Australia’s Shadow Tourism Minister Bob Baldwin has outlined the Opposition’s plans for tourism in a response to the Government’s Federal Budget.
Baldwin outlined those plans in a speech to the Queensland Tourism Industry Council’s industry breakfast last Friday morning (May 24).
Here is the speech.
“As an island nation and a welcoming people, Australia’s tourism industry has long been an important part of our national identity.
“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1962, Australia welcomed some 125,000 visitors to our shores. 45 per cent of tourists arrived by sea. And our top five source markets were New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“The Australian tourism industry has grown enormously in the 50 years since. Last year, the number of visitors arriving here grew to 6.5 million.
“But over the past 50 years, as our welcoming arms have widened from 125,000 to 6.5 million, most of that growth happened in two decades – between 1962 and 72 and between 1982 and 92. In the 60s and 80s visitor arrivals grew by 257 and 165 per cent respectively. In the last decade, growth sat at 30 per cent.
“I want to see another decade of supercharged growth for our tourism industry. I want to see more tourists coming to Australia and I want to see them spending more while they are here.
“As the Federal Shadow Minister for Tourism it is my job to analyse and scrutinize what the Government is doing – what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. But also, and particularly as the Federal Election draws near, it is my job to be the alternative tourism minister. To present to you a picture of what the tourism ministry could look like if there is a change of government in September.
“Today I want to share with you my vision for Australia’s tourism industry and the priorities and values I would hold as your Minister for Tourism in an elected Abbott Government.
“When I became the Shadow Minister for Tourism in 2010, I came to the role having had, what I like to call, skin in the game. Before entering Parliament I built an adventure dive tourism business, a leisure equipment wholesale business and I previously worked in the charter fishing industry. I know what it’s like to have the family home on the line; to sweat on people paying their accounts to keep money flowing. I understand the need for quality marketing based on quality research.
“And, since coming to Parliament, I have also served as the Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Tourism and Resources and held that role for the final two years of the Howard Government.
“What’s more, should the Coalition be elected, our Ministry will truly understand the tourism industry. As well as having former Tourism Minister Joe Hockey as Treasurer; Scott Morrison, the former head of Tourism Australia would be our Immigration Minister. The understanding of the tourism industry that our team offers, from the Cabinet to the backbench, stands in stark contrast to Labor, whose internal bickering has left the industry with a part-time Minister.
“But I know it’s not enough to have experience – you’ve got to listen to the people you represent.
“That’s why in my first official speech as the Shadow Minister for Tourism I quoted the Spice Girls and said to you, the industry, ‘tell me what you want, what you really, really want’. I’ve since made a point of being as available as I can to listen to what you want:
-I’ve travelled to meet with tourism operators in every corner of our country;
-I brought together the leading tourism industry associations in Parliament House for an Industries for Australia forum; and
-I’ve been to as many awards nights, forums and trade shows as my diary could fit.
“I plan to be just as visible and accessible if I’m your tourism minister come the end of this year.
In my first speech as your Shadow Minister, I also said, ‘I am happy to be the warrior and to carry the spear for the tourism industry, but I need to know the whole tribe is behind me’.
“Last year, after the Gillard Government tried to further increase the Passenger Movement Charge and link it to increases in the CPI, the industry came together and spoke with one voice. And both the Government and the Opposition were listening. We got the result and Labor had to back down.
“I said earlier that I want to see another decade of supercharged growth for our tourism industry. And I know that Government won’t make this happen. You will. Like Tony Abbott said in his Budget Reply, we need to start with the recognition of economic reality – Government doesn’t create wealth; people do.
“I believe that government is more likely to keep you from success rather than give it to you.
“The growth I want to see in our tourism industry won’t come from government subsidising the business model for tourism operators. We need to have tourism businesses that can stand on their own two feet. Inevitably, when government tries to pick winners, they end up picking losers and your taxes pay for it.
“More importantly, government shouldn’t be helping businesses up with one hand and pushing them down with the other. The Gillard Government has spent too much time robbing Peter to pay Paul; and they’ve been focused on increasing the bureaucracy rather than delivering outcomes.
