August 24, 2020

Federation Chamber

The North East tourism industry, including the renowned Alpine Shire and Victorian High Country, was heavily impacted by the summer bushfires, with widespread closures, evacuations and direct fire damage.

The ensuing pandemic and recurrent lock-downs have led to an extended period of economic change and uncertainty for tourism businesses operating across the region which account for over 20 per cent of gross regional product and 25 per cent of employment.

In the six months to June 2020, the region lost up to 1.6 million visitors – approximately 95 per cent of the business as usual market. Visitor expenditure also fell by between $400 and $639 million in the same period and up to 6390 jobs were disrupted or lost.

These are devastating numbers for a region that prides itself on its innovative and high-potential tourism market.

What the sector needs from the government right now is dedicated stimulus investment in shovel-ready tourism infrastructure projects that can get underway right now – even in lockdown – and ready the region for a major revitalisation that fully captures the incoming domestic regional tourism boom.

For this to happen, Indi needs dedicated, accessible, future-facing stimulus support to put us on the front foot.

Last week, I published a Budget submission I prepared with the nine local government areas across Indi from Towong to Murrindindi and everywhere in between.

That submission contains over $140 million in ready-to-go local tourism infrastructure projects, projects that currently have no funding avenues at all right now.

The last Building Better Regions Fund round was exclusive to drought-affected communities and so projects in Indi were locked out. While I have no issue at all with a drought-specific round, I do take issue with a government that is unprepared to accept that the BBRF is no longer fit-for-purpose in this current environment and that we need broader, more accessible funding to pick up on our tourism projects.

In such an unpredictable year, this is something we can predict – we can predict a spike in demand for regional tourism like we have never seen before. And what better way to stimulate jobs immediately than with ready-to-go projects like the $11.6 million requested for the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail project, which will usher in public art, landscaping, improved amenity options and new commercial opportunities right across the seven sections of the trail? This is a trail that has a pre-eminent reputation in the southern hemisphere.

Or the Prosecco Road development in the King Valley. The Australian Prosecco market will triple in volume to around 34 million litres in the next 10 years. The King Valley has the potential to grow to nine million litres with a wholesale value of $100 million by 2028. This project would see improvements to digital and road infrastructure, including the widening and upgrading of roads, the construction of new and improved playgrounds and cycle tracks, bespoke art installations – all things that would kick start a regional arts sector that has been absolutely decimated over the past six months.

This is a project that not only kick-starts tourism and arts but is a leg up to our wine industry which was hit for a six with smoke taint during the summer bushfires and is now under the shadow with threatened trade sanctions from China. If ever there was a time to invest in us, for us and with us, it is now.

There are many, many more projects like these that would stimulate hundreds of jobs in my electorate. But right now, our government is silent on economic stimulus that builds a future and makes us stronger in the tourism sector.

I met with the Tourism Minister last week and showed him this list and pointed to the long, long list of closed funds that essentially mean that right now there’s no money at all available in a dedicated Commonwealth fund to the regional tourism sector.

I sincerely hope the Tourism Minister will secure the funds we need in the forthcoming budget. I do not want to see this Government to turn its back on our regions and simply hope our tourism sector can limp along indefinitely because frankly it cannot.

Two years ago, this Government retired the Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure Program – a fantastic scheme that drove tens of millions of dollars into regional tourism infrastructure on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the states and territories. Where is this initiative now? Nowhere to be seen.

Well, the government might not see regional Australia. I do though. And I call on the Treasurer to see regional Australia as well, and to put money into regional tourism in the next Budget.

[August 24, 2020]

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