Mar 24, 2015

Public Governance and Resources Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:14): I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this bill, the Public Governance and Resources Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015, because it means that, after 18 months of dithering, delays and cuts, the government has finally come to the same conclusion that we have always held on the Labor side of the House, which is that tourism is important. Labor has always understood the enormous potential of our tourism industry and the need to ensure that we remain a competitive destination for visitors and maintain momentum toward our Tourism 2020 goals. But what we have seen from those opposite since they were elected is funding being withdrawn, arbitrary cuts to tourism programs and research, on-the-run election promises which have crumbled—such as for the Cadbury factory in Tasmania—and a slowdown of visitor growth from China of almost half. So this legislation to ensure that Austrade has the power to develop tourism policies to benefit Australia and share vital information and statistics could not come soon enough.

While we will be supporting this legislation, Labor nonetheless has some reservations about the wording which ensures that tourism will never be a priority under this government. We would also like to see this legislation followed up with concrete action from the government—not just rhetoric but action which results in growth in the tourism sector and jobs growth. I note that the trade minister was at the Destination Australia Conference last week talking about the potential of tourism as our biggest growth sector over the next decade. Labor agrees with the minister, but he needs to do more than shift responsibility for delivering that growth entirely to industry while government withdraws from active engagement. The Commonwealth must pull its weight by supporting and investing in our industry to realise its full potential. This bill gives Austrade the power to develop and administer policies relating to tourism, including domestic tourism, and also gives Austrade the power to collect, use, disseminate and share statistics.

What is extraordinary is that we are now halfway into the term of this government—a government that forgot to appoint a tourism minister after the last election; a government that did not allocate tourism to any particular department; a government that gave confused answers before the Senate estimates process as to whether it would be a part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or a part of the Department of Industry and exactly who in the bureaucracy was in charge of tourism. I think that stated mistake began what has been a litany of failure in the tourism sector which is regarded by industry itself as a real problem that is resulting in a lack of confidence in this government from the tourism sector.

This bill legislates to make tourism the last priority. The bill states that tourism will essentially only get a look-in if the CEO has time. The bill says:

… if the provision of the service utilises the CEO’s spare capacity and does not impede the CEO’s capacity to perform his or her other functions.

So once the person responsible in Austrade, with all the responsibilities that are there, has performed his or her other functions—once they have got on the phone or engaged with our global trading partners; once all of that is done—they can give some consideration to tourism. It is a footnote, and tourism should not be a footnote. Tourism should be central to the government’s actions in terms of driving jobs and economic growth, particularly in regional Australia, where the tourism sector is so important.

We on this side certainly recognise the importance of tourism. As shadow tourism minister I have had a series of roundtables right around the country with the sector. Last Friday, in Hobart, we had a very good engagement with the tourism industry in Tasmania about investment, about future growth and about opportunities and how we seize those opportunities to maximise economic growth. There, at the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania, people were particularly concerned to talk about the next steps to boost jobs in the region, given the Cadbury grant collapse. That was a farcical situation where a promise was made on the run by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign, and then had no paperwork to back it up. Then, after months and months of the Prime Minister and other senior ministers saying, ‘This grant will happen,’ it completely collapsed. Of course, what you should do is make promises after some level of due diligence—not make a promise, have it collapse and then have the circumstance where, 18 months later, you are in a farcical situation.

At a time when unemployment is at a 12-year high and tourism offers unprecedented job-creating activities, Australia cannot afford to not have Commonwealth engagement right across the industry, coupled with sound policies, to ensure that we can capture the growth presented by the Asian Century. In government, Labor recognised this, which is why we conceived, funded and implemented Australia’s first national strategy for tourism growth, Tourism 2020. This ensured that all states and territories, along with the Commonwealth and industry, were pulling in the same direction towards our goals for growth and jobs in tourism—and it paid off.

When Labor left office, we were well on track to achieve Tourism 2020’s aims of doubling overnight expenditure to between $120 billion and $140 billion by the year 2020. We also made tourism a national investment priority and provided tourism operators, 95 per cent of whom are small businesses, with access to our Enterprise Connect advice scheme.

