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Matter of public importance, Supporting regional Victorian tourism operators through cruel restrictions, 15 March 2021

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? 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 are so proud in the Morrison government 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 & 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. So, 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.

15 March 2021

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