Monday, 15 March 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today two proposals were received. In accordance with standing order 75, the question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the letter from Senator Gallagher proposing a matter of public importance was chosen; namely:
The jobs of hundreds of thousands of Australians working in tourism, which remain at risk because the Morrison Government failed to listen to the industry in developing its package for when JobKeeper is ripped away.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's discussion. With the concurrence of the Senate, I ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
Mr Acting Deputy President Griff, I know you are one person who would have been amazed and dumbfounded by the government's proposed package for the tourism industry last week. Anybody who has been to Far North Queensland will understand how much devastation has been caused to the tourism industry as a result of the closure of our federal border. I'm not talking about our state borders here; I'm talking about our federal border. The federal government decided to close that border. International tourists used to come to this country to see some of the greatest natural wonders in the world, like the Daintree, the Great Barrier Reef and all the magnificent places in our north.
The tourism industry was looking to the federal government to come up with a package post JobKeeper. The first observation I'd make about that is that JobKeeper ends in two weeks time. Whatever the government was going to propose to replace it, the logical thing would have been to do what the Labor Party suggested—that is, keep JobKeeper going in those industries that have been adversely affected by, amongst other things, the downturn in tourism. The government decided not to do that, but they were coming up with their own package. As we know, we saw Minister Tehan and the Treasurer go up to Cairns, and the best that the government could come up with was this so-called 'ticket to recovery', as the Prime Minister called it. Anybody who talks to anybody in the tourism industry, whether you're a hotel operator, whether you're a restaurant or a hotel or even an ordinary retail shop, knows that this package is not going to do the trick. It doesn't fit the bill for what the industry desperately needs at the moment. The industry was looking for some leadership from Mr Morrison and the Treasurer. The industry didn't get it from this package.
Can I give you an idea of how silly some of these proposals were? One of the proposals was to try and help Kangaroo Island, in my home state. Of course Kangaroo Island needs some help. They had terrible bushfires and terrible loss of life last year. You might even recall that the Prime Minister was unaware there had been loss of life on Kangaroo Island. Then they got hit by the pandemic. So they certainly need some assistance. The government decided that they would give out cheap tickets to Kangaroo Island. There are no international flights into Kangaroo Island. I don't know why; as a former tourism minister I approved an extension to the length of the airport in Kingscote which would have allowed for that. But for one reason or another there are no international flights.
The only way you can get to Kangaroo Island by plane is to fly to Adelaide. I can see Senator Hanson-Young is also shocked! The only way you can get to Kangaroo Island is via Adelaide; you can't get to it via an international flight. So the original proposal, which, we have now seen, is on the original website, included the concept of flying into Adelaide and then flying on to Kangaroo Island. But the incompetence of this government—when they finally announced their package, they left Adelaide off the list.
You're right! We don't agree on much, Senator Hanson-Young, but we do agree on this: it was outrageous. You couldn't fly into Kangaroo Island unless you flew into Adelaide. I understand the Premier found out that Adelaide had been included originally. When he saw the list, it hadn't been included; it had been excluded. He jumped up and down, and Adelaide got added to the list. That is just one small portion of the outrageous way in which this government has treated the tourism industry.
To question the coalition's commitment to our tourism sector displays a cynicism that is unworthy of even the most partisan political hack. I'm sorry to interrupt the love-in between the opposition and the Greens that I've just been watching, but I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci:
There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see.
Because the Labor Party fall into the category of those who do not see, I'll indulge them with some truths. The coalition's tourism assistance package alone is worth $1.2 billion, spread across subsidised flights for tourists, expanding our offer of guaranteed loans for businesses on top of the already $3 billion in loans that have been processed. We've allocated cash payments to travel agents, cash for zoos to keep feeding animals and subsidies for regional airport security costs, but what I've outlined only just scratches the surface of the coalition's commitment to one of our biggest industries. We've also brought in tax breaks for businesses, which have been most welcomed, and spent millions on domestic tourism advertising campaigns urging Aussies to holiday at home.
