Special guest: The Hon Dan Tehan MP Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment
The Minister began by acknowledging that it is a difficult time for the tourism industry in Australia, especially with no international tourists for over 18 months. He noted that domestic tourism was able to fill this gap somewhat prior to lockdowns, but that has come to a halt across the eastern seaboard with lockdowns.
Minister Tehan discussed:
The business support scheme in a 50/50 partnership with state and territory governments, with the key criteria being a drop of 30% or more in turnover. He noted it has been most successful in NSW.
The importance of employment flexibility arrangements - gaining union support and making it more bipartisan.
The small business loans with an 80% government guarantee. The government is relooking at these as feedback is the loans are not being processed fast enough and there is hesitancy amongst banks when it comes to providing the loans.
Minister Tehan addressed the “ripple effect” of the New South Wales lockdown on the ACT and other areas. He suggested the government could look at financial support to those areas affected by lockdowns in other areas. He encouraged attendees to raise this issue with the ACT government, saying if they committed to paying 50% then it would help him to advocate for this business support measure.
Comments from Canberra tourism and hospitality industry leaders
General Manager InterContinental Hotels Group – Crowne Plaza Canberra
The group has just invested over $600m in new acquisitions in the past week, however they are facing a national staff skill shortage and are desperately trying to keep good people in the industry. They would like to see JobKeeper or a similar payment re-introduced.
Project Leader National Capital Educational Tourism Project
The Parliament and Civics Education Rebate (PACER) program was fully booked for the third school term until the NSW lockdown. The lockdowns have cost Canberra with 1000 school visits cancelled and purpose-built accommodation providers will remain empty for the remainder of the year.
The PACER program funding increases haven’t been reconfirmed for 2022 and schools need that certainty to commit to travel. Minister Tehan committed to check on the funding, saying he thought the changes had been made permanent.
General Manager National Convention Centre
The business events industry is very reliant on people being able to travel across territory and state borders, therefore they are seeing big impact from the lockdowns.
The National Convention Centre has experienced significant downturn from July onwards due to the New South Wales lockdowns and the need for financial support was emphasised.
Minister Tehan responded that the business events program had good support and the government will look at options for something like that again for when restrictions are lifted.
General Manager Australian Hotels Association ACT Branch
The situation in the Canberra accommodation sector is dire and it has been excluded from the COVID-19 disaster payments offered to those in lockdown areas.
The Minister’s view on mandatory vaccinations was sought. Minister Tehan thought there would be a strong case for mandatory vaccination, however he would like the opportunity to look more closely at the legal situation which needs to consider public health orders and WH&S laws which vary state to state and territory.
CEO Canberra Convention Bureau
Noted there will be another six months with no revenue for the business events supply chain if we’re waiting for 80% vaccination. There needs to be some form of emergency payment.
Minister Tehan noted the ‘resounding success’ of JobKeeper, but the government is looking to be more targeted the current circumstances. They want to work with the states and territories and may need to adapt support payments, such as targeting businesses who are impacted outside lockdown areas. The Minister said he’s happy to put the case to cabinet colleagues.
Proprietor Cockington Green
This situation is the worst the business has ever faced, with millions of potential customers excluded from visiting due to lockdowns.
Businesses are running at reduced numbers even without lockdowns due to Covid-19 venue capacity limits and it is difficult to retain staff without a JobKeeper payment.
Emphasised that the ACT is desperately in need of recognition as a Covid-19 affected area and in need of support for staff.
Director-General National Archives of Australia
National institutions are not as financially affected as private sector operations but are still impacted. The drop in visitors has had an impact on revenue for some national institutions that rely on visitors to generate revenue. The Director-General acknowledged the impact on the broader Canberra economy.
Concluding remarks by Minister Tehan
The Minister hopes Australia may be able to open our boarders to New Zealand sometime around Christmas, and Australia may be ready sooner than New Zealand to begin re-opening boarders. The Minister hopes we may be able to open up other bubbles early next year with some pacific island countries, Singapore etc.
The Minister imagines that international students and workers may be given some priority status when travel is possible.
The Minister hopes the states and territories keep to commitments made through National Cabinet and that, when 80% vaccination rates are achieved, there won’t be border closures, just targeted action in LGA’s if there is a need.
The report that Minister Tehan has asked Martin Ferguson to prepare will be important in mapping out what is needed from industry and government policy from here til 2030.
The Minister is getting feedback that international tourists are eager to visit Australia again, although he understands one of the big issues will be staff resourcing.
Minister Tehan again acknowledged the difficult situation and how he appreciated everyone sharing their experience. The Minister assured attendees that he will be doing his best to get help and support.
David Marshall, Chair of the Tourism Leaders Forum, closed the meeting by reflecting that Minister Tehan had heard concerns about business viability and the cascade effect for Canberra economy. Mr Marshall thanked the Minister for his time and interest.