International Convention Centre, Sydney
Over the next month, Sydney’s International Convention Centre will host a range of events.
In early May the International Film Festival and Awards of Australia will recognise celebrities who have contributed to the development of Indian cinema.
The Snow Travel Expo 2017 brings more than 50 ski resorts from around the world to Australia and showcases the latest skiing equipment.
Later in May, CeBIT 2017 highlights the latest business technology innovations, with a focus on start-ups and entrepreneurs.
These are just some of the many, extraordinarily diverse events that will feature at the Convention Centre in coming weeks.
And, importantly, every event brings thousands of people to Sydney, who would not necessarily otherwise visit.
Not only does this contribute to Sydney’s economy through money spent at hotels, restaurants and shops, but it also provides critical business for everyone associated with the events sector.
Caterers. Sound. Lighting. The set-up team. Cleaners. Security. The pack-up team.
And this is why the business events sector is so critical.
MEETINGS AND EVENTS AUSTRALIA
So I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about this at the Meetings and Events Australia annual conference.
Since its creation in 1975, Meetings and Events Australia has represented a range of businesses and individuals that produce, manage, support, and supply events held across the nation every year.
Today, you have more than 600 member organisations.
It’s an extraordinary achievement and I want to recognise the commitment of Meetings and Events Australia, as well as every person across the sector, who work hard each day to ensure smooth running events and exhibitions around Australia.
THE VALUE OF BUSINESS EVENTS
I am aware that your sector is looking for government support to enhance the opportunity of successful bids for international conventions and we will be awaiting details in the Government’s Budget next week.
The Commonwealth has an important role to play in supporting and growing this important industry in Australia.
The fact is this is a highly competitive sector, and it can be challenging for Australia to win business against regional competitors.
We need to ensure Australia remains a premier destination for meetings, expos, conferences and exhibitions.
And why shouldn’t we be first choice for these events?
Our vastness means Australia is quite unique.
Nowhere else in the world could you choose between sunny Queensland; the nation’s capital of Canberra; Melbourne with its graffiti lanes and coffee culture; Sydney, with the world’s best harbour; Perth, with its superb river front and beaches; Adelaide, the gateway to one of the world’s great wine regions; Tasmania with its pristine natural environment; or any of the great regional centre including Cairns, Newcastle, Darwin and Geelong.
Of course, these are only several of the many places events are held.
The fact is; events and exhibitions are an integral part of Australia’s tourism sector and deserve to be recognised as such.
Tourism in Australia has been identified by Deloitte as one of five super growth sectors.
It employs more than 1 million Australians directly and indirectly.
At the start of this year it was reported that tourism had overtaken coal to become one of our biggest exports.
Business events in their own right add significant value to the economy.
The latest Business Events Study revealed that in 2015-16 business events generated $30.2 billion in direct expenditure and created more than 190,000 jobs.
Overall, business events contributed $24.9 billion to Australia’s GDP.
What’s more, with more than 37 million people attending more than 400,000 business events across Australia annually, there is a real opportunity at hand.
We should be working closely with the business events sector to promote longer stays.
After all, depending on where you’ve travelled from, it can be a long flight to Australia.
It’s in everyone’s interest to encourage people to make the most of their stay.
GROWING REGIONAL ECONOMIES
Of course events, exhibitions and expos can also grow more than the economies of our major cities.
These events make a significant difference to regional and rural economies.
Each year in January thousands make the journey to Parkes for the Elvis Festival.
Many of these people travel in costume on NSW’s regional train service.
This year the festival was expected to inject more than $11 million into the local economy.
Right around Australia, local communities, peak bodies, and governments are taking steps to promote events in regional areas.
Last September, 20 national business event planners participated in the 2016 Alice Springs Stampede.
It seeks to promote Alice Springs as a business events destination.
What’s more, it’s estimated the Stampede has resulted in events that have generated $8.8 million in visitor spending.
Business Events Victoria has released a planner’s guide.
It promotes towns like Horsham, which is 300 kilometres from Melbourne because of its access to the Grampians National Park and unique venues.
And even after the devastation of Cyclone Debbie, north-Queensland is open for business and we should do what we can to support its economy.
These are just a few examples that show the practical steps we can take to grow this vital industry.
EDUCATION, SKILLS AND TRAINING
Since the election I’ve held a number of tourism roundtables.
At these I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a range of people from across the sector – hotel owners, tourism operators of small and large businesses, and of course those in the business events sector.
What strikes me is how passionate everyone is about the future of tourism.
How committed they are to growing the industry.
Their understanding of the extraordinary contribution tourism makes to small local economies, but also the larger Australian economy.
But then sometimes when I speak to people outside of the tourism sector about tourism, I’m not convinced they always get the full picture.
That while tourism in Australia is about our pristine beaches, our rainforests and deserts, it’s also about much more than that.
It is a massive source of employment for so many Australians and those Australians working in tourism take their jobs very seriously.
We need to be doing more to support that.
This means more investment in education, skills and training.
I understand that at this conference, the outcomes of a Meetings and Events Australia skills shortage survey will be released.
I look forward to working with you to develop ways we can fill any gaps that are identified.
THE ROLE OF INFRASTRUCTURE
Now, there’s a reason why I hold the Tourism portfolio in addition to Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.
This decision ensures a focus on cross-portfolio and agency cooperation and engagement.
It provides a strategic advantage for the tourism sector, by linking it with interdependent areas of government.
It also means tourism has a seat at the Cabinet table.
We also understand that ensuring the right infrastructure is in place is essential to growing tourism.
Our airports and public transport systems have a significant impact on whether or not people enjoy their stay in Australia.
And regardless of where you’ve travelled from our bus, train, tram and ferry networks should be easy to navigate.
This includes in our two biggest cities; Sydney and Melbourne.
The fact is international cities need world class public transport.
Think of the signature international examples: New York Subway, the Paris Metro and the London Tube.
We should be on that list.
This means the national government needs to invest in public transport.
What’s, more, our airports need to be part of this focus on infrastructure.
After all, airports are the first experience anyone has in Australia unless, of course, you’ve come by cruise ship.
Currently our four largest cities are all undergoing aviation expansion, with plans for new runways in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Sydney will have a whole new airport.
But there’s more that can be done.
For instance Cairns Airport has plans to expand. It is the sort of project that could make a good candidate for Federal Government concessional finance.
At the election we put forward our plan for a $1 billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund. It was to back projects like this.
Along with our major capital airports’ physical expansion, there are increasing opportunities for other airports to host international flights.
Recently we’ve seen Canberra open up its airport for international flights to and from Singapore and New Zealand.
We’ve seen it at Cairns, Townsville and the Sunshine Coast. Last year Cathay Pacific picked up freight from Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba and took it directly to Hong Kong.
And in the future we could include international flights to and from airports at Avalon, Newcastle and Hobart.
This would be of enormous benefit to the business events sector here in Australia, making it easier for people to fly directly to their destination.
While the business events sector already makes an enormous contribution to the Australian economy, it is clear there is room for growth.
The Federal Government has a critical role to play in achieving this.
I look forward to working closely with you and wish you all the best for your conference.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.