There is an extraordinary thing about this, though. I sat on the inquiry into the impact of COVID on aviation, and I watched the TWU, in unison with airlines, call for exactly this sort of package—$1.2 billion spent on 800,000 seats, to allow Australians to fly into the communities that have been the most heavily impacted by international tourism cuts. I sat in those hearings and heard union after union explain that what they wanted was for their employees to be connected to their real jobs. They wanted training and currency so that they remained able to operate a safe airline industry. We have delivered on that. The government has delivered on 800,000 flights—people with their bottoms on seats, flying around the country—allowing baggage handlers to work, allowing caterers to work, allowing pilots and aircrew to work. They will not just be tied to businesses through JobKeeper but will actually have their jobs operating. This will restore confidence in the tourism industry, because, thanks to the Labor governments in Queensland, Victoria and other places shutting the borders at a moment's notice, there is now no confidence among Australians to book flights, because they're worried they'll be trapped somewhere a long way from home and will have to do two weeks of quarantine. It is extraordinary to me that, having delivered on exactly what it is that industry and the unions, in partnership, spent days talking about in this inquiry, now, when it's actually delivered—no, no; they've got to take another opportunity to be critical of the government, as we recover from the worst pandemic in human memory.
The other point that I'd add is that, with real people flying on real planes to real destinations, every dollar spent on flights equates to approximately $10 on the ground. That includes accommodation and experiences, things like going out to the reef or going out to Kangaroo Island—where I've never been but I look forward to going one day—or buying an ice cream or a meal in a restaurant. These are all important multipliers that mean that people are back engaged in the sort of world that we want.
I compare our approach to the approach of the Queensland Labor government, which has been engaged in some of the most shameful political grandstanding I've seen. It has used people's genuine health concerns to drive a stake into the once strongly beating heart of Queensland's tourism by unilaterally closing borders, without notice, and, as I said, smashing consumer confidence. Not only that; it has tried to blame the federal coalition when we have given more than $28 billion in support to Queensland alone, while state Labor has barely been able to manage to rustle up $8 billion, primarily because it is broke. Federal Labor would do well to advise its Queensland arm to get its finances in order and start delivering for tourism in Queensland.
I rise to contribute to the debate on this matter of public importance. What an absolute shambles this government's tourism announcement has been—an absolute shambles. First of all, within six hours of the announcement, new destinations had to be added. Adelaide and Darwin were added. We've heard from those who work within the broader tourism industry just how disappointed they are that, despite all the calls for action and support, for months and months now, they've been left with very little. It might help the big corporate airlines, but the small tourism operators right across the country are left with virtually nothing.
At the end of this month, those who have been relying on JobKeeper are not going to be able to rely on that either. So not only has tourism slumped in these places; the thing that has been keeping many people's heads above water is about to end as well. The government took its sweet time getting to a point of announcing any type of tourism package. Then, when it was put on the table, it missed the mark. It delivers for the big end of town but does nothing for small businesses in rural, regional and metro areas that rely week to week, month to month and season to season on tourism business and tourism dollars.
The other key element of the tourism industry that is still being left out in the cold is the arts and entertainment industry. Still nothing of any value has been put on the table by this government to support artists and entertainers across the country, despite the fact that it was the arts and the entertainment industry that was hit by COVID restrictions when the lockdowns first came in 12 months ago. Venues were closed, events were cancelled and people were out of work, and they are still out of work. Despite the constant calls for more support from the government, for inclusion in JobKeeper, for a specific arts and entertainment package, we still see nothing of much value from this government. Senator Farrell has already spoken about what a shambles even the announcement about being able to fly to Kangaroo Island was. I must say that everybody in South Australia saw straightaway what an absolute joke this announcement was. No wonder it had to be fixed in less than six hours of being made.
But overall, I ask this: at the end of March, when JobKeeper finishes, hundreds of thousands of people are going to have their wages cut or will lose their jobs, and what good is a holiday if you don't have a job? This government continues to miss the mark over and over again. Why did we see this announcement rushed out so quickly late last week? It was because the Prime Minister knew that Newspoll was out in the field last weekend. That's what this was about. This was about trying to buy some votes, buy some positive publicity, and they still stuffed that up. They splash around $1.2 billion and they can't even get it right—$1.2 billion in order to buy a bit of a bump in the polls when everything's going pretty shabbily on their side of government, and this Prime Minister still can't get it right. Well, Australians aren't silly and they're not going to be bought and treated like mugs so easily.