I am particularly pleased to see that domestic tourism has been specifically mentioned in this bill, because it is not just an economic issue. It is part of the Australian experience. Whether it is visiting friends and relatives at Christmas, a side trip during a conference, sports trips, which are increasingly common around the country, a long weekend away, summer by the beach, or the great Australian dream of caravanning around Australia, it all adds up to an $86 billion domestic tourism industry that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and local economies—and that is before you add spending by overseas visitors, which adds about $27 billion.

Just this morning I met with Stuart Lamont from the Caravan Industry Association of Australia. He was telling me of the upsurge of young families with parents aged between 35 and 49 increasingly hitting the road. This surge is contributing to record visitor numbers in caravan parks where, for every $100 of caravan park revenue, $138 worth of direct economic benefit flows through the local economy. Much of this is in regional Australia. That trend was confirmed in the latest National Visitor Survey released on 11 March, which showed that domestic overnight trips reached a record high of 81 million in the year ending December 2014.

However, since being elected, there are signs that we could struggle to meet our domestic tourism growth targets under this Prime Minister and this government. One of the first acts of the government was the cuts made to all domestic tourism funding, which left the states and territories to fend for themselves. The problem with this analysis of leaving it to the states and the territories is that it implies that the states and territories are just competing for the domestic tourism market with each other. The fact is that the states and territories are not competing just with each other. They are also competing with international destinations—be it Bali, Malaysia, the Philippines or other potential destinations in our region. That is why it is a very short-sighted view.

The slide in visitor numbers that we have seen in Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT are a direct result of that. It is a predictable outcome of cutting all domestic tourism funding—an immediate cut turning the tap off—without having any transition plan to the states. The government also abolished the Survey of Tourist Accommodation, which left industry, investors and the state and territory governments providing guesswork when it comes to critical business planning and investment decisions.

In Queensland, instead of increasing tourism funding to compensate for the austerity measures of his good friend the current Prime Minister, former Premier Campbell Newman followed suit by cutting $20 million out of tourism in Queensland. We saw how that turned out: falling visitation and expenditure in Queensland, including a two per cent reduction in domestic overnight expenditure last year. I am pleased that the newly elected Queensland government has a clear plan to turn that around while also protecting our Great Barrier Reef. It is not surprising that they are the new Queensland government. They won all four seats in Far North Queensland around Cairns up to Cape York. They won all the seats around Townsville as well—and the Whitsundays and Bundaberg. These tourism destinations voted Labor because they understood that Queensland Labor understood the importance of the tourism sector.

Regional tourism grants were abolished. As a result, the government’s on-the-run promise to create the grant at Cadbury stood out at a time when they cut other regional tourism grants. The project at Cadbury was supposed to draw 400,000 visitors per year. Now the whole plan has just melted away. There is no response to that. The government did play favourites—and there is a whole story around how that promise came to be made to Cadbury. In the end it was too hot for the government, which is why the melting of that promise occurred.

My Tasmanian colleagues—I was with them last week—and I are still waiting to hear what will occur to replace the jobs that were supposed to be created by the Cadbury grant. I have a suggestion: go back to the applications that were submitted by the 38 tourism operators for quality projects with ready-to-go matching capital—and fund them. Our tourism industry deserves better than a haphazard approach and the announce-and-defend model of cuts that we have seen under this government. Labor believe that we can do a lot better—and I want to talk about our plan for tourism and how we would build on this legislation to grow our industry.

Deloitte has nominated tourism as one of our supergrowth sectors that is set to surge more than 10 per cent a year—well ahead of global gross domestic product at 3.4 per cent over the next 20 years. That will offer unprecedented opportunities for our workforce, for investors and for our economy—but we do have to get the settings right. Those settings include not just talking about appropriate taxation levels, about aviation or about visas—although those things are important. It is about having a cohesive vision for the tourism sector for Australia.

If Australia can get it right—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Whiteley ): Order! the honourable member’s time has expired. I know he was in-depth there, but the shadow minister’s time has expired.

Mr ALBANESE: Mr Deputy Speaker, you cannot change the clock halfway through. When I looked up it said 16 minutes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Okay. After conferring with the clerk I can say that I am a very generous Deputy Speaker and we are going to restart the clock at 15 minutes for the shadow minister. I apologise for that confusion.

Mr ALBANESE: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I did think, when I looked up at the clock a minute ago and it said 17 minutes, that there was something going on.

Mr Hutchinson: I thought my prayers had been answered!