“Under Labor, tourism taxes are up, and up a lot. Tourist visa fees are up 53 per cent; and revenue from the Passenger Movement Charge, or the tourist departure tax as it’s otherwise known, is up by a massive 109 per cent. Now, for the first time, this tax is scheduled to bring in more than $1 billion a year.
“The tourism industry has also been hit by Labor’s carbon tax that has made our overseas competitors relatively cheaper; compounding the effect of the high Australian dollar. A tourist will pay Labor’s carbon tax if they fly from Sydney to Port Macquarie; but they don’t pay Labor’s carbon tax if they fly from Sydney to Port Vila. Giving tourists a financial incentive to travel offshore is not only bad for our tourism industry, it means more carbon dioxide emissions – the very thing the carbon tax was meant, and I stress meant, to reduce.
“Tourism is part of the Coalition’s plan for a strong economy and that plan starts with abolishing the carbon tax.
“Abolishing the carbon tax will reduce the cost of air travel. The carbon tax has forced holiday makers to pay more for their flights, with the nation’s major airlines being forced to increase fares to cover the cost of the carbon tax.
“Abolishing the carbon tax will also reduce the cost of travelling on Australia’s iconic ferries. For example, the carbon tax has increased the cost of travelling on the Spirit of Tasmania ferries by $3 a passenger per journey and $6 a passenger vehicle per journey.
“Abolishing the carbon tax will also reduce cost pressures on Australia’s tourism investors. For example, Tourism Accommodation Australia has conducted research demonstrating that the carbon tax will cost the accommodation industry almost $115 million in just its first year and reduce profitability by up to 12 per cent.
“And while tourism taxes have been going up, Labor has got their spending priorities completely wrong.
“At the same times as revenue from the Passenger Movement Charge reaches a record high, funding for Customs to perform its passenger facilitation functions has been cut.
“Passenger facilitation is the very thing the Passenger Movement Charge is meant to pay for. Labor’s cuts to passenger facilitation mean that nearly 1.4 million visitors will spend more than 30 minutes in a queue waiting to be processed when they arrive in Australia.
“Just think about that, this year, 1.4 million visitors will sit in an arrivals hall queue for more than an hour. The Gillard Government is hardly rolling out the welcome mat to our tourists.
“It was a Coalition Government that created the Australian Tourist Commission and it was a Coalition Government, with Joe Hockey as tourism minister, that created Tourism Australia. The Coalition understands the importance of funding an agency of government to market our country overseas. And we remain entirely committed to Tourism Australia.
“When the Coalition left Government in 2007, funding for Tourism Australia was at $136 million a year, this year it is $130 million a year. That’s a four per cent decrease, without taking into account inflation of over 15 per cent during the same period. What’s worse, the high Australian Dollar does not benefit Tourism Australia’s buying power as they must give back to the Department of Finance any foreign exchange gains exceeding one per cent of their expenditure. Cutting funding for Tourism Australia just doesn’t make sense given all the challenges the tourism industry has been facing.
“Now, I noticed yesterday (May 23) my opponent tried to play a few numbers games to spin a line that Tourism Australia funding is actually up. But then he said it was only up compared to last year. So I guess the Government is less bad this year than it was last year. But the Minister can’t escape the fact, highlighted in his own budget papers, that under Labor Treasury is sending less money to Tourism Australia this year than it was under the final year of the previous Coalition Government.
“The Gillard Government will also break their 2010 election commitment to spend $10 million a year in tourism grants, with less than $25 million of the $40 million promised to be delivered before the next election. What’s worse, the focus of Labor’s grants has not been on demand driver infrastructure.
“In some towns I’ve been to, one hotel got a fresh coat of paint from a government grant, and good on them for getting it. But the hotelier across the road, who got nothing, had his taxes pay for his competitors’ refurbishment.
“Tourism grants aren’t just a magic pudding – your taxes pay for these grants.
“And your taxes have just paid for one hotel in Canberra to get a $200,000 grant to refurbish the tropical garden in their atrium. To me, the Federal Government’s involvement in our tourism industry should be more than just grants for indoor plants.
