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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
25/03/2021
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
Tourism Australia

Tourism Australia

[22:40]

CHAIR: We will now begin examination of Tourism Australia. I welcome the managing director, Ms Phillipa Harrison, and officers from Tourism Australia. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Harrison : I have prepared an opening statement, which I've tabled. In the interests of time, I'm giving you all three minutes back—

CHAIR: Thank you!

Ms Harrison : and I won't read it out.

CHAIR: That's fantastic. The sad thing is that Senator Farrell will take advantage of those three minutes and more!

Ms Harrison : I'm aware of that—I've been watching outside.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for coming along this evening. I'm sorry it's always so late in the evening for such important industry.

Ms Harrison : Isn't it?

Senator FARRELL: It is. You've made some comments about the industry—

CHAIR: The night-life is part of it, of course!

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It used to be!

Senator FARRELL: Ms Harrison, you've been on the record as saying that tourism is a JobKeeper extended industry. What are your concerns as JobKeeper winds up in 72 hours?

Ms Harrison : There's no doubt that JobKeeper has really helped the tourism industry, like it has helped many industries around the country. There's going to be a period between JobKeeper coming off and international borders reopening which is going to be a tricky time for some operators. As the marketing agency for the federal government, what we need to do and to focus on is driving foot traffic and people through the doors of those tourism businesses that are no longer going to be on JobKeeper.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. You would have heard the minister say all the wonderful things that the government has done to try to keep the industry afloat when JobKeeper comes to an end and, as you said, the borders are still closed. Are those things enough to keep the industry going once JobKeeper ends?

Ms Harrison : Every initiative helps. The tourism industry is grateful for every initiative—

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but that's not actually the question I'm asking. Are they going to be enough to keep these operators afloat who are surviving on JobKeeper at the moment? And that's—

Ms Harrison : Do you know what will help—and we have seen some positivity here? I'm talking about the state borders and some consistency around state borders staying open. That's actually going to help incredibly. Consumer confidence was at an all-time low when those borders kept closing. So it's about those opening up and the vaccine program coming. We're seeing a lot of positive signs in domestic tourism and that's what we have to focus on. We have to focus on the opportunities that are sitting in front of us right now. We have to drive as much demand as we can with the markets that we have access to right at the moment.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. But I guess that's not really the question I'm asking you. We all hope that when JobKeeper ends all these businesses don't go broke and that all these workers don't lose their jobs. But if you were talking to the industry—and a lot of them are listening tonight to your evidence—what would you say to them about what's about to happen with the end of JobKeeper? What can you say that would fill them with some confidence, that a lot of these people who are just hanging on by a thread at the moment aren't going to lose their businesses, their livelihoods, their houses or their jobs in a few days time?

Ms Harrison : We talk to the industry all the time. That is a big part of what we do. I know that there is concern out there at the end of JobKeeper. It's a policy decision that's been made. I think that they now need to really just look at what opportunities are available to them. It is a hard time.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. Some sectors of the industry have recovered.

Ms Harrison : They have.

Senator FARRELL: This is one that is still struggling; would you agree?

Ms Harrison : In some sectors, actually, we're seeing very much two speeds at the moment.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, I accept that proposition.

Ms Harrison : Some businesses are having their best year ever, and there's also a lot of pain out there.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. I accept that if you've got a little vineyard in the Clare Valley—

Ms Harrison : You're having a good year!

Senator FARRELL: A magnificent year—volumes were down a little bit, but quality is up, let me tell you; I can assure you of that. I accept the proposition that, if you're a big capital city and you're a tourism operator within an hour or two hours of that city, then you're doing okay. I guess I'm talking about those sectors of the industry that aren't in that position and aren't doing so well. What the government could have done—and some of the people in the industry are now sort of calling for this. Okay, those people don't need help; I accept that proposition. They're either back to normal or in some cases are doing better than they were. But a whole lot of them aren't, and the government could have come up with a JobKeeper extended program where you say to those businesses, 'Okay, we accept that you're doing it harder than the rest of the industry; we're going to keep you alive with some JobKeeper or its equivalent.' That hasn't happened. So what do you say that will give some of those businesses that are listening tonight some confidence that they can survive the end of JobKeeper?

Ms Harrison : Senator, you're asking me policy questions, and my role as part of government is about driving demand. I'm the marketing agency. What I can do within our area of remit is to really try and drive demand, and what we do at Tourism Australia is look at those areas of need. We know that there are several areas of need. I've said there are two speeds. Cities are actually really hurting still, those destinations—

Senator FARRELL: Sorry?

Ms Harrison : Cities.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, big cities, CBDs.

Ms Harrison : Big cities, CBDs—attractions and experiences, even in busy destinations, and also those destinations that are incredibly reliant on internationals year round. So all of our programs are really around driving demand to those areas, and that is my area of remit, and that's what I focus on. That's what we focus on as an organisation.

