Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Questions without Notice
Tourism Aviation Network Support Program
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Payne. After months of uncertainty for the half a million workers across our tourism sector, the government made a chaotic announcement of meagre support beyond the withdrawal of JobKeeper. In this chaotic announcement, the government flagged a total cap of 800,000 discounted tickets. Now that the government has been forced to expand the scheme due to political pressure, which of the 13 original locations will have their share of this support slashed?
I thank Senator Farrell very much for his question. I reject the premise of Senator Farrell's question, because Senator Farrell has failed to acknowledge this important next step in the government's national economic recovery plan, which is about supporting businesses, workers and regions who are still finding it very difficult in the post-COVID-19 pandemic period. The package's mix—whether it is discounted airline tickets, loans for business or direct support to keep planes in the air and airline workers in their jobs—is an important part of building that bridge back to a normal way of life for Australians. The centrepiece of this package is a demand driven program—as the senator said, 800,000 half-price airfares—to actually enable Australians to travel, to actually support tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines who have been dealing with these challenges.
I don't understand why those opposite do not support that initiative, to actually engage with those businesses, to actually enable those Australians to travel. The package ultimately will take more tourists, whether it is to our hotels and our cafes or to go on tours, to explore our own backyard. That does mean more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviation sectors. It is a win for local communities, and local communities that were spelt out here earlier in the week, in the chamber, don't understand why those opposite don't support those local communities and don't want to support them with this package. The half-price ticket program, initially operating to 13 key regions, and other new measures in the support package, include that new international aviation support to assist Australia's international passenger airlines to maintain over 8,000 core international aviation jobs; support for regular passenger airports to meet their domestic security costs; a new aviation services assistance support program to help ground-handling companies to meet the costs of mandatory training certification and accreditation— (Time expired)
On Sunday the Deputy Prime Minister, on the ABC's Insiders, couldn't answer a simple question about whether this program was capped, or driven by actual demand and need. Can you please tell us what it is?
I think we've been quite clear about the 800,000 airfares. These are 800,000 airfares that will enable Australians to do that travelling that we've been talking about. It is about motivating—incentivising, if you like—Australians to travel around their own country—
The point of order is direct relevance. The question was very precise, and it's the same question that the DPM could not answer: is this program capped, or demand driven? I ask the minister to return to the question.
I'll let you restate the question, Senator Wong. I was listening very carefully and, unless I misheard, I thought I heard a number referred to. I can't instruct the minister how to answer a question. So I'll call Senator Payne to continue.
I've mentioned the 800,000 figure. That is 800,000 half-price tickets to travel around Australia—an opportunity that has, for example, seen flight searches on Virgin Australia increase by almost 80 per cent following the announcement of the support—
On direct relevance: the question didn't ask about a booking system or travel agents. We asked a budget question, Mr President, and I would ask you to remind the minister of the question.
I'm listening very carefully. I take the point that it was a question about a program and I heard earlier the minister refer to a number, but I can't instruct the minister on the terms in which to answer a question. I've allowed you to reinforce the question. But it is up to the minister to determine the terms in which she answers it. I'm listening very carefully, and at this point I believe the minister is being directly relevant.
Mr President, I'm going to ask you to go away and reconsider that ruling after question time, looking at the Hansard. I again raise a point of order on direct relevance. The question relates directly to whether this program has been funded as a capped program or a demand driven program.
I will always accept the request of a senator to review the Hansard. My initial reaction is that, when the minister is talking about a specific number, to ask me to go further and ask the minister—
Senator Wong interjecting—
I'll take the interjection. That goes, in my view, to trying to instruct the minister on the terms of how to answer a question. There is an opportunity to debate it. I will reflect on this and come back to the chamber.
Minister, how will the 800,000 tickets be distributed across the destinations? Is there an agreement with the airlines and operators or is this again being decided by a colour-coded spreadsheet?
I'm not sure that I understand the details of Senator Farrell's question, but this is demand driven about where passengers wish to go, where Australians want to travel. As the tourism minister said in comments the day before yesterday, I think, we are going to continue to work with the aviation sector. For example, if there are other destinations we need to add, we will do that. It is about giving people the confidence to travel, because, if people have the confidence to travel, we know that the demand and the will are there and we know that they will take that up.