House debates

Monday, 15 February 2021


COVID-19: Business

7:45 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to pay tribute to the businesses across my electorate. Like many others across the nation, they face challenges like never before. Far North Queensland, especially Cairns and Port Douglas, was the first region in the nation to be severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, we'll also be among the last to recover. The latest figures reflect this, with 16,617 Cairns workers still on JobKeeper payments.

Tourism is the No. 1 economic driver for our city and our region. In good years Cairns generates more than $3.5 billion in tourism dollars. Last year that figure was less than $1.5 billion. That is a pretty stark figure in anyone's book. While some might say, 'It's just a figure,' it's far more than just that. That staggering drop in tourism dollars represents the livelihood of somebody's mum, dad, sister, brother, aunty, uncle or other loved one.

The Morrison government is absolutely committed to working with the sector to address the challenges that have emerged and continue to emerge during COVID-19. To date the federal government has injected $27.9 billion in direct economic support into homes and businesses across the state, including in Cairns and Far North Queensland. This is more than three times the $8.8 billion spent by the Queensland Labor government, mainly on health initiatives, which is the lowest spend as a proportion of economic activity of any state in the nation.

There is absolutely no doubt that the federal government will need to continue to support Cairns and Port Douglas businesses in some capacity and in moving forward. I might add that in other communities, like Cooktown and in the Torres Strait, there is need for help as well. That's not because Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor have demanded it but because the federal government value their local tourism industry, workers and families.

To highlight the effects of snap border closures on our businesses and travel confidence, I would like to highlight the plight of tourism businesses in my electorate. Getaway Trekking and Adventures, owned and operated by Wayne and Sue Fitcher, is an adventure tourism business operating out of Far North Queensland and Victoria. Pre COVID they were largely inbound and travelling predominantly in Papua New Guinea. The pandemic stopped their business overnight. The owners were faced with three options: close their doors, resulting in 200 clients losing their deposits; hibernate until international borders open; or take the opportunity to adapt and reimagine their business as a domestic tourism operator. They chose the latter. The company was just about to embark on its first major trek from Melbourne to Penola but—you guessed it—the South Australian border to Victoria was slammed shut and then came a five-day Victoria lockdown. Just think about the flow-on effect these decisions have on this one business, its clients and its suppliers—and, of course, the list goes on.

Border closures should be a last resort and not the first option, as has been the case. Queensland's hardworking doctors, nurses, health professionals and contact tracers are the best in the world. There's no question about that. They're the ones that have kept us seriously safe. I have the utmost faith in their ability to continue to deal efficiently and effectively with any potential hotspots in the future, without the need to slam borders shut over one case.

I'll just say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, for the figures that were just announced there—the 16-odd thousand—with the decision to shut the Victorian borders, I've already got so many reports, including the one from the Fitchers. People have cancelled their trips, and people are now reluctant to buy tickets to come up to our region because they're frightened they'll get stuck up there.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, serious consideration needs to be given to support packages for those industries that will continue to face challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. It would be a crying shame for us to have successfully overcome the health and economic challenges—and we will; there's no doubt about that—only to realise that we no longer have a tourism industry to showcase our natural beauty to the world. So I'd just say that it's absolutely critical for areas like Cairns and Port Douglas, and for other businesses that continue to be affected, particularly from these border closures, even though they try to make the changes. We need to continue the support.