Senator FARRELL: Did you recommend to the government the TANS scheme?

Ms Harrison : As I said, I'm not part of the policy team, so no.

Senator FARRELL: You didn't make any recommendation—

Ms Harrison : No.

Senator FARRELL: Did you ever make any recommendations to the government that they ought to extend JobKeeper for that component of the tourism industry that continues to be in trouble?

Ms Harrison : As I said, I'm not a policymaker, so, no, I did not.

Senator FARRELL: So the answer to that question is no?

Ms Harrison : The answer is no.

Senator FARRELL: I asked this question of the previous witness. The Tourism & Transport Forum are predicting losses of 300,000 employees. Do you accept that proposition? Do you say it's too high, too low or about right?

Ms Harrison : I think that that is one for the modellers and for Tourism Research Australia and ABS. A lot of industry associations have put a position on how many roles they think have been lost. As Kelly said, the metrics probably vary. So I don't know the definitive answer to that. I'd have to refer you to research.

Senator FARRELL: If we accept that there are two speeds—I'm just focusing on that part that's still really struggling, and you accept that there are plenty of businesses out there—

Ms Harrison : Absolutely.

Senator FARRELL: What's the effect in the longer term if those businesses go belly-up because they haven't got JobKeeper to keep them going? What's the long-term effect in those sectors if those businesses—those hotels, those restaurants, those attractions—all close?

Ms Harrison : Our industry is an incredibly resilient industry. I think you would have seen that over the last 12 months. You've seen many people adapt and change their business models and adjust to the changing market dynamics.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but, if you've got no tourists, then, you know—

Ms Harrison : Well, it's not true that we have no tourists. We have domestic tourists, which do make up two-thirds of the visitor economy, and that is what we've got to focus on as an opportunity at the moment.

Senator FARRELL: Not in places like Cairns, though, or Port Douglas.

Ms Harrison : I was in Cairns and Port Douglas last week, and actually there were domestic tourists around. What the Cairns operators have told me is that they've had good domestic bookings, but the borders close and then all of those bookings cancel.

Senator GREEN: That's not the only thing they say, though. That's a selective quote.

Ms Harrison : I was up there talking to them last week. I know that that is not the—

Senator GREEN: Full picture.

Ms Harrison : full picture of the issues up there, absolutely, but it's not true that there are no tourists up there.

Senator FARRELL: No, it's not true, but I went up there longer ago than that—Senator Green might remember when it was—and they all told me the same thing: that they're all struggling up there. I guess my concern is that the government does seem to have abandoned them, with all due respect. That's what they're telling me, Minister. You may look surprised about it, but that's what they're telling me.

CHAIR: Let's have a question.

Senator FARRELL: I'm trying to get to that, Chair. My question is this: what do you say to those businesses that are doing it really tough at the moment? What can they look forward to to keep their businesses alive and keep their staff employed?

Ms Harrison : The first thing that I say is: my heart goes out to you, because I know it's bloody tough up there. It's really tough up there.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. We're all on the same page there.

Ms Harrison : And then I just look at what is available within my area of responsibility and I look at how I can drive more tourists to Cairns. We spend a lot of time thinking about that within Tourism Australia.

Senator FARRELL: Just on this borders issue—and I agree with you that we've all had experience of the inconvenience of the borders opening and closing—the federal government set up this body which had all the premiers there and the Prime Minister. One of the things the Prime Minister could have done was take a bit of a lead in this and get some uniformity from the premiers. I don't say it would have been easy, but that is something that the Prime Minister could have done, couldn't he?

Senator Duniam: Are you asking Ms Harrison to give advice to the PM about what he should do, through national cabinet, with borders?

Senator FARRELL: I didn't raise the issue of the borders. Ms Harrison raised the issue of the borders.

Senator Duniam: Rightly so.

Senator FARRELL: Rightly so. My only response to that is: isn't it true that the Prime Minister could have taken some leadership on this? Everywhere you go, the big complaint is that there's no consistency among the premiers. That's a criticism of Labor premiers as much as it is of coalition premiers. That is one thing the Prime Minister could have done, isn't it—if he'd been able to corral those premiers? You don't have to answer, but you raised the issue of the borders. I didn't raise it.

Ms Harrison : Could I say one thing?

Senator Duniam: Ms Harrison is probably giving some very sound advice to our premiers and chief ministers to heed, because they are the ones who do have some control over that, and there have been attempts through national cabinet to get some consistency.

Senator FARRELL: I'm pleased to hear it.

Senator Duniam: I'm sure you already knew.

Ms Harrison : I raised it as a consumer confidence issue. I would never think that it was me giving advice to the PM.

Senator FARRELL: The Prime Minister needs all the advice he can get at the moment, in my view.

