Tourism & COVID 19
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (15 March 2021, 17:44): It’s quite astounding, the audacity of the Labor Party, when it comes to criticising the federal government on support for the tourism industry and support for the Australian economy as a whole. This package announced last week by the Morrison government of $1.2 billion is just a drop in the ocean compared to what we have spent overall. It’s interesting that this time last week I was up in Cairns—I spent a week up in North Queensland—and the Palaszczuk government announced $200 vouchers just for the city of Cairns. Cairns is all Labor held state seats. Did we come out and accuse the state Labor government of pork-barrelling or anything like that? No, absolutely not. All we happened to point out was that, while the state government was sticking a whopping $3 million into the economy of Cairns, we had in the last 12 months injected over $800 million into the city of Cairns. That’s over 25 times more than what the state Labor government is going to be doing over the next few months. So while the Labor Party is sitting here and saying the federal government is putting the tourist sector at risk it’s not true at all.
It’s worth noting that, if industry has been impacted, it’s been by the inconsistencies displayed by the state governments, especially the state Labor governments. In the main, it’s been the state Labor governments—the three big ones of Victoria, Queensland and WA—who’ve kept their borders closed and who’ve kept flip-flopping as to when borders are open and when borders are closed. It was interesting that, just at the start of this year, I got an enormous amount of feedback. I got trolled big-time by the Labor trolls and the digital lynch mob on social media. But late last year we had the chief medical officer of Queensland come out and say: ‘We don’t need to lock down again. We’ve got this under control.’ We went for 130 days with no cases and then we had just one case in quarantine—so the source of it was known—and what did the Queensland Premier do? At nine o’clock on Friday morning, she came out and said she was going to lock down the city of Brisbane, over two million people, at five o’clock that afternoon. Thousands of workers in the hospitality industry were directly impacted by that. We have to remember that this was the first week back this year. A lot of businesses were restarting. They were going to make a fresh start in a new year. They got to Friday and the first weekend of the year and what happened? The state Labor government shut down Brisbane, resulting in thousands and, I suspect, millions of dollars in losses for the hospitality industry.
We were talking about the aviation sector. We had the CEO of Virgin come out and call for the state governments to have a consistent framework in regard to (1) border closures and (2) the restrictions on hospitality venues across the country. I also have a very good friend of mine who is a leading Australian musician who has personally called me and asked for some consistency in the restrictions across the states. He had a gig to play in Adelaide. I got a call from him on the weekend, going back a few weeks. He had a gig to play in Adelaide. South Australia shut the border with Victoria again and, suddenly, he was short a bass player. The event was all booked and then he had to ring around and try to find someone to come and play at that event. This the sort of inconsistency that is leading to a lack of confidence in the hospitality sector and the tourism sector in opening up.
It is worth noting that, as we head into winter this year, this is a fantastic opportunity for southerners, especially from New South Wales and Victoria, to fly north to Queensland. They would have loved to have done that last year, and at one point the Premier opened up and then closed down again. But this is the perfect opportunity to keep the borders open this year. What we have to remember with the tourism sector is, for about the last 15 years, more people have left Australia than entered Australia. We’ve actually had a deficit in the tourist numbers. So what we have is a net tourist deficit—that is, more departures than arrivals. So there is an opportunity now with the international borders closed to promote internal tourism across the country.
There’s an opportunity for the higher spenders who normally would go overseas to come up to Queensland or vice versa. It is very important that the state premiers apply consistency. We’ve now got the vaccine rolling out. Hopefully, as the year rolls on, we’ll get that out. We should have contact tracing and testing in place. We’ve got our numbers across the country down to single digits outside of quarantine. So there is absolutely no reason why the state premiers can’t give some confidence to our hospitality industry and to our tourism sector.
It was interesting. I note Senator Polley said before that you’ve got to have a job to be able to spend money to go on a holiday. I thought to myself, ‘You’ve actually got to have a job to get superannuation as well.’ One thing I’m not going to take from the Labor Party is the lack of universality in this particular package, given that they promote superannuation despite the fact that unemployed people, stay-at-home mums and people on a disability pension don’t get superannuation either.
The other thing, of course, is the idea that tourist operators will miss out on this. It is not true. People aren’t going to go travelling and do nothing when they get there. For example, they’ll arrive in Cairns. They’ll book a scuba diving trip. They might book a trip up to Port Douglas. They might go out on a boat. They might take some tours inland to see Daintree forest. For all of those things they can walk in off the street if they want to book something, so there is still opportunity for travel agents to get some spin-off effects of this. Likewise, they’re not going to sit in their hotel room and eat room service every night; they’re going to go out and they’re going to eat at these venues. So the idea that this money has been misallocated or wasted is just more fear-mongering and negativity from those opposite us. Quite frankly, I think the whole premise on which this MPI is based is completely false.
I touched on the numbers before in Cairns and I’ll touch on them again. The state Labor government is putting $3 million into Cairns for tourism. In the last year alone the federal government has put over $800 million in. But, if we just look at Queensland overall, the federal government has put $28.5 billion into Queensland. What has the state Labor government done? They’re putting in a measly $8.8 billion over the forward estimates.
If the Labor Party and their state Labor colleagues are so worried about creating jobs, let me tell you the one key message I got out of North Queensland last week: ‘We need more water.’ The state Labor government has only built two dams in the last 30 years. For one of those dams, Paradise Dam, they’re not quite pulling it down, but they’re halving the size of the wall. They’re going to reduce the size of that dam. In one dam in Beaudesert they’ve got the water wrong and the water is brackish. The people of North Queensland are calling out for more water security. I saw the Mayor of Port Douglas last weekend. He needs a lake. Port Douglas could run out of water very soon if the state Labor government doesn’t get busy and build a bigger lake for Port Douglas to have some water supply. So there is great opportunity here to take that capacity in the labour market and go build some dams.
I’m happy to go the Treasurer and get an infrastructure bank up and running to fund the states to build these dams, but we’ve got to remember it’s wealth for toil. Here is the opportunity to create more, long-lasting jobs. There are so many benefits of water security. We get irrigation. There are benefits for agriculture. We get clean, green hydro energy. How good is that? We get flood mitigation. That will help reduce risk and reduce insurance costs in North Queensland. We get recreational activities like water skiing. I know that in my hometown of Chinchilla on the weekends we used to all go out to the weir and do water skiing and kayak back up the mighty Condamine. So there is a great opportunity here to get busy and build dams. It’s wealth for toil. It’s not wealth for whingeing and wailing, which is all we ever seem to get from the Labor Party. It’s about time they got with the problem and started to look forward and have a vision for this country, rather than looking backwards.