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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11531

Mr TURNOUR (3:55 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Resources and Energy and Tourism. Would the minister update the House on the actions the government has taken to assist the tourism industry in tropical North Queensland to address the reduction of air services into Cairns from Japan from December 2008?

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) —I thank the member for Leichhardt for his question. He is a member who not only understands the nature of his regional seat but also understands the importance of the tourism industry to tropical North Queensland. As we appreciate, the seat of Leichhardt is one of Australia’s iconic tourism destinations. It has the Great Barrier Reef and the wet tropical rainforests. Tourism is exceptionally important to the economy of Northern Queensland, representing in the year to June 2008 more than $2 billion spent by visitors to the region. This spend is exceptionally important not only to the tourism industry generally but especially to small- and medium-sized operators.

It is for that reason that the government in association with the Queensland government was concerned about the decision for commercial reasons by Qantas to cut its services from Japan to Cairns, a traditionally important market to tropical North Queensland,. That represented a major blow to the tourism industry in tropical North Queensland. It effectively represented the withdrawal of many thousands of seats for an industry that has historically relied on the Japanese market for prosperity. For those reasons, the Australian government allocated a transition package of $4 million in association with financial support from the Queensland government to try and assist the transition from tropical North Queensland’s heavy historical reliance on Japan to not only look at new opportunities out of Japan but also look at markets which should be part of its future.

I am also pleased to say that Tourism Australia is able to redirect an additional $2 million to assist in advertising in Japan to try and assist Cairns through this period of transition. To date we have been able to allocate $640,000 as a first tranche to assist with charters. That has translated into 6½ thousand seats, which will come during the next couple of months following the cuts of December with respect to Qantas’s traditional servicing of Cairns. I am also pleased to say that last Friday I was able to announce an additional amount of $1.25 million, an amount well received by the industry in tropical North Queensland for the purposes of further consumer support and trade marketing in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand and southern China.

Mr Ciobo —Not much is it? Peanuts! What a token effort!

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —I note that the member for Moncrieff is questioning the government’s commitment to assist these small- and medium-sized operators. I simply say that the shadow minister for tourism has clearly shown to the tourism industry in recent times that so far as he is concerned as the shadow minister for tourism there is no care or responsibility for the future prosperity of the tourism industry during this very difficult period.

I am also pleased to say that we are trying to assist the industry to make the transition into future market opportunities rather than maintaining an ongoing reliance on Japan. That is about the industry having a serious look at new markets such as India and China, and also trying to assist them in having a look at the quality of the product and the need for accreditation to lift standards to guarantee that they can compete in a tough global community.

I say in conclusion to the Australian community at large that the tourism industry at the moment is doing it exceptionally tough. The global financial crisis is not only having an impact on tropical North Queensland; it is also having a serious impact on the tourism industry Australia wide, as the member for North Sydney appreciates as the former minister for tourism. I therefore remind Australians at large that, with the holiday season fast approaching and the Australian government’s economic security package kicking in on 8 December, we as a community, if we are going to have a holiday, should seriously think about having a holiday here at home.

In that context I also remind Australian employers that it is their responsibility to actually assist in managing their workforce. I do not think it is acceptable that Australian workers presently have 129 million days of accrued leave, representing an estimated wage value of $29 billion. Tourism Australia is currently working with the business sector to try and encourage employers to support workers to actually take their accumulated annual leave and long service leave, to have a break here at home in Australia and assist all those hard-working small and medium sized tourism operators to survive the impact of the global financial crisis.