Perspective – April 2014

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Ian McMahon

 Commission’s brilliant satire

AT first I was inclined to accept the verdict of Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Ken Morrison that recommendation 33 of the recently released report of the National Audit Commission is simply dumb.

But then Australian Tourism Export Council chairman Peter Shelley called it farcical and the penny dropped. Yes, this is high farce. The commission members have penned a wonderful satire. There is, for example, the suggestion that income tax powers be returned to the states. You only have to recall what a lead balloon that proved to be during the Fraser years and you will be chortling.

But the real thigh-slapper, the zinger that qualifies the report for satire’s hall of fame, is recommendation 33’s assertion that “the benefits of exporting accrue primarily to the business undertaking the activity”.

That’s put forward as a rationale for cutting Tourism Australia’s funding in half. Then, suggests the report, this internationally admired tourism marketing body can be folded into a similarly disembowelled Austrade and become a commercial arm of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

What’s so brilliant is the members of the commission have delivered all this with such straight faces. You could swear they really mean it. Ho ho ho (or ROFLMAO as you youngsters might put it).

And as for that Morrison chap who apparently thinks they do mean it, well talk about lacking a sense of humour.

I mean the erudite members of the commission would clearly not confuse an export industry like, say, mining, with one like tourism.

When you sell a ton of coal or iron ore to an overseas buyer the price paid goes straight to the miner. Or as recommendation 33 puts it, the benefits accrue primarily to the business operating the activity.

But when we export tourism, it’s often not even a business that’s operating the activity. It may, for example, be a professional association that has successfully bid, with Tourism Australia’s assistance, for a high-powered conference that brings big-spending delegates to our shores.

And even when it is a business that sells a holiday to an overseas tourist, unlike a mining transaction the money paid to the business is just the start of the story.

The tourists who purchase the holiday and subsequently find their way through the congestion of Sydney’s single airport, or its neglected, ramshackle ports infrastructure, arrive with money in their pockets – hundreds of millions of dollars in fact – and they spend that money in hotels and restaurants and shops and news agencies and taxis and car hire depots and petrol stations and all sorts of other businesses – gigantic ones that may even be members of the Business Council of Australia and tiny ones struggling to survive in towns where manufacturing industries are on their knees.

And those businesses should surely welcome the expenditure of a tiny sliver of their taxes on the thoroughly professional promotion that draws those tourists to this country.

Obviously the learned members of the commission know this. Quite clearly recommendation 33 is a brilliant essay in satire.