Thursday, 12 November 2020
Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas Select Committee; Report
I want to highlight this report, Jobs for the future in regional areas, to the Senate. I'm sure that those of you who are connected to your local communities—those of you who represent rural and regional areas—know firsthand the toll that the COVID global pandemic is taking on our travel agent industry. These are mum-and-dad businesses in all of our communities. They used to book our kids' overseas jaunts post university, they booked family holidays and they really supported us all to enjoy both our business and personal lives. And now, thanks to the closure of international borders and the realities of dealing with the global pandemic, they're facing an unprecedented challenge to their business model.
There are over 40,000 of these people around Australia, and 40 per cent of that 40,000 are located in rural and regional communities. If we want to talk about jobs for the future, this is the industry we need to be talking about. I know that my colleague in the other place Pat Conaghan, the MP for Cowper, has been raising this issue right throughout government, seeking to find support for the hardworking travel agent industry. There are an estimated $4 billion worth of bookings still to be processed on behalf of consumers, funds to be returned to Australians and no relief in sight on border closures and travel restrictions, so this industry needs government at all levels to stand up and provide tailored support for travel agents. Seventy per cent of international travel in Australia is booked through travel agents. Over the past three years the industry has experienced year-on-year growth but, obviously, due to COVID-19 now it doesn't.
Senator Farrell interjecting—
I am, Senator. That's exactly what I'm doing right here today. Travel agents have no product to sell, no revenue and no time frame for the industry to recommence operations, so this is a very unique industry in unprecedented times and it does require targeted support. Many are losing experienced staff to the job opportunities that are out there in regional Australia, Senator Farrell—tens of thousands of jobs out in rural and regional Australia in other industries.
Senator Farrell interjecting—
But this specific industry is losing those experienced staff to other options. I'm not talking about the big players like Helloworld; I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about mum-and-dad, family owned and operated travel agent businesses in rural and regional communities right across the country.
There is a significant toll on the mental health of these owner-operators due to their whole life's work in this business being put at risk going forward. Whether it is Anne Webster's tourism operator; Helen, in Kerang; or whether it is Rosa and Greg Luff in Cobram, in Damian Drum's electorate; or, indeed, whether it is operators out in Coffs Harbour, right throughout the community we've seen domestic travel opportunities damaged, thanks to city-centric restrictions placed by premiers, and we've seen international opportunities really dry up. The Top End has suffered, and a few weeks ago my colleague Senator McMahon released a new vision for tourism in Kakadu National Park. Queensland has suffered, and Senator McDonald knows all about—
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy President, for your protection. The member for Dawson, George Christensen—another great member of the National Party—whose electorate covers the Whitsundays, said that in the first week of borders closing 2,000 people were stood down from their jobs in the Whitsundays tourism industry. With travel and tourism grounded, the Whitsundays were losing $75 million a month. Keith Pitt, in the electorate of Hinkler, reports that whale-watching season has come to a close. Domestic tourism may indeed be starting to recover, but that is not helping the travel agent industry, which, as I said, deals with 70 per cent of international travel booked in this country.
There are 40,000 people needing our assistance in a unique, pandemic induced crisis. Whilst we've supported other areas and other industries with targeted support—we've got a great tourism package to refocus our tourism industry to take up opportunities domestically—this area still needs focus, and the National Party has its back.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.