House of Representatives

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Conoravirus Economic Response Package)

The Bill before us waives the charges for tourism operators in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. For an industry that’s taken a battering in recent months, this is a good and sensible move.

It shows a willingness from the Government to provide retrospective support to tourism businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus shut-down.

But to me it raises a question – why is it that the Government has acted so quickly to provide specific support for tourism in Queensland impacted by COVID-19, but has been so slow in providing support to tourism businesses affected by the bushfires several months before the pandemic hit?

It was back on January 19 that the Government announced a $76 million package to support tourism in bushfire-affected areas.

That’ll be six be months ago next week and so far, beyond that announcement, very little seems to have actually happened.

On the National Bushfire Recovery Agency website right now, it says that just 7 per cent of this money has been spent. That’s $5.3 million.

When I spoke in Parliament last week about this issue, I noted that back then, just a couple of days ago, the NBRA website referred to a domestic tourism campaign called Live from Aus. This a campaign totally unrelated to the bushfires.

The Live from Aus campaign features ads, for instance, about “brekkie bowls” with a chef from Bondi beach, golf courses in the Melbourne bayside suburbs, and underwater Great Barrier Reef tour.

Now as far as I know, neither Bondi Beach nor Melbourne’s bayside suburbs were hit in the bushfires. And whilst we all know the Reef is boiling, I truly doubt it was ever on fire. Now these are all worthy causes, and obviously coronavirus has hit tourism in all these places and we should be investing in tourism for all parts of Australia.

I checked again this morning and it appears the NBRA has scrubbed all reference to the Live from Aus campaign. Now when I asked, the NBRA assured me that none of the bushfire funding is going to Live from Aus. And I have a good working relationship with the NBRA and its Commissioner Andrew Colvin who I believe is committed to a speedy and robust recovery.

The NBRA has advised me that most of the $5.3 million already spent was for a domestic campaign that ran in early 2020 promoting domestic tourism for bushfire affected areas before COVID-19 restrictions and for the Regional Tourism Grants program.

But no details have been made available publicly or privately, about what that domestic campaign was, or where these grants have actually gone.

And we are now six months down the track from the bushfires, six months after the Prime Minister announced a “tourism package” and not only has barely anything been done, but there is no clarity on how the remaining 93 per cent of the money will be spent, and the NBRA website itself is sending confused messages about what the money is for.

It’s all well and good the government is writing Bills to support tourism in Queensland, but for me it raises some really obvious questions:

  • How about following through on the promise to bushfire-affected tourism areas too?
  • Why was the NBRA connecting the $76 million allocated for bushfires with a domestic tourism campaign unrelated to bushfires?
  • Of the $5.3m that has been spent on a defunct campaign and a small grant program, where exactly has this money gone?
  • And most importantly, when will struggling tourism businesses actually receive the investment that the Government promised?

It might be helpful to put some facts around why we need to support the tourism sector in bushfire regions.

Tourism North East just produced the results of some research it did into the impact of the double-whammy of bushfires and now COVID-19 on the tourism industry in North East Victoria.

In the past six months, we lost up to 1.6 million visitor nights.

We lost up to $640 million in tourism expenditure.

As a result, up to 6400 jobs were disrupted or lost.

Over 80 per cent of businesses have lost three quarters of their revenue.

This is a sector provides 20 per cent of our regional GDP in the North East and 21 per cent of our jobs. One fifth of our economy has been entirely smashed. Over half a billion dollars has been lost from small businesses just in our part of regional Victoria alone.

The same will be true for Gippsland, and the Sapphire Coast, and the Central Coast, and the Southern Highlands, and Kangaroo Island. And. And. And.

But throughout it all, just $5.3 million out of the $76 million promised to these regions has been spent.

The research from Tourism North East showed that overwhelmingly, the thing that tourism operators want to get back on their feet is support to encourage people back.

It’s a marketing campaign focussed squarely on bushfire-affected areas. That means grants for individual businesses to develop their online presence. It means funding for regional tourism bodies to develop a digital infrastructure to connect them to potential visitor markets.

It means taking the $76 million that was promised, and actually doing something with it. Not announcements, but actions.

When he launched the bushfire tourism scheme, the Prime Minister said it would:

“Tap into the Australian desire to contribute to the [bushfire] recovery effort by encouraging Aussies to holiday in Australia and provide support to affected communities and regions”.

Now this is a Prime Minister who was CEO of Tourism Australia. This is the man who invented “where the bloody hell are ya”. Well, I’m asking where the bloody hell’s the money? If there’s one thing he should understand, it’s tourism marketing.

The NBRA should be developing and promoting a domestic tourism campaign focussed on bushfire-affected communities, places like Beechworth and Mansfield, not Bondi and Melbourne.

With the 93 per cent of funding still sitting there, we need a tourism campaign focussed on Bega, Eden, Bateman’s Bay, Mallacoota, and of course, the many beautiful towns and regions of Indi.

Part of this funding should be going to local tourism bodies to ensure that local ideas can get a guernsey.

Tourism North East has developed a pitch for a $750,000 digital commerce platform that would build resilience of local tourism businesses across Indi by helping them connect with customers. This is exactly the type of long-term investments we should be using this money for.

This weekend, the major parties were tussling over Eden-Monaro. Now it shouldn’t take a by-election to sharpen anybody’s focus on the bushfire recovery.

But perhaps the by-election could sharpen the Government’s focus on this particular issue, and prompt them to announce their plans for spending the $76 million for bushfire tourism.

There should be—

DEPUTY SPEAKER (Nicole Flint):  The member for Indi will resume her seat. Minister, on a point of order?

Minister Mark Coulton: I’m reluctant to speak up, but this is a speech on a topic; it’s not a free ranging speech. I’m not exactly sure that I’ve heard the member speak about the topic at hand. I think in deference to—

DEPUTY SPEAKER:  The minister will resume his seat. I think the point’s been made. I would ask the member for Indi to return to the substance of the legislation.

Dr HAINES:  The point I’m making is that today we are discussing a bill that is restoring, retrospectively, tourism money to the Great Barrier Reef—and I support it—but if we are directing tourism money then we need to direct it right across the board and we must not forget our bushfire affected regions across this nation.

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