We know there are many people who are still doing it really tough. They've had their wages cut. They've lost their jobs. They're desperately waiting for the season to come back around so that they can invest in their tourism business or they can keep working in their casual job. And, rather than doing what the industry called for, which was an extension of JobKeeper, an extension of support across the board for the tourism industry, for the arts and entertainment industry, the government decided to look after the big corporates and the airlines and have a 'she'll be right' attitude for those small business operators and casual workers who actually do all the hard yakka. It is just unthinkable that the Prime Minister thought that this was going to be enough to satisfy workers, to satisfy the Australian people and to make people think they were serious about supporting the tourism industry.
The Prime Minister has to go back to the drawing board. We need a decent tourism package. We need support for small and medium businesses, sole traders, those who have been smashed economically because of COVID-19. Workers in industries that rely on tourism—arts and entertainment, hospitality—need to know the government are willing to look after them, too. All they're being told so far is, no, they're not. So the Prime Minister has to go back to the drawing board and come up with something better, because this ain't it. I ask again: what good is a half-price holiday if you don't even have a job? That's the problem the Prime Minister is not willing to fix.
Quite frankly, when the government is in trouble, what does the Prime Minister do? He throws money around. As the previous contributor to this discussion said, $1.2 billion has been splashed around, but he can't even get that right. Is he really interested in saving jobs? Look at the destinations in Tasmania that have been picked for this investment: Burnie, Devonport and Launceston, which just happen to include two of the marginal seats held by Liberal members. Then there was the afterthought to include Hobart. But Tasmania's mighty tourism sector is at risk, and it's at risk because this government has no plan and it has refused to actually listen to the sector. Abolishing JobKeeper at the end of the month will have an impact on over a million workers, affecting workers not only in my home state but right across the country. Thousands of working families in Tasmania are going to be without jobs or will not be working enough hours. This investment in the airline industry, giving people half-price fares, is okay if you have a job. But, if you haven't got a job, it's of no benefit to you at all.
The Morrison government made an announcement on 27 September last year about the $50 million Recovery for Regional Tourism Fund to support nine tourism regions that had been hit hard by the travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19, and Tasmania was allocated $13.5 million from this fund. Almost six months later, how much money has gone to the Tasmanian tourism industry? Not a cent. In fact, the applications for this grant don't even close until 30 September 2021. So once again Prime Minister Morrison is there for the photo opportunities and the big announcement, but there's no follow-up. Those in the struggling tourism sector in Tasmania are going to have to wait until at least 2022 before they see any of the $13.5 million for Tasmania. In the meantime, we know that travel agents are finding it extremely difficult, and this injection of funds won't help one travel agent, because they don't actually make money out of internal travel. Their money is made from bookings for international travel and cruises, so these half-price airfares are not going to be of any help whatsoever.
The government are doing what they do best, and that is policy on the run. With these cheap flights, it is clear to see that their transparent pork-barrelling in marginal seats with their latest scheme is a new low. It was only after lobbying and outrage from the sector that Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, was added to the destinations list. Hobart was there and then it was taken off before it was put back. We've had sports rorts, we've had community grants rorts and now we have the flights rort from this government, which just keeps digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole. The Australian people aren't silly. They see through this Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who has been left wanting over and over again. He thinks that throwing $1.2 billion at this scheme is going to get him a bump in polls. People will not forget that he has been left wanting on some of the most serious questions that this government has had to answer. (Time expired)
It's quite astounding, the audacity of the Labor Party, when it comes to criticising the federal government on support for the tourism industry and support for the Australian economy as a whole. This package announced last week by the Morrison government of $1.2 billion is just a drop in the ocean compared to what we have spent overall. It's interesting that this time last week I was up in Cairns—I spent a week up in North Queensland—and the Palaszczuk government announced $200 vouchers just for the city of Cairns. Cairns is all Labor held state seats. Did we come out and accuse the state Labor government of pork-barrelling or anything like that? No, absolutely not. All we happened to point out was that, while the state government was sticking a whopping $3 million into the economy of Cairns, we had in the last 12 months injected over $800 million into the city of Cairns. That's over 25 times more than what the state Labor government is going to be doing over the next few months. So while the Labor Party is sitting here and saying the federal government is putting the tourist sector at risk it's not true at all.
