Monday, 22 February 2021
Earlier this month we passed a sombre anniversary for the tourism sector. Monday 1 February marked the beginning of the travel bans which threw our tourism industry into crisis. As one of the first industries to feel the hit of COVID-19, tourism will also likely be one of the last to recover. Over the past year, I've spoken to hundreds of business owners on teleconferences, Zoom and in person in regions like Far North Queensland and Tasmania. Every single one of them has expressed to me the challenges that they are facing, the importance of government support, and their desire to get back to business as usual and keep doing the jobs they love. But the other message that has come through loud and clear is the need for certainty, and I know you're very much aware of this, Mr President.
The foundation of tourism businesses, of future bookings and forward planning—whether you're a tour operator running on the Great Barrier Reef, a travel agent in Perth or an accommodation provider in Sydney's CBD—certainty is critical. That is why the issue around JobKeeper is such a blow to the sector. The government have known for months that they were going end to JobKeeper. So why is it only in the last two weeks that Minister Tehan met with operators to talk about what they need most from JobKeeper and what they need post JobKeeper?
The government talks about the challenges facing the industry, offering their sympathy and understanding, as I know you're fully aware, Mr President, but these businesses don't want government sympathy; they are in these circumstances as a direct result of government decisions and deserve a government response. JobKeeper ends in just 34 days. For the government to claim they are waiting on data or engaging with the sector on what they need at this late stage is completely unacceptable. We know the sector is in trouble; we know that jobs have been lost; we know that international-facing businesses like tour operators, wholesalers and travel agents will find it difficult until international travel is possible again; and we know that the sector can't afford to wait for the government's announcements schedule. Pre COVID, this industry employed over one million people across 300,000 businesses. These jobs are at risk, and decisions about their future are being made right now, not at the end of the month. Knowing what an absolute mess the government have made of previous support packages, like the one put forward for travel agents, which is producing vastly inequitable outcomes, it's vital that there is time to properly implement these programs.
Mr President, if you could pass this on to your colleagues: I strongly urge the government to be upfront and provide certainty to the industry about what support will be available post JobKeeper. If you can do that, Mr President, while we wait for this—
An opposition senator: You're relying on the President.
Yes. He's sitting up there and he's listening, when he's not playing with his mobile phone. And I know he'll pass that on to the government, while we wait for this certainty. To all those employed in this sector, I want you to know that I and my Labor colleagues will continue to fight for you and for the future of this important industry. We stand with you every step of the way.