also been extended by the government for two more quarters. We're very confident of expending that whole allocation by the end of the next two quarters.

Senator FARRELL: I've got a few more questions on that, but I'll put them on notice. Has Tourism 2030 been completely shelved?

Ms Ralston : No, Senator. Obviously the last time we met and certainly during 2020, it wasn't the right time to be looking ten years out. I think we were looking over very short-term horizons. We are starting to think about that work again now. We are running a serious of obviously short-term and medium-term activities, but it is time to start putting our mind to what the tourism sector looks like in the longer term. We kicked off a conversation last week with my state and territory counterparts where we started to open up that conversation, so we will start to think about that again. We haven't done a lot yet, but it is time to do that, so we're turning our mind to that now.

Senator FARRELL: Alright, thank you for your helpful information. That's all I've got on this sector.

Senator GREEN: Can I just ask one question, Chair?

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator GREEN: I want to go back to what Senator Farrell was saying around the timing of the announcement. One of the other factors that led into the uncertainty for tourism operators was that you had your local member in Leichhardt saying that extending JobKeeper was a no-brainer and that he was confident the government would extend JobKeeper. So there were also mixed messages going into the local community about whether JobKeeper would be extended. When the Treasurer flew to Cairns and came empty handed, that's what people had been expecting. In terms of the announcement that you made—

Senator Duniam: I made?

Senator GREEN: that your government made—I think you know what I'm talking about, Senator. What part of your package will actually guarantee that when someone flies to Cairns that they will spend money on a reef boat, in a restaurant, in accommodation, to support the local businesses? The businesses that thought you were going to extend JobKeeper, who now, can I say, are very concerned not only about the job losses but about the mental health aspect of the workers that they have been supporting for the last couple of months?

Senator Duniam: I'm not going to run commentary on what members of parliament might say out there, or, indeed, what you deem to be the effect of such commentary, if it did occur, but—

Senator GREEN: I didn't deem the effect; that's what they told us.

Senator Duniam: I'm not going to take what you say at face value, Senator Green. There are some heartening statistics around what this program has done. Qantas has seen a 40 per cent increase in domestic flight bookings and a 75 per cent increase in domestic flight searches on their website. Virgin has seen an 80 per cent increase in flight searches and an increase in bookings of almost 40 per cent, and they had a 523 per cent increase when they ran their own half-price fares sale. I could go through a number of the booking stat increases for various routes into Queensland if you would like, or I can just table them for you if you want—

Senator GREEN: If you continue to do that you're just showing that what the package does is—

Senator Duniam: This is about getting people to the places where the businesses you talked about—

Senator GREEN: great for airlines.

Senator Duniam: because I think it would be good to encourage them to come. Good for airlines! What do you think they do, sit on a park bench? No, they go to cafes, they go to restaurants—

Senator GREEN: How can you guarantee that?

Senator Duniam: they go and support these tourism experiences. That's why people go to beautiful parts of the world like where you live. I didn't go to look at the wall, I went to experience things in your neck of the woods, and that's what these people will be doing. You know it.

Senator GREEN: Can you guarantee that?

Senator Duniam: That every single person is going to go to that cafe or that experience?

Senator GREEN: That they'll spend money—

Senator Duniam: That's a ridiculous question, Senator Green, and you know it.

Senator GREEN: in the same way that international tourists do. You can't guarantee it.

Senator Duniam: You know it. To expect anyone to guarantee that every tourist is going to do everything that everyone else has ever done, is a ridiculous proposition.

Senator GREEN: That's why you shouldn't have cut JobKeeper.

CHAIR: That concludes the examination of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission. I thank Mr Beresford and officers for their attendance.