It's worth noting that, if industry has been impacted, it's been by the inconsistencies displayed by the state governments, especially the state Labor governments. In the main, it's been the state Labor governments—the three big ones of Victoria, Queensland and WA—who've kept their borders closed and who've kept flip-flopping as to when borders are open and when borders are closed. It was interesting that, just at the start of this year, I got an enormous amount of feedback. I got trolled big-time by the Labor trolls and the digital lynch mob on social media. But late last year we had the chief medical officer of Queensland come out and say: 'We don't need to lock down again. We've got this under control.' We went for 130 days with no cases and then we had just one case in quarantine—so the source of it was known—and what did the Queensland Premier do? At nine o'clock on Friday morning, she came out and said she was going to lock down the city of Brisbane, over two million people, at five o'clock that afternoon. Thousands of workers in the hospitality industry were directly impacted by that. We have to remember that this was the first week back this year. A lot of businesses were restarting. They were going to make a fresh start in a new year. They got to Friday and the first weekend of the year and what happened? The state Labor government shut down Brisbane, resulting in thousands and, I suspect, millions of dollars in losses for the hospitality industry.
We were talking about the aviation sector. We had the CEO of Virgin come out and call for the state governments to have a consistent framework in regard to (1) border closures and (2) the restrictions on hospitality venues across the country. I also have a very good friend of mine who is a leading Australian musician who has personally called me and asked for some consistency in the restrictions across the states. He had a gig to play in Adelaide. I got a call from him on the weekend, going back a few weeks. He had a gig to play in Adelaide. South Australia shut the border with Victoria again and, suddenly, he was short a bass player. The event was all booked and then he had to ring around and try to find someone to come and play at that event. This the sort of inconsistency that is leading to a lack of confidence in the hospitality sector and the tourism sector in opening up.
It is worth noting that, as we head into winter this year, this is a fantastic opportunity for southerners, especially from New South Wales and Victoria, to fly north to Queensland. They would have loved to have done that last year, and at one point the Premier opened up and then closed down again. But this is the perfect opportunity to keep the borders open this year. What we have to remember with the tourism sector is, for about the last 15 years, more people have left Australia than entered Australia. We've actually had a deficit in the tourist numbers. So what we have is a net tourist deficit—that is, more departures than arrivals. So there is an opportunity now with the international borders closed to promote internal tourism across the country.
There's an opportunity for the higher spenders who normally would go overseas to come up to Queensland or vice versa. It is very important that the state premiers apply consistency. We've now got the vaccine rolling out. Hopefully, as the year rolls on, we'll get that out. We should have contact tracing and testing in place. We've got our numbers across the country down to single digits outside of quarantine. So there is absolutely no reason why the state premiers can't give some confidence to our hospitality industry and to our tourism sector.
It was interesting. I note Senator Polley said before that you've got to have a job to be able to spend money to go on a holiday. I thought to myself, 'You've actually got to have a job to get superannuation as well.' One thing I'm not going to take from the Labor Party is the lack of universality in this particular package, given that they promote superannuation despite the fact that unemployed people, stay-at-home mums and people on a disability pension don't get superannuation either.
The other thing, of course, is the idea that tourist operators will miss out on this. It is not true. People aren't going to go travelling and do nothing when they get there. For example, they'll arrive in Cairns. They'll book a scuba diving trip. They might book a trip up to Port Douglas. They might go out on a boat. They might take some tours inland to see Daintree forest. For all of those things they can walk in off the street if they want to book something, so there is still opportunity for travel agents to get some spin-off effects of this. Likewise, they're not going to sit in their hotel room and eat room service every night; they're going to go out and they're going to eat at these venues. So the idea that this money has been misallocated or wasted is just more fearmongering and negativity from those opposite us. Quite frankly, I think the whole premise on which this MPI is based is completely false.
I touched on the numbers before in Cairns and I'll touch on them again. The state Labor government is putting $3 million into Cairns for tourism. In the last year alone the federal government has put over $800 million in. But, if we just look at Queensland overall, the federal government has put $28.5 billion into Queensland. What has the state Labor government done? They're putting in a measly $8.8 billion over the forward estimates.
