House debates

Monday, 15 February 2021

Constituency Statements

COVID-19: Income Support Payments

10:36 am

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government's focus on announcement over delivery is putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs of workers in our travel and tourism industry and the small businesses that employ them. The travel industry, both domestic and international, has faced some of the harshest conditions throughout the last 12 months. I have recently met with a number of small business operators and staff from the travel and tourism industry in my electorate. Many of them have said that when JobKeeper ends and JobSeeker reverts back to its original rate, these businesses simply will not be able to survive without further support. A recent survey of travel agents showed that just one in 10 businesses will survive beyond April without urgent targeted support.

After months of pleading the travel agents got some assistance through the Consumer Travel Support Program, but, despite detailed feedback from the industry, the grants program has been so poorly designed that it's failing to deliver support for those who it's supposed to help. Many travel businesses and travel agents are failing to qualify for that support because of the way they define their turnover in their business activity statement. Despite repeated warnings, the government launched a program that it knew would not work. But they still went ahead and did it. It's seeing agencies close and jobs lost. Faced with the reality, the newly appointed minister continues to defend the program, which is expected to see many small and mid-sized agency collapse.

Labor has repeatedly called on the government to address this issue, highlighting the concerns raised by the sector, members of the peak body, and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. The government must fix this bungled program before more agents are forced to close and more Australians lose their jobs. It's been clear for nearly a year that the broader tourism sector is not going to be able to snap back as the Prime Minister hopes it will. Labor has repeatedly called on the government to address issues, highlighting the huge challenge faced by the tourism and travel sector and the importance of these operators surviving.

I recently met with Patrick Barden, who runs This Is Africa. He used to employ 11 staff; he's now got five left. As he said, who's going to process the clients' refunds and bookings when there are no staff after March if these businesses have to close when JobKeeper ends? Peter Burke, who represents Travellers Autobarn, has been a tourism operator since 1993. His business has overcome the Ansett pilot strike, 9/11, SARS, swine flu and bird flu and the GFC, but he's now on the brink. He's pleading for the Morrison government to take responsibility and act. In his letter he says: 'Why would the government provide enough support to almost save the tourism industry? We have come this far. We've not profited from JobKeeper. We've worked exactly as the government hoped, but we're bleeding money. We need a lifeboat to stop the slow leak.'

That's the view of the travel and tourism sector. The government must support our travel and tourism operators and the staff that they employ.