Today we gather amidst new challenges and opportunities for your sector and for Australia.
Right now, new versions of age-old problems – disease and war – are dominating the world’s attention.
In our region, the rise of the middle class in the Asia-Pacific presents unparalleled opportunities in tourism and trade.
At home, we’ve been kicking goals.
Canberra has been named the world’s most-liveable city by the OECD.
Lonely Planet has named Tasmania as one of the world’s top 10 travel destinations in 2015.
And the latest International Visitor Survey shows record arrivals from China in the year ending June, 2014.
That’s good news for all of us in this room.
That’s great news for Australia’s $107 billion tourism sector, and the 280,000 tourism businesses who rely on the visitor trade.
It’s also good news for the more than one million Australians who are employed in the sector.
But as the TTF reminded us just a few weeks ago, we can, and must, do more.
Domestic visitor figures in Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT all dropped last year, coinciding with the abandonment of the Abbott Government’s domestic tourism marketing.
The cancellation of billions of dollars of public transport projects is pushing our cities further behind London, Paris and New York in terms of ease of movement for citizens and visitors alike.
And the absence of both urban policy and tourism from the Abbott Government’s list of policy priorities is cause for concern.
LABOR IN OPPOSITION
Labor is and will continue to be a constructive Opposition.
We don’t believe in opposing good ideas for the sake of it.
Already, we’ve worked with the Government on two key issues.
Firstly, we have provided bipartisan support for the Government’s efforts to build Sydney’s Second Airport at Badgerys Creek.
We do believe that a passenger rail link to the airport must be part of the deal.
We want locals and visitors alike to have efficient and convenient access to the airport from the city and the suburbs.
Secondly, we worked with the Government to help Qantas access more foreign capital while retaining it as our national carrier.
Indeed, it was Labor’s legislation that was carried through the Parliament.
Both of these are important steps forward.
And there will be more issues we will work on together with TTF and the Government to increase the competitiveness of our tourism industry.
TOURISM HAS ALWAYS MATTERED
Until now, Australian Governments of both persuasions have long recognised the importance of tourism to our national economy.
2014 marks 85 years since a group of businessmen approached the Federal Government with the idea to promote Australia as a tourism destination overseas.
The year was 1929.
The conservative Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Bruce, agreed to provide some funding.
With that, Australia’s first international marketing body – the Australian National Travel Association – was formed.
Fast forward seven years and tourism had helped lug Australia out of our nation’s darkest economic days of the Great Depression.
From modest beginnings, by 1936 the Association was running impressively large marketing operations around the world.
Customs officers distributed booklets entitled Talking Points on Australia at the border to departing Australians and visitors heading home.
Colourful hand drawn posters of Australia’s natural beauty and Indigenous culture were displayed in 3000 locations around the world.
Journalists in Europe and the UK received weekly briefings from the London office of the Association, packed full with articles and photographs ready for syndication in newspapers and magazines across the Continent.
At home, the first domestic marketing campaign saw 60,000 picture books distributed encouraging Australians to see their own backyard.
In just the five years preceding 1936, more than 100,000 visitors had arrived spending more than five million pounds, giving rise to new industries and jobs.
The story of the birth of the Australian tourism industry is relevant today.
If a conservative Prime Minister in 1929 can see the value of prioritising tourism as part of a national economic strategy, why can’t a conservative Prime Minister in 2014?
TOURISM DESERVES PRIORITY
The Commonwealth Government should be the Australian tourism industry’s best friend.
But lately, it has been slipping further and further down the Government’s list of priorities.
We should be maintaining funding for the Survey of Tourist Accommodation, which has been running for more than 40 years.
That information is crucial for investors, government and business. It’s a no brainer; fund the survey, reap the benefits economy-wide.
Tourism should also be one of the Government’s priorities in its competitiveness agenda.
Many communities in this country rely on tourism as their main industry and provider of jobs.
Deloitte knows it. PricewaterhouseCoopers knows it. McKinsey knows it. Outlook Economics knows it.
All of them have backed tourism as one of the key sectors driving jobs and prosperity over the next 20 years.
I note that the TTF’s National Tourism Business Count & Employment Atlas shows every electorate has at least 2400 people employed directly in tourism.
In many places, particularly in Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, that figure is much higher.
I hope that’s a message you’re driving home to other parliamentarians you are speaking with while you are here in Canberra.
There are few industries with the geographic reach or enormous potential of tourism.
Support for the tourism industry is an investment, not a cost.
A recent study commissioned by the Tourism Accommodation Australia showed a return of $16 for every $1 spent on international marketing.
Even back in 1936 the Australian National Travel Association, precursor to Tourism Australia, was lobbying hard for the value of tourism.
In an issues paper from 1936, it argued:
There are official figures to show that visitors to Australia bring us new wealth, which is circulated through all channels of community trade, through every industry, primary and secondary.
The whole community shares in the travel industry in a similar manner to the benefits which accrue from a national industry such as wool and wheat, and the visitors’ spendings constitute part of that national income which determines the general welfare of the nation.
That is still true today.
As Australia’s largest services export, your sector contributes more to the economy than agriculture, forestry and fishery combined.
Imagine the outcry if there was no agriculture minister.
But that is exactly the situation we are in.
It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no one advocating effectively for tourism around the Cabinet table.
As I have noted before, this is the first Government in more than 40 years that Australia has not had a Minister for Tourism.
Across the pond, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key is also the tourism minister.
I mentioned a little earlier that urban policy is also a focus for Labor at the moment.
LABOR’S CITIES AGENDA
Last month I addressed the National Press Club outlining a detailed agenda for productive, sustainable and liveable cities.
There I launched a 10 point plan which Labor will use to guide its approach to policy going into the next election.
On the same day, Bill Shorten added Shadow Minister for Cities to my responsibilities to ensure this important area is given priority.
They 80 per cent of GDP and are home to 4 out of 5 Australians.
They are also the main entry point for our visitors.
Our cities are the first impressions of Australia for millions of visitors coming to our shores every year.
I want them to step off planes and cruise ships and be greeted by fast and efficient public transport, world-class food and wine and well managed natural environments.
I’d be less thrilled if they stepped off into congested streets, polluted air, poor infrastructure and a sick or dying Great Barrier Reef.
Yet that could well be the direction we go in without improved attention from the Commonwealth Government to urban policy.
That’s why I have recently created the Urban Policy Forum – a dialogue to provide meaningful engagement with experts on our cities.
The Forum will help us form urban policy that delivers better cities – not just for those who live in them, but also for those drawn to our shores for holidays, conferences and events.
HIGH SPEED RAIL
One of the other things I’m focussing on is how we can help our regional cities reach their full potential.
Already 46 cents of every dollar spent in tourism already go to regional economies.
Just this week the Australasian Railways Association highlighted the benefits of this visionary project along the corridor.
High Speed Rail has huge implications for tourism.
You just have to look to Spain, and France, Italy, Germany, the UK, China and Japan to see that.
Each day that Australia does not progress with High Speed Rail, we fall further behind our competitors.
That’s why I have moved a Private Members Bill in the House of Representatives for the creation of the High Speed Rail Planning Authority.
Such an authority could drive development, including the preservation of the corridor — the first step in making it a reality.
It is these kind of ideas that Labor brings to the table.
We don’t shy away from the big challenges of today – we embrace them.
And if we get it right, we will be rewarded.
As the National Travel Association said at the very beginning,
By acquainting the people of other lands with the general attractiveness and wholesomeness of Australia, with the friendliness and hospitality of our people, we are enabled to obtain a larger share of one of the world’s great industries, that of travel.
Labor is ready to work with you on the policies which will make that happen.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.