If the Labor Party and their state Labor colleagues are so worried about creating jobs, let me tell you the one key message I got out of North Queensland last week: 'We need more water.' The state Labor government has only built two dams in the last 30 years. For one of those dams, Paradise Dam, they're not quite pulling it down, but they're halving the size of the wall. They're going to reduce the size of that dam. In one dam in Beaudesert they've got the water wrong and the water is brackish. The people of North Queensland are calling out for more water security. I saw the Mayor of Port Douglas last weekend. He needs a lake. Port Douglas could run out of water very soon if the state Labor government doesn't get busy and build a bigger lake for Port Douglas to have some water supply. So there is great opportunity here to take that capacity in the labour market and go build some dams.
I'm happy to go the Treasurer and get an infrastructure bank up and running to fund the states to build these dams, but we've got to remember it's wealth for toil. Here is the opportunity to create more, long-lasting jobs. There are so many benefits of water security. We get irrigation. There are benefits for agriculture. We get clean, green hydro energy. How good is that? We get flood mitigation. That will help reduce risk and reduce insurance costs in North Queensland. We get recreational activities like water skiing. I know that in my hometown of Chinchilla on the weekends we used to all go out to the weir and do water skiing and kayak back up the mighty Condamine. So there is a great opportunity here to get busy and build dams. It's wealth for toil. It's not wealth for whingeing and wailing, which is all we ever seem to get from the Labor Party. It's about time they got with the problem and started to look forward and have a vision for this country, rather than looking backwards.
Over a million Australians are employed in our tourism industry, a sector which is critical for our economy as a whole and is especially important for those regional communities which rely almost entirely on tourism. We know that the sector has been doing it extremely hard because of COVID. This has real impacts for regional communities and also for the individuals, the families, the households who rely on the JobKeeper lifeline right now. While many sectors hit by COVID have begun to recover, tourism is different. It will continue to need help until domestic and international travel fully resume. JobKeeper has been absolutely vital for the sector, and that is exactly why the Labor Party argued so strongly for the JobKeeper program. But we still haven't seen a plan from the government for the good, secure jobs that are needed to replace JobKeeper.
In Victoria alone, it is estimated that over 300,000 jobs in tourism, transport and hospitality are at risk today without JobKeeper. It absolutely beggars belief that the government has announced a tourism package that will not protect jobs, that doesn't respond to the needs the industry itself has identified, that has been met with disappointment and confusion by tourism operators in regional communities, and that actually encourages Victorians to abandon their plans to travel to their own tourist towns and instead take a flight interstate. The Victorian tourism minister, Martin Pakula, has written to his federal counterpart asking that four extra destinations be included in the government's poorly targeted tourism package. Minister Pakula has been frank in saying, 'Somewhere in the Canberra bubble there seems to be a misunderstanding of how Victorian tourism works.' He went on to say, 'Regional and metropolitan tourism recovery is too important for it to be coloured by the electoral map.' Victoria has asked the federal tourism minister to include in the scheme Melbourne Airport as well as the regional airports in Mildura, Bendigo and Albury in New South Wales. Given the government's on-again, off-again naming of locations in this scheme, Victorians will have to watch closely to see whether their airports and towns make it onto the list, and indeed, if they do, whether they stay on the list.
Let's face it: this scheme is an absolute shambles and it has been a shambles from day one. The Deputy Prime Minister's shambolic interview over the weekend failed to reassure tourism operators, or anyone else for that matter, that the government has a plan to get local economies back on track. This scheme is a politicised vote-buying exercise. That is what it is. It is not a jobs plan. It is a politicised vote-buying scheme put forward by this government.
What Victorians want is a federal government that will actually support a plan for real recovery that will look after the people of Victoria and that will back the tourism operators and make sure local jobs are protected. Victorian regional communities are definitely doing it tough. They need a federal government that backs them up. The people in regions who rely on tourism need a real plan from this government. They absolutely deserve better from the government. There are just too many Victorians employed in this industry to let it fail under this shambolic government scheme.