CHAIR: And the question is?

Senator FARRELL: The question is: at the Destination Australia Conference, you made a number of comments about quarantine, including that it will be with us for some time and that we need to find solutions for long-stay travellers. What kinds of solutions are you talking about?

Ms Harrison : I didn't say it 'will' be with us for a long time; I said 'if' it is with us for a long time then I see an opportunity for the sorts of travellers who will take a bit of friction and who will stay for longer—

Senator FARRELL: With due respect, you said, 'Quarantine will be with us for some time yet.'

Ms Harrison : I said 'if it is the case that quarantine is with us for some time'.

Senator FARRELL: So, the report in Travel Daily that quotes you as saying, 'Quarantine will be with us for some time yet' is incorrect?

Ms Harrison : It is incorrect. It is partially correct. I said 'if' it is the case that quarantine will be with us for some time, then we need to look at the sorts of travellers who would be prepared to quarantine and would take a bit of friction. That is naturally longer-staying people—so, those visiting friends and relatives, business owners, working holiday makers; it would be those sorts of cohorts—as an opportunity. That speech was really just a little bit of trying to talk to the industry about some of the options that are available to us and giving them a little bit of hope and a little bit of a rally cry, rather than a policy speech.

Senator FARRELL: Rather than bad news. You also stated that it was likely that the rest of the world will open up before us.

Ms Harrison : Yes, I did say that.

Senator FARRELL: What assumption is that based on?

Ms Harrison : There's been some speculation about when we might reopen, and our assumption is that the rest of the world will start to open up. We keep an eye on travel patterns from all of our offices around the world. Particularly in the UK, they're saying that they might be travelling by summer—that is, a couple of months from now.

Senator FARRELL: Their summer, yes. So, when do you think our borders will open?

Ms Harrison : Is there anyone in the room who knows the answer to that question?

Senator FARRELL: No. So, if you don't know the answer to that question, why did you say that the rest of the world—

Ms Harrison : It was because Brendan Murphy—I'm not sure what his current title is—came out and said that it's unlikely that we will be open in 2021—

CHAIR: He was chief medical officer and is now secretary of Health.

Ms Harrison : Thank you. And he was quoted as saying that it's unlikely that our international borders will be open fully this year. That was where I was taking the advice from.

Senator FARRELL: That's what you were basing you comments on.

Ms Harrison : Correct.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. That's all I was asking—nothing more complicated than that. So, we talked about some of these other programs the government has set up. Did the government have any discussion with you about any of these programs, such as TANS and the export business programs?

Ms Harrison : We were aware that they were on the way, because as the marketing agency we will support them, by driving demand, particularly for TANS, but we weren't involved in the criteria or anything like that.

Senator FARRELL: Right. Did you request any additional funding to be put into those programs?

Ms Harrison : No.

CHAIR: You're on your last question, Senator.

Senator FARRELL: I can just get it in. Last week the government announced the development of the National Experience Content Initiative. Can you explain how this program differs from the materials you currently provide for the industry?

Ms Harrison : It would be my pleasure, because it's a great program. We usually produce content at a destination level. But with this program we are producing content at an operator level. So, we are going to produce content for 1,800 businesses across 57 jurisdictions around Australia, and we're going to provide them with video content and images that we can use but that they can use as well, in perpetuity.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for that.

CHAIR: On that note, that concludes—

Senator GREEN: Could I ask a question? I've been patiently waiting. First of all I want to say thank you for coming to Cairns. As you know, the tourism operators there are doing it really tough. It's a difficult situation at the moment. The Holiday Here This Year funding that you've got: is that the same funding that the government announced when the bushfires occurred in 2020? You obviously weren't able to spend it, because people couldn't travel, so I'm not saying you should have. But is the money that you're spending from the Holiday Here This Year campaign the same funding that was announced in 2020?

Ms Harrison : It's a combination of the bushfire funds and also our business-as-usual appropriation. So, we're spending both pots of money on it.

Senator GREEN: Has there been any new marketing funding with the announcements that the government made around half-price flights, to tie into those destinations? Or are you just using the same Holiday Here funding?

Ms Harrison : We're using the budget that we have.

Senator GREEN: And have you spent it?

Ms Harrison : Are you talking about our appropriation, or the bushfire funds?

Senator GREEN: The bushfire funds.

Ms Harrison : With the bushfire funds, we have a whole plan. We've spent most of it, but we have a plan to spend all of it through the end of June. There's a whole plan that I'd be happy to provide you with.

Senator GREEN: Okay. Will you need more?

Ms Harrison : We are well funded at the moment.

CHAIR: Alright. That concludes the committee's examination of Tourism Australia and the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio. I thank the ministers and officers for their attendance, as well as Hansard, Broadcasting and the secretariat.

Committee adjourned at 23 : 01