“While Customs has less money to spend on inbound passenger facilitation; Tourism Australia has less money to market our country overseas; and tourism grants go to Canberra hotels to buy new indoor plants, the cost of the bureaucrats in the tourism department in Canberra has grown by a whopping 248%.
“Under Labor’s tourism policy, Barry the bureaucrat has done very well; but Tina the tourism operator hasn’t.
“Unfortunately, Labor’s utterly incompetent financial management means the Coalition can’t commit to reversing all of Labor’s bad decisions immediately. But an elected Coalition Government would mean Labor couldn’t make any further bad decisions. And the only way our country will be able to afford to reverse Labor’s bad decisions in the future is if we change the government now. We must get Labor’s debt under control. And we must end Labor’s wasteful spending.
“So if I am your tourism minister, I will see my role as an enabler, not a subsidiser.
“There are three cornerstones of growth for Australia’s tourism industry: the people, the product and the passion.
“There are 532,000 Australians working in our tourism industry. This number almost doubles if you include the broader hospitality sector.
“The people who work in the industry are the most critical component of our ability to grow into the future. There is no greater determinant to a good holiday than the service you receive.
“And that service doesn’t just start when you check-in to the hotel; when you go through Customs, when you get a taxi, when you ask for directions on the street – every time a tourists interacts with us we can give them another opportunity to have a great experience.
“All the money we could give Tourism Australia wouldn’t match the reach of TripAdvisor. If tourists have a bad experience in Australia the world will know about it.
“Australia has some amazing tourism products and experiences, and many of them are right here in Queensland. But if we are to have another decade of supercharged growth we will need more of them.
“Tourism Australia estimates we need an additional 40,000 to 70,000 hotel rooms yet not a single investment ready project has progressed to construction since the Government introduced the Australian Tourism Investment Guide. You can have all the glossy reports in the world but a bureaucrat will never convince a businessperson to make an investment.
“This week it was revealed the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment fell 7 per cent in May to 97.6 – below the critical 100-point and showing pessimists outnumber optimists.
“The Coalition will work to restore confidence in the community. As Tony Abbott said in his Budget Reply, as soon as people know there’s a government with an economic strategy to build the country rather than just a political strategy to save its own skin, confidence will start to return to our economy. The dividend of this increase in confidence will not only be more consumer spending, and travelling; but also more investment.
“The Coalition’s commitment to get the Budget back under control and start re-paying Labor’s debt will also reduce the crowding-out of capital markets; further freeing up investment that could support the tourism industry.
“We will also support tourism investment with a significant, and immediate, infrastructure program. We will start work within 12 months on the Gateway Motorway upgrade here in Brisbane, as well as parts of the Bruce Highway. Our infrastructure investments will extend right around the country and include Melbourne’s East-West Link, Sydney’s WestConnex, Adelaide’s South Road, Tasmania’s Midland highway and key roads in Perth.
“I will also seek to reinvigorate the Tourism Ministers’ Council, which, should I chair it, will have a focus on driving action from the top down, not just a tick and flick to papers prepared by the bureaucracy.
“I know many state tourism ministers are just as committed to outcomes as I am, especially my good friends Jann Stuckey here in Queensland, Louise Asher in Victoria, George Souris in New South Wales and Kim Hames in Western Australia.
“Although George Souris is still a bit cranky with me after I beat him in the Gresford Billy Cart Derby recently, I know we will all work together to achieve great outcomes for the tourism industry.
“Finally, I want to talk about the passion in the tourism industry.
“I have been the Shadow Minister for Tourism since 2010. And in this time, even as we’ve seen Labor taxes going up, Tourism Australia funding going down, and grants for indoor plants; the passion I see in this industry hasn’t wavered.
“Australia’s tourism industry may have been let down by a bad government, but there are better days ahead.
“There are so many Australians who are passionate about showing off our country to the world and they deserve a federal tourism minister who shares their passion.
“I am passionate about what our industry can achieve and I want to make sure the government works with you, not against you, to deliver another decade of supercharged growth.”