I rise to speak on this MPI. I want to condemn the Labor Party for the economically reckless position it has adopted in opposing the Morrison government's $1.2 billion aviation and tourism package. I'm a proud Victorian senator and I'm very disappointed by the contribution of Senator Walsh, who clearly does not understand what is going on in Victoria.
Last Friday I visited the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. It's a business which is based in three different locations: the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley and on the Great Ocean Road near Anglesea. When Daniel Andrews imposed the snap, five-day lockdown across Victoria, when there was not one regional COVID case anywhere in our state, this business lost $300,000 in five days. There were countless businesses in Victoria which suffered on the Valentine's Day weekend: accommodation providers, tourist parks and tourist destinations, like the chocolaterie. I have not heard Labor senators in this place speak out about the enormous economic damage that Victorian businesses have suffered as a result of unnecessary restrictions in Victoria, including the last five-day lockdown. That lockdown cost our state $1 billion. So perhaps, if Senator Walsh had done her homework, she would understand that businesses like the chocolaterie depend on a clientele from interstate which amounts to some 22 per cent of their overall clientele.
After the most exceptionally difficult year, Ian and Leanne Neeland back this package. They believe that half-price tickets to Avalon Airport, commencing on 1 April, will make a difference. Why will it make a difference? It is because tourism businesses cannot function or operate without tourists. Since the confidence of so many tourists has been destroyed—so many people are reluctant to cross the border into Victoria because of the way the border lockdowns have been managed in Victoria—this is not just a huge incentive to come to Victoria, into Avalon from places like Queensland and Sydney, but this is a great confidence booster. As Ian Neeland said: 'Anything that can be done to attract more people to the region is really welcome. Almost 22 per cent of our customers pre COVID were from interstate, and now there are virtually none. Just imagine having more than 20 per cent of your customer base wiped out? They need confidence to travel and perhaps this package can be helpful.'
The bottom line is that passenger arrivals to Avalon Airport fell over 72 per cent in 2020 due to COVID. Our region's tourism sector employs some 17,000 people just in the Geelong and the Great Ocean Road regions, and it contributes almost a billion dollars to the local economy. Already we've seen the support package prompting a 75 per cent increase in the number of Australians searching for domestic holidays online. I absolutely condemn the partisan attack by the member for Corio, Mr Marles, and the current member for Corangamite, Ms Coker, who have once again failed to stand up for our region. In asserting that this package is too focused on marginal seats, Labor continues to put politics ahead of constituents in the Corio and Corangamite electorates.
Avalon Airport is deep in the heart of the Corio electorate. It services the Wyndham region—Western Melbourne, it services Southwest Victoria and it services much of Victoria because it's so easy to fly in and out of. We in the Morrison government are so proud of the work we have done to stand up for regional tourism through our Geelong City Deal and through our investment in the international terminal at Avalon Airport, creating Victoria's second international airport. I absolutely say to Mr Marles that with the majority of workers at Avalon Airport coming from the Corio and Lalor electorates, and with so many businesses in our region dependent on tourists coming to our region, Labor's failure to back half-price tickets to Avalon and all the other airports we have designated shows a reckless disregard for the tourism and hospitality sectors. So, I call on as many Australians as possible to visit our region, to eat in our restaurants, to sample our wineries, to spend up big and, of course, to visit wonderful tourist attractions like the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.
It is rather interesting: Mr Albanese visited Corangamite last Friday, and it was all negativity and no solutions. He was accompanied by the current member for Corangamite—someone who failed to back fast rail between Melbourne and Geelong, someone who stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr Shorten and his $387 million of taxes and is now embroiled in a grubby war with the CFMEU, which is demanding that the member for Corangamite repay hundreds of thousands of dollars. She backed a state Labor Geelong City Deal that did not include one project in Corangamite. She failed to speak up about the restrictions that caused so much grief in regional communities right across Victoria, including in Corangamite. She failed to say a thing to stand up to the Victorian Labor government when they shut down the Rip Curl classic, which has now moved to New South Wales, costing local businesses in Torquay, Jan Juc, Bellbrae and across the Surf Coast countless hundreds of thousands of dollars. She even failed to stand up and speak out against the human rights abuses in Victoria, when people were shut in their homes with no notice—most notably, those shut in the public housing towers. And now Ms Coker is failing to stand up for tourism businesses—hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants—which need tourists. They need a market.
