Perspective – September 2013

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Ian McMahon

No surprises? Not for tourism

I HAVE few recollections of the recent election campaign which ranks as one of the most anodyne in memory. But I do recall that putative Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