Australia is a truly remarkable country.
Its vastness. Its unique natural landscapes. The extraordinary history, which dates back more than 50,000 years. Australia is a country like no other.
Tim Winton, in his book Island Home, reflects on this.
He says, “It’s good for the spirit, to be reminded as an individual or a community that there will always be something bigger, older, richer and more complex than ourselves to consider.”
You could hire a caravan, as many people do. Spend a year traversing Australia, but not come close to seeing all there is to see.
We’re still learning about our ancient country too.
Just the other week, I read an article about how a toilet break led to the discovery of a 49,000-year-old Aboriginal site in outback South Australia.
This find of artefacts and bones revealed that humans settled in inland Australia 10,000 years earlier than previously believed.
What a discovery.
Tourism has been a great beneficiary of the myriad of experiences that Australia offers.
In turn, our nation has profited immensely.
Tourism employs more than 1 million Australians and contributes $107 billion to the economy.
Every dollar spent on tourism generates another 92 cents in other parts of the economy.
Since the election, I’ve held a number of roundtables across the nation.
I’ve met with tourism operators in the Top End of Darwin and tropical Cairns.
I’ve met people in the Red Centre, Alice Springs as well as Big Rig town Roma and central western NSW in Orange.
At each of these, the ‘ask’ from operators has been simple.
We need more from the Federal Government. More support. More leadership. More investment.
TOURISM IN AUSTRALIA TODAY
Tourism has been recognised by Deloitte as one of five super growth sectors.
That’s because it represents three percent of Australia’s GDP.
Domestic tourism, additionally, makes up 75 percent of the total direct tourism GDP.
People are overwhelmingly choosing Australia as their tourist destination.
International visitor numbers in Australia are rising.
In the twelve months to August 2016, ABS overseas arrivals figures show that nearly eight million international visitors came to Australia.
Incredibly, this is a 10.9 per cent increase over the previous year.
We’ve seen record growth of over 20 per cent from China, Japan and South Korea, and 17.4 per cent from the USA.
We have a real opportunity at hand.
It just needs the industry and governments to work together to ensure tourism maintains its place as a super-growth sector well into the future.
INFRASTRUCTURE IS KEY
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.
And you certainly wouldn’t see the sector treated as an after-thought as the current Government has done.
We take tourism seriously.
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.
Regardless of whether you are an international visitor from Guangzhou in China or a domestic tourist from Bundarra in northern New South Wales; our bus, train, tram and ferry networks should be easy to navigate.
This includes in our two biggest cities; Sydney and Melbourne.
One million visitors used public transport last year in Australia.
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.
The national government needs to invest in public transport.
That’s why, at the election, Labor committed to projects in each major city, including a rail link to Western Sydney’s airport from day one, the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Perth METRONET, Hobart’s urban regeneration and Adelaide’s AdeLINK.
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. This month, Cathay Pacific has picked up freight from Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba and taken it directly to Hong Kong.
And in the future we could include international flights to and from airports at Avalon, Newcastle and Hobart.
The spectacular growth of the cruise shipping industry – including local and international cruises – is also creating demand for expanded infrastructure in our harbours and ports.
We need to ensure we’re in the position to respond to this.
PRODUCTIVE, SUSTAINABLE AND LIVEABLE CITIES
It could well be my bias, having lived there my whole life, but Sydney is one of the greatest urban landscapes in Australia.
From time to time I’ll take the Manly ferry, which for about $7, or less if you’re a student, child or senior, gives you the best vantage point of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
If you’re lucky, as I have been once or twice, you’ll even see dolphins race the ferry towards Manly.
Australia offers diverse tourism experiences.
That’s why making sure our cities are productive, sustainable and liveable is critical.
It’s not just because it makes a difference to the lives of people who live there, but it also shapes the tourist experience.
I often talk about the concept of a 30-minute city.
In 2014 at the National Press Club I released Labor’s ten point plan to achieve this.
It recognises the need to create employment centres outside CBDs, protect our urban environment, address the issue of housing affordability and ensure our cities have integrated public and active transport systems.
But it is also relevant to tourism because we have so much to showcase in our cities beyond their CBDs.
For instance, in Werribee, outside Melbourne, you can go to the Open Range Zoo.
And of course outside our CBDs you can find fantastic restaurants embedded in suburbs – a testimony to our success as a multicultural nation.
We should be making it easier for tourists in our cities to spend money in the suburbs to further grow the economy of these areas.
People come to Australia because they want a different experience.
This is particularly the case for Chinese tourists and Australia has seen faster arrivals growth from China than any other market.
The rise of the middle class means that Chinese tourists are spending $8.9 billion here in Australia, which is almost 25 percent of spending by all foreign visitors.
We’re seen as a premier destination, and why wouldn’t we be?
We appeal to people of all ages, including millennial visitors who make up a third of those who come from China.
Perhaps some of you will be familiar with the 2014 lavender bear craze.
Bobby the Bear is produced at Bridestowe Lavender Farm in Tasmania, achieved international status after Chinese model Zhang Xinyu posted a picture of herself with the bear on her social media accounts.
Following this newfound stardom, the owner of the estate, unable to keep up with demand, was forced to ration buyers to only one bear each.
The fact is social media, advancements in technology, and people’s connectedness with the world, means people have all the information they need at their fingertips.
On Instagram, you can search a place before you even go to see what sort of experiences people have had.
We need to be keeping up to date with these advancements. We need to be innovative and, most of all, we need to be competitive.
PMC INCREASE/ BACKPACKER TAX
This issue of competitiveness is at the heart of Labor’s position on the backpacker tax and Passenger Movement Charge increase.
The truth is, the Coalition has treated the tourism sector with contempt.
We took to the election, as did the Coalition, a commitment to not increase the Passenger Movement Charge.
We stuck by our promise – they back flipped.
Just weeks before the Coalition made this announcement; the Minister for Tourism told the Parliament that previous increases in the Passenger Movement Charge were, “choking the golden goose that is Australia’s tourism industry.”
What an incredible turnaround in such a short space of time.
The Government’s proposal to increase the Passenger Movement Charge is an example of bad policy that has been created on the run, without economic modelling or consultation.
Australia already has the second highest Passenger Movement Charge after the UK.
And if you actually take into account short haul sectors, Australia’s Passenger Movement Charge is higher than the UK.
What’s more, the PMC raises nearly $1 billion each year.
According to TTF, this is $750 million more than it costs to provide passenger facilitation services at our international gateways.
It’s not like tourism already isn’t playing its part in contributing to the economy.
Instead of taxing tourism more we should be looking at ways to grow the sector.
We took the Working Holidaymaker Reform Package to a Senate Inquiry because we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for consultation.
We listened to the industry.
You rejected the Passenger Movement Charge increase, which our position rightly reflects.
The only other comment I want to make is that at the election we actually released a policy.
We put forward our plan for tourism, which looked at urban and regional areas.
We flagged proposals deserving of investment. We set out a plan for the Great Barrier Reef.
We spoke about visa reform and we spoke about Indigenous tourism opportunities.
We also said we would invest in marketing, research, skills and training.
We have enormous opportunity to grow the tourism industry in Australia.
Industry representatives, like the Tourism and Transport Forum play a critical role in making sure your voice is heard at a national level.
It’s also been good to see such a united response to the Government’s attack on the sector.
I will certainly continue to put the case for national leadership and investment in tourism, and I look forward to working with all of you over the next term of Parliament.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.