This is a very important package for our country. It includes a whole range of different elements. Of course there are the $800,000 half-price tickets, and the government and the Prime Minister have made it very clear that if there is a case for further airports to be added then we will do so. But how ridiculous of Minister Pakula to be advocating for Tullamarine Airport to be included in this package—so that business travellers can have their tickets to Melbourne subsidised? Already we are seeing hotels in Melbourne subsidised to the tune of $1 million because of the hotel quarantine program, which is actually not currently being used. We have seen an absolute disaster with the hotel quarantine program in Victoria, which has led to more than 800 deaths. Frankly, when you compare the fact that our government has stood shoulder to shoulder with all Victorians, delivering in excess of $40 billion of support, I condemn Labor for rejecting this package.
This is not just important for hotels and pubs and cafes in our important regional tourist areas. It's important for the viability of our airlines. It's important for airline workers. It's important for travel agents. And it's important for businesses that now can access a new government backed loan scheme, where the government is backing these loans to the tune of up to 80 per cent. This is an incredibly important spend for our country—$1.2 billion, including for regional Victoria—and I condemn the Labor Party for opposing this critically important rescue package.
I rise to speak on the impact that the removal of JobKeeper will have on the tourism sector and the wider economy, particularly in my home state of Tasmania. But I won't let an opportunity go by to comment just quickly on Senator Henderson's contribution. I really have to wonder whether Senator Henderson has got over the fact that the people of Corangamite just prefer Ms Coker. They chose Ms Coker to represent them. And I really think there was a reason for that: because Ms Coker is an extraordinary local member—hardworking, passionate and committed to her electorate.
One of the things that has been said in this debate is around the areas that have been selected. Anyone, if they were fair dinkum, would say that the announcement of this initiative was a failure. It's amazing to me that government members and senators come up and try to spin the fact that extra areas, extra cities and extra towns have been added because they made a case. We know that's not correct. We know that there was a list put out there—accidentally, presumably—and then, suddenly, the official list was reduced by three cities, which included Hobart in my home state of Tasmania. Come on! You've got to wonder.
This government has mucked up so much. They have failed in so many ways in terms of initiatives and funding and grants that don't reach where they're supposed to be reaching. They don't reach the communities they're supposed to be reaching. They don't reach the people they're supposed to be reaching. This announcement is no different. The government are saying to the Australian people 24 hours later, 'Oh, we've had representations and we're going to add Adelaide and Darwin', and then, three days later, after the original announcement, 'We're going to add Hobart.' It is nothing to do with people jumping up and down, the tourism industry jumping up and down or the Labor politicians in Tasmania jumping up and down, saying, 'Why isn't Hobart on there?'
A government senator interjecting—
I think that is exactly what I'm saying: we had people jumping up and down and the government realising once again that they had made an error and mucked up the whole announcement, and there was the fact that the original list was tweeted out. You've got to ask: was this all about marginal seats? Unfortunately, this is what this government is all about. It's all about politics first. It's not about the people. It's not about the community. That is why they have continued to— (Time expired)
Hear, hear, Senator Brown! I would like to speak about the Northern Territory. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Northern Territory. In 2018-19 tourism directly employed 8,400 people in the Territory; that's 6.3 per cent of overall Northern Territory employment. It supported 15,600 jobs, or 11.8 per cent of the region's total employment. In the same period, total tourism gross state produce, GSP, was $2.6 billion, or 9.5 per cent of GSP. You can see by these figures that tourism is a critical part of our economy in the north.
While the Territory has done a remarkable job in keeping us safe from COVID, our tourism industry has been hit hard. You only have to see the stories in recent months, in particular around our icons, our jewels, of the Northern Territory in terms of the national parks of Uluru and Kakadu. Let's not forget all the others in the tourism industry of the Northern Territory—hospitality, the hotels, accommodation, the cafes, the stores, the campgrounds, the caravan parks. They are so vital, in particular in the Top End as we prepare for the dry season, which is, in terms of the north, a very critical time for having people come up, spend their money and get away from the cold climates in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.
