Subjects: TCA Awards, Labor’s plan for NT Tourism, infrastructure investment
PAUL SERRATORE: Well tonight will be Central Australian Tourism’s night of nights as the Tourism Central Australia Awards are announced. Now the Awards recognise the hard work of those in what is no doubt a key industry for this region.
And ahead of the Awards tonight the Federal Shadow Minister for Tourism, Infrastructure and Regional Development, Anthony Albanese has been in town, meeting with the stakeholders to discuss his plan for investment in the sector, and he joins me in the studio this afternoon.
Anthony Albanese, good to have you in Alice Springs.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Paul.
SERRATORE: So now I understand you’re in town for the Awards, and you’re going to be at the Awards tonight. But of course, you’ve been meeting people today – it’s been quite a hectic day. What have you been up to? Who have you met with today?
ALBANESE: It has; I met with NT Airports today, including about their plan for an air museum – an aviation museum – here in Alice Springs. And it’s quite an exciting proposal that they have. There’s obviously a lot of space next to the runway here in Alice Springs. And just like the truck and heavy vehicle museum, here is a great tourist attraction.
I hosted a ministerial council dinner there one evening a few years ago. An aviation museum, similarly, with the space that is there – it’s actually the largest landmass of any airport in Australia, here in Alice Springs. So how do you create more attractions so that when people come here, not only are encouraged to come here, but are encouraged to stay for longer is part of the challenge.
I met with them, and I’ve also just dropped into CAAMA to talk to them about Indigenous employment issues, training, about media and I have other meetings with the tourism sector later this afternoon before the big night of nights, here in Alice Springs.
SERRATORE: Indeed. So you also said, I suppose that you’re formulating a plan for tourism for this region. What is Labor’s plan for tourism, particularly here in the NT?
ALBANESE: We think that tourism is one of the super growth sectors. It’s been growing at something like five times the average in which the Australian economy has been growing. So we need to take advantage of that. I think that requires a change in focus.
Too often, tourism and hospitality, for example in employment, are seen as something students do while they do something else. There needs to be career paths; we need to make sure it’s seen as a key to growth in the national economy. And particularly for growth in regional areas. So the dedicated regional tourism funds essentially have been gotten rid of by the current Government, and we think that is a grave mistake.
We think in specific areas, such as Indigenous cultural attractions, are something that this region in particular has a lot to offer. People need to look at, when you look at attracting in a competitive market tourists, you have to look at what your competitive advantage is. And the advantage in this area is obviously the natural environment, which is unique, it’s special, and should be cherished and looked after. But also the people. And in particular I think the rich culture going back so many thousands of years is something that is very attractive to people.
SERRATORE: Now interesting that you mention tourism as being an industry, which people should see as being a super growth industry and one to get into. Because many would see even here in Alice Springs, many of our tourism workers a lot of them are local, much of the workforce are overseas backpackers, or people who do come from overseas to live in Alice Springs and end up making residence here. So how is it that you can make tourism seem like an attractive industry for “locals”?
ALBANESE: Well it’s a matter of changing the focus of it, and changing the perception that’s there, so that people see there are career paths there and proper training being provided. Proper accreditation. Working with the industry itself.
And that’s something the industry is certainly very keen on; ensuring that they therefore get a workforce, which has greater capacity if those skills are offered and if there’s long-term participants in the industry, rather than just people who are dropping in.
Now inevitably in an area like tourism, including in this area, some of it is seasonal. So you’ll see people move around, but that’s one of the great things about the sector is that the skills that can be picked up can be portable. It can be of great benefit to the individual.
SERRATORE: And I suppose the other big issue we have here in Alice Springs is the cost of flights. The cost of transport to get to and from Alice Springs, being I suppose the bane of any locals here in town who complain, ‘well why is it that it costs several hundred dollars more to fly out of Alice than if I was flying to the Rock.’ There’s also been a lot of concern that tourism is going directly to the Rock, as opposed to in Alice Springs. Is there something that a Federal Labor Government can do to fix that situation?
