Aug 25, 2015

Where the bloody hell are you? – Opinion – The Labor Hearld

Tourism should be creating jobs, but the industry is being cut, burnt and slashed, explains Shadow Tourism Minister Anthony Albanese.

The tourism sector has been echoing the 2006 declaration of Lara Bingle when it thinks about the Abbott government – where the bloody hell are you?

Despite all its talk about being business friendly, the federal government has virtually vacated the field when it comes to promoting tourism in this country, at the very time when we need it to create more jobs.

It’s been two years of senseless cutbacks and missed opportunities.

The rot set in on day one when Prime Minister Tony Abbott failed to appoint a designated Minister for Tourism.

Instead, he attached it to the trade portfolio as an after-thought.

That makes no sense. Tourism is our largest services export.

It employs more than one million Australians and generates $113 billion annually for the economy.

In the past year, more than seven million international visitors have arrived, collectively spending $30 billion on shopping, dining, tours and services.

The lack of a designated Tourism Minister matters at home and abroad.

Domestically, there’s no one coordinating the many portfolios tourism relies on including immigration, infrastructure, transport and training.

The federal government has also cancelled all domestic marketing funding – failing to recognise that Australian states don’t just compete internally for visitors, but also with short-haul destinations, like Bali, Vietnam and Hawaii.

With a falling dollar and sustained lower petrol prices, this is the perfect time to encourage more domestic tourism.

Overseas, the absence of a Tourism Minister for Australia hands the initiative to our competitors at important international events.

Some conservative leaders do recognise tourism’s economic importance.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has appointed himself Tourism Minister.

Tasmanian Liberal Premier Will Hodgman has done the same.

But Tony Abbott has given little attention and even less investment to the industry.

The withdrawal of funding means there will be no Australia Week in China in 2015.

There is no Australian stall at the World Expo in Milan this year, despite Australia having a Trade Commission office located in that same city.

At least 120 countries have invested in stalls, including Vanuatu.

When small Pacific nations start outdoing Australia in promotion at international events, alarm bells should start ringing.

The government has also withdrawn Australia’s membership of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

By 2030, rising living standards will mean more than three billion people in our region will have entered the middle classes.

That’s a massive opportunity for Australia, given that every dollar invested in international marketing generates a $16 return to the Australian economy.

As the mining boom cools and our economy shifts further toward services, Australian needs to stimulate jobs growth in other sectors.

Tourism is the perfect candidate – low hanging fruit in the search for jobs growth.

Since being appointed Shadow Minister for Tourism in 2013, I’ve held roundtables with industry in every state and territory seeking input into how our national government can best support tourism growth.

The message I am receiving is clear.

Operators want help in attracting skilled staff, building language and cultural skills, and encouraging young people to see tourism as a career.

They also want the government to consider the impact of new shared economy entrants like AirBnB and Uber and get serious about regulating this emerging sector.

They want action on climate change because they understand the importance of the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Snowy Mountains to our tourism sector.

I’m pleased to say that the new National ALP platform, adopted at our recent national conference, addresses many of these issues, committing future Labor governments to pursuing visitor visa reform, skills development and support for new technology to enhance the visitor experience.

It also retains Labor’s focus on climate change, urban policy and the development of high speed rail, which will boost economic development, but also our travel industry.

Right now, the government must rethink its cuts to the industry.

Abolishing regional tourism grants, axing the ABS Survey of Tourist Accommodation, and changing tax arrangements for backpackers without any research on the impact, are characteristics of the government’s lack of consultation with experts in the sector.

Likewise, federal cuts to Great Southern Rail may appear to be a savings measure, but may actually cost more to revenue due to the contraction of regional tourism along the Ghan, Indian Pacific and Overland routes.

The government could also boost tourism by investing in public transport.

Parliamentary library figures show over 1 million international tourists use Australian public transport every year.

Yet this government has cancelled every dollar of public transport funding for projects not already under construction.

Under Tony Abbott, there is no funding for Melbourne Metro, Brisbane Cross River Rail, or a train at either Perth Airport or the second Sydney Airport at Badgery’s Creek.

Up to this point they have even refused funding for stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail, which must begin construction in coming months if it is to be ready for the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

That defies common sense.

This piece appeared in today’s edition of The Labor Herald.