This government's refusal to listen to the tourism industry ahead of cutting off JobKeeper kicks them when they're down. Added to the list were Alice Springs, Uluru and Darwin at the last minute. Was there a bit of confusion? Was Darwin there initially but taken off and then put back on because of the cries that the Northern Territory was missing out? It's great that Darwin is back on, don't get me wrong, but the confusion around that upset people even more. People thought, 'We obviously don't matter.' These places were added at the last minute and included in the half-price airfare scheme. How is it going to impact tour operators, cafes, restaurants, accommodation providers, retailers, taxi drivers and hire car companies? All of this is still unknown.
It is astounding that the government is expecting cash-strapped Australians to spend their own money trying to save our tourism industry when it won't do the same. It might shock members of the government to learn that many Australian families cannot afford the airfares to Darwin or Alice Springs, even at half price. It would cost a family of four over $2,000 to fly from Sydney or Melbourne to Alice Springs at current prices. That doesn't include the cost of accommodation, tours and the rest. Whilst I highly recommend people visit us in the Northern Territory, the fact is that many Australian families just can't afford this at the moment.
Territory businesses are worried. They're staring at an uncertain future, especially in the regional centres of the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory government's tourism voucher scheme has assisted many to stay afloat. I certainly commend the Territory government for that. Companies that rely heavily on international visitation, like bus and tour operators, are looking at grim times. The owners of businesses like Emu Run, Uluru Camel Tours and Wayoutback Australian Safaris are going to be forced to make some very tough decisions with JobKeeper ending on 28 March. (Time expired)
Last week we saw the public treated to a live set of the Prime Minister's greatest hits—selective pork-barrelling, corporate welfare and policy by photo-op. After a year of unimaginable anxiety and uncertainty, aviation and tourism industry workers tuned into the morning news to see the Prime Minister grinning at them from an A330 Airbus, brandishing a novelty-sized boarding pass. 'Our ticket to recovery,' he said. He called it the aviation package, except that it wasn't. The Morrison government's ticket to recovery was in fact a cynical attempt to buy votes in marginal seats and give millions more of public money to Qantas and Virgin, all with no requirement that Qantas keep their staff connected to their jobs. This attempt by the government is socialism for the rich and powerful while the working people of this country get next to nothing. There are no guarantees and no obligations on the money that's being handed out. No sector of the economy has suffered more during the COVID-19 pandemic than the aviation sector, yet the Australian government has consistently sold those workers short. It has sold them out again with this announcement. At every opportunity the Prime Minister has had to give these workers a helping hand, he has pulled that hand away.
A recent report from the OECD on COVID-19 support for the aviation industry ranks the Morrison government 18th out of 28 OECD countries. That is 18th out of 28 in the OECD. We're behind the Netherlands, the US, the UK, Switzerland and even Portugal. As a direct result of the Morrison government abandoning the aviation sector Australia has recorded one of the highest rates of job losses in the sector, at over 30 per cent, compared to just 19.5 per cent in the United States and 15 per cent in Singapore. How do you get the airline industry back up and running at short notice to make sure that we're ready after COVID?
The stories have been spoken far and wide, largely about abandonment by this government. There are heartbreaking stories of workers, like catering and cleaning workers at dnata. The Morrison government excluded those workers from the JobKeeper program. There are the ground handlers with decades of dedicated service to Qantas, who saw their roles outsourced in the middle of the pandemic. We heard from Peter Seymour during a recent Senate inquiry. Peter was a Qantas employee for 31 years, towing aircraft between hangars and terminals. In 2019, Peter was diagnosed with stage 5 prostate cancer. He continued to work for Qantas, until the side effects of his radiation therapy made this impossible and he went onto sick leave. In the middle of the pandemic, Qantas took Peter off sick leave—off sick leave! He was forced to return to work to pay the bills, until he was forced to take redundancy. He said:
I was put in this position by Qantas, not COVID—Qantas.
Desiree, another worker who has been outsourced by Qantas, said:
I cannot explain to you what that stress has meant to me, and I don't think my happiness will ever be restored.
Peter and Desiree, like thousands of other workers, have been abandoned by this government for pork barrelling, novelty boarding passes and gimmicky photo-ops. We need 'AviationKeeper' and I urge the Morrison government to finally step up.