ALBANESE: All it can do is to assist in the competitive aviation market and make sure that pressure is placed on as well; in terms of making sure that the competition is available. One of the things that I spoke to the Airports about certainly is the concern they have with the drop out of airlines – like Tiger were flying here at one stage. When you have a monopoly inevitably there will be an impact in terms of prices. Virgin currently fly from Darwin to Alice to Adelaide, but how can we encourage those airlines?
That’s something that a Federal Labor Government would want to do. We did it when we were last in Government. We had specific plans that encouraged airlines to fly to the non-capital city destinations because we understood that there was a great deal of benefit from that in terms of prices – not just for tourists, but particularly for residents of this community, and others as well.
SERRATORE: The voice you’re hearing is that of Anthony Albanese. He is the Federal Shadow Tourism Minister, as well as Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, in town tonight for the Tourism Central Australia Awards.
Now a lot of people in town would say that when we had the Country Liberals Government in – just ousted in the August election – they did a lot for tourism in this town because they put a lot of money into events. We saw the Red Centre Map, we’ve just seen the Parrtjima Festival, which is just wrapped up. There’s the Million Dollar Fish Competition that’s happening in the Top End. Is there room for a Federal Government to step up and put money towards events such as that to attract tourists into town?
ALBANESE: There certainly is, and there’s an economic benefit, particularly in terms of not just domestic tourism, but if we can attract more international tourists to Australia. That’s why we were concerned that just last week there was an announcement of a further five dollar increase in the passenger tax – the Passenger Movement Charge – that’s placed on all overseas visitors. We already have just about the highest charges in the world, bar none.
And if we’re going to be competitive in attracting tourists from China, and Indonesia, and the growing markets that we have to our north, India, then we need to make sure that we’re competitive in terms of visa charges, in terms of taxes, but also in terms of ease, of people being able to come here as well, in terms of processing times, etc. Because in today’s world, with the wonderful internet, people have access to that information and they do compare.
One of the great things that Australia has to do is attract people not just who want to go to Sydney or Melbourne, or a capital city, but also want a real experience that’s different from what they can experience in their home countries, whether it be Europe, or America, or Asia to our north.
There’s nowhere better than the Northern Territory to do that.
SERRATORE: Now finally, Anthony Albanese, if I can ask you in terms of another one of your portfolios, but one that sort of ties into tourism; infrastructure. Now there’s been a lot of talk about the Outback Way, the Federal Coalition Government have put a lot of money towards sealing the Outback Way. Will a Federal Labor Government be committing just as much money to get that sealed?
ALBANESE: Frankly they haven’t done much. You don’t seal a road from Cairns to Perth with $30 million.
SERRATORE: It’s a start.
ALBANESE: I’ve got to say that will do a bit of work on maintenance, is about all you can do. I’m very sceptical about how much bitumen will be laid. I know how much it costs to lay roads, and I know how much it costs in terms of maintenance. Particularly in areas where there are weather events, and my concern is too, to keep the road open at all. And I think they were looking around for an announcement that didn’t add up to too much. $30 million – I mean they are spending $17.6 billion on 13 kilometres of road in Sydney, where I’m from, and $30 million is a bit of a drop when it comes to that. I want to see the Government actually get on with things.
We have the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, which is five billion dollars. It was announced not in this year’s Budget, but last year’s. Not a dollar of it has actually been spent or loaned, which is the purpose – to create infrastructure investment. I am concerned that this has been a Government that has been good on rhetoric, but not great on reality.
SERRATORE: And it’s fair enough I suppose to keep that rhetoric, but would you keep that rhetoric up, would you actually see something done and see this Outback Way sealed?
ALBANESE: Well the Outback Way being sealed the whole way is a commitment that is in the order of many tens of billions of dollars. That’s the truth. And one of things that I think we need to do is compare where money should be spent, where it actually makes a very real difference.
SERRATORE: Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.