Mr ALBANESE: I know that people want this government to be over and done with as quickly as possible, but that is ridiculous!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I suggest that the speaker moves on.

Mr ALBANESE: If Australia can get it right, we have a huge competitive advantage for the future in our region. With the growing middle class in China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia, the opportunities for job creation are so critical. So let me suggest seven things that the government could do that are practical, to supplement what is in this legislation.

The first thing it could do is to have a tourism minister. It is pretty simple. It matters—titles matter when you engage in the international community. John Key in New Zealand—let me give him as an example—is the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism. He recognises how important tourism is in New Zealand, and I think that the government could have regard to that.

The second thing that they could do is to invest in public transport. Public transport is so critical for tourists who arrive in major cities. Those of us who have been to places like London, with the Tube, Paris, with the Metro, or New York City, with the subway, know that those cities simply could not function, particularly for visitors, without those. Public transport is absolutely critical for the federal government to be engaged in if it is not going to distort the market and lead not just to zero investment in public transport by the federal government but a reduced investment by state governments as well over a period of time.

The third thing that it can do, in a related area, is to engage in cities policy—to develop productive, livable and sustainable cities. Just a couple of weeks ago the Queen Mary 2 docked in Sydney Harbour. It brought with it thousands of tourists, ready to spend an average of $370 per day in our shops and on our services. That is about job creation.

Action on climate change: so many of our iconic tourist destinations will be impacted if dangerous climate change is allowed to occur. I think of the Kakadu National Park and the Australian Alps, as well as the Great Barrier Reef.

The fifth is to have a vision for high-speed rail. Last Monday I was in Albury with the candidate for the state election, Ross Jackson, talking with him and others in the community about the potential for this project. I was talking just yesterday with the former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, a strong advocate for high-speed rail and someone who I appointed to the High Speed Rail Advisory Group. If we have the connecting up of our eastern seaboard capitals—Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane in three hours—as well as regional centres—including Canberra, of course, in under an hour, Albury-Wodonga in under an hour and Newcastle in under an hour from major capital cities—then that transforms economic opportunity in those regional centres, and tourism would be a major beneficiary of a high-speed rail line.

No-one these days who goes from Rome to Milan goes by air; they all go by train—just like from Paris to London. It has transformed travel in Europe between those cities. All the research that we did showed that rail is more than competitive for journeys of under three hours and, of course, it is also safer, better for the environment and a better travelling experience in terms of the time wasted in going to and from an airport. Indeed, one of the stops is envisaged to be at Wagga Wagga. It would transform the opportunity for international visitors to visit a great regional city like Wagga Wagga. It would be a very positive experience, and the opportunity for businesses that would flow there would no doubt flow through the economy.

The sixth issue is respect for research, institutions and evidence based policy. We believe in best practice, evidence based policy. That cannot happen if the Commonwealth does not provide adequate services through Tourism Research Australia and Tourism Australia. The abolition of the Survey of Tourist Accommodation last year came without notice, and the government still has not found funding for next year. That has a real impact: businesses tell me that they cannot plan and investors do not have the decision-making tools they need to feel confident about investing here.

And, lastly, there is international engagement. International engagement is absolutely critical. We started, in government, the Asia Marketing Fund to target new growth markets like China, India and Malaysia. We also conceived and funded the first Australia Week in China to take tourism, trade and investment to Shanghai. The current government is not having that in 2015. The current government is not having Australia represented at the World Expo in Milan this year. That is so important. There are over 950,000 people in Australia who have Italian heritage, I being one of them, and for Australia not to be positioned there is a real lost opportunity in terms of the market. It is good enough for places like Kiribati and Tuvalu, island states in the Pacific that are a lot poorer than Australia, to be represented at the World Expo, but we will not be. This is seen as a slight by the Italian government and also by the European Community, which is such a critical tourism market for Australia, and that is very much a lost opportunity, particularly given that we obviously have an embassy in Rome and, indeed, we have a trade commissioner in Milan.

So Labor sees a large number of areas, and I have put forward seven practical suggestions to assist the government, because I am always here to help the government with positive suggestions on a way forward. We do welcome the very small step that has been taken through today’s bill to at least assist Austrade to increase its capacity to focus on this tourism industry. Tourism is vital for Australia. It is important that it be not a footnote but central to economic strategy moving forward. In terms of job creation and economic growth, it is a vital sector for our economy.