Tony Abbott’s broken promises on tourism are hurting Queensland.
If the Prime Minister suddenly decided the Australian wheat industry was irrelevant to his Government, there would be a national outcry.
Australians are smart enough to know that the wheat industry is a critical part of the national economy, providing jobs and deserving of government support.
But right now, Tony Abbott is walking away from an industry that is eight times the size and employs three times as many people – tourism.
A Deloitte report recently identified tourism as one of five super-growth sectors that will drive economic growth and job creation in Australia over the next 20 years.
But since coming to office ten months ago Tony Abbott has been dismantling support for the sector and withdrawing from the policy space.
For the first time in 40 years, Australia has no Minister for Tourism.
Mr Abbott has cut tourism grants and sacked researchers providing crucial data to investors and industry.
He has also abandoned all responsibility for domestic tourism marketing, flick passing this critical sector to state governments.
Domestic tourism accounts for 70% of Australia’s tourism sector, with overnight visitors and day trippers spending a combined $70 billion per year.
Despite this, Mr Abbott has ordered Tourism Australia to focus solely on international marketing, with states left to fend for themselves at the same time as the government is asking them to absorb massive cuts in education and health spending imposed in his federal Budget.
The Budget also axed funding for Australia Week in China, which promotes our nation to one of our most important growth markets, after 2015-16.
Last month Mr Abbott axed the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Survey of Tourist Accommodation before giving it a reprieve of just one year, a decision described by the Tourism and Transport Forum as unacceptable.
On June 30, with just one hour’s notice to the sector, he abolished the national T-QUAL quality tick, the symbol which tells visitors that they are receiving a quality tourism product, despite promising to transfer its management to industry before the election.
Putting all this together, it is clear that the Abbott Government is treating tourism as though it means nothing to Australia and its economy.
That is an enormous error of judgement.
Tourism is one of the nation’s key industries, producing 3.7 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product.
It directly employs more than half a million Australians.
The industry attracts six million international visitors a year who spend $30 billion in our economy.
A new report commissioned by Tourism Accommodation Australia shows that every $1 million spent on marketing delivers a $16 million boost to the local tourism industry and broader economy.
That money goes not only to core tourism providers like resort owners, but also filters through to other sectors including aviation, hospitality and retail.
Mr Abbott’s approach is dismissive of the many Australian communities that rely on tourism for their bread and butter.
Across Queensland and in the Northern Territory, Tasmania and many regions, tourism is the major employer.
Yet so far we have heard only deafening silence on the tourism cuts from Coalition and National MPs representing those electorates.
It’s not just the towns and cities on our tourism strip that are losing out here.
Every Australian relies on the success of tourism to underwrite national prosperity.
Just as we all have a stake in the success of the wheat industry, we all need a successful tourism industry.
Labor takes a different approach.
We believe tourism deserves to be represented properly at the Cabinet table and around the world by a dedicated minister.
Between 2007-13, the former Labor Government delivered an integrated tourism strategy for the first time to respond to supply constraints and lift visitor demand.
When Labor left office, Australia was hitting its targets to reach the goal of doubling overnight expenditure by 2020, and we were first in the world for average spending by international visitors.
Tony Abbott’s systematic withdrawal from the tourism sector will jeopardise that success.
Supporting tourism means listening to industry representatives, not just making announcements.
There are clearly improvements to be achieved through a common sense approach.
Right now, for example, eco-tourism operators wanting to pitch tents in a national park must go through the same environmental approvals as a large scale gas or oil development.
We can and should do better.
But tourism’s success, and whether the sector reaches its potential as the next economic powerhouse in Australia, depends on Government leadership.
Meeting with 40 tourism leaders in Canberra last month, I was surprised to learn that the Government could not find a single minister or parliamentary secretary to do the same.
Had it been 40 of the top wheat producers gathered from all corners of the country, you can bet your bottom dollar they wouldn’t have been left out in the cold.
Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
This article was first published in The Brisbane Times on Saturday, August 2, 2014.