The federal government has come under fire on Q+A over both Australia’s vaccine rollout and the newly announced plan to aid tourism in regional areas.
Key points:Kristina Keneally attacked the government’s vaccine rollout and their latest tourism stimulus packageZed Seselja said the tourism package is “not enough”Senator Seselja defended the government being behind schedule when it comes to Australia’s vaccine rollout
The vaccine rollout was criticised for being behind schedule while the government’s plan to slash flight costs to tourism areas was panned as being “too little, too late” by Labor senator Kristina Keneally and also tourism operators who appeared on the show.
The announcement made by the government late on Wednesday will see the price of some 800,000 airline tickets halved as part of a $1.2 billion package to get Australians to spend up on domestic holidays.
But, according to some of those in the tourism industry, the package is too selective in the locations that will derive benefit and with Australia’s international borders remaining closed, will not do enough to help those who rely heavily on international tourism.
Two such tour operators are Alan Walsh and Andrea Cameron, they both run businesses in Cairns, Far North Queensland, and both say they have been hit hard by what international and domestic border closures have done to business during the pandemic.
“My business, like everyone else’s, has been absolutely decimated,” Ms Cameron told Q+A.
“Normally I’d be running 42 tours a week. Now I’m down to six a week, if I’m lucky.
“I’ve only got one staff member left. I’ve had to let everyone else go.
“Although today’s announcement has been encouraging, it’s still not going to be enough.”
Mr Walsh said he has also cut back staff from 34 to 18 during the pandemic but would not be letting those 18 go when JobKeeper ends on March 28.
He said he hopes the announcement will help until Australia opens up to international tourism again but was aware that could still be a long time coming.
“We’re probably 12, 18 months, 24 months away from getting any sizable international tourism anywhere in Australia and particularly up here where tourism was really 70 per cent of our market,” Mr Walsh said.
“When people plan holidays overseas, they don’t just travel the following Monday, they put months into [planning] it.
“So we really need a strong Australian market to get behind travelling in Australia.”
And while he was hopeful, Anthea Hammon from Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains region of NSW, was less impressed by the package and asked why it only targeted some areas of the nation.
Places to benefit are Gold Coast, north Queensland, The Whitsundays region, Sunshine Coast, Alice Springs, Launceston, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula and Kangaroo Island.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said even he had to agree the package was not enough.
“I’m not going to say it’s enough,” the Coalition representative on the panel said when asked by host Hamish Macdonald.
“I’m going to say that it is a very substantial package, along with the support for the aviation industry, the extension of the small and medium enterprise loan scheme and all the other supports we’ve been putting into the economy.
“What we’ve said all the way through, Hamish, and I think we’ve had a good record of this, we will do what is needed and we’ll adjust to circumstances as they go forward.”
‘Too little, and it’s too late’
But for Senator Keneally, that was definitely not enough, as the Shadow Home Affairs Minister cut loose on the federal government.
“We welcome any support but what was announced today is too little, and it’s too late,” she said.
“For tourism operators like Andrea and Alan, they’ve been suffering for months and JobKeeper has been sustaining them.
“I hope people do take up the cheap flights but the fact of the matter is, it’s unevenly distributed.
“It’s lucky if you’re in one of the locations that gets the cheap flights.
“What if you’re a tourism operator that isn’t in there? What if you’re one of the Australians currently on JobKeeper?
“These are 1 million of our fellow Australians [who] will be left behind by the Morrison government soon.”
Senator Seselja took exception to Senator Keneally’s comments and responded by saying she allegedly trots out the same line on every government policy.
“You said it’s too little and too late,” he said.
“Your criticism is the same every time. It is too little too late no matter what we put on the table.”
Senator Seselja then said talk of Queensland and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk being rewarded for keeping the state border shut for long periods during the pandemic was not the case.
“I wouldn’t accept that,” Senator Seselja said when asked about Queensland being rewarded.
“One of the reasons Queensland features in this is because of the unique nature of how spread-out Queensland is, with large population centres and these tourist destinations.”
Senator Keneally again hit back and said if the announcement was as wonderful as was being made out, the Minister for Trade and Tourism would have been on the show.
“I was hoping Dan Tehan would be here to talk to this announcement tonight,” she said.
“I would have thought if he was that proud of it he would have turned up here on national television and promoted it to the nation.
“And I have to wonder … did he not brief these tourism bodies yesterday and find out how diabolical their reaction was and decide he wouldn’t be here tonight?”
No getting away with slow vaccine rollout
Part of the reason the tourism industry has suffered has been the closure of both international and state borders and with the need to get travel moving again, Australia’s slow start of the vaccine rollout was questioned.
Not only have 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine been withheld, due to an issue between Italy, the European Union and AstraZeneca, but Australia’s rollout is behind schedule.
The federal government has blamed production and supply issues for the problems and pushed back dates.
Legal scholar Kim Rubinstein said leadership was needed on the issue as the vaccine rollout is tied to Australia’s economic health.
“We need some leadership here in terms of consistency of approach to looking after the entire community,” Professor Rubinstein said.
“In terms of the actual vaccination, that, together with an enlarged quarantine framework, would open up the economy even more.
“The economy is linked into the health issues and ultimately we want the leadership to be co-ordinating the health issues with the economy.”
Macdonald put it to Senator Seselja that Australia’s rollout plan was “slipping” but the minister defended the government position.
“The first thing I’d say is it early days,” Senator Seselja said before Macdonald interjected.
“Let’s be honest here. You’re behind schedule,” the host said.
“You said 4 million by the end of March. Will it happen?” Ms Keneally asked.
“We’re about to ramp up our own capacity … and we didn’t go down the path of emergency approvals for various reasons,” Senator Seselja responded.
“One of which is because we’ve had better control of the pandemic than many other countries.
“As we get that national sovereign capability rolling out, which will be happening very soon, you will see very, very quickly it ramp up.”
He then added the government is still intent on getting most adults vaccinated by October.
Ms Keneally used the comment as an opportunity to demand the government hit their targets as she accused them of failing in their rollout.
“The Prime Minister said we’d be at the front of the queue [for vaccines],” she said.
“We’re not. Seventy-four countries are ahead of us.
“Four million of us would be vaccinated by the end of March. We’ve only got 3.9 million to go by the end of March,” she said before Macdonald tried to move the show on but Ms Keneally would not be denied and made a plea of her own.
“Today they confirmed we would not hit the October deadline. Don’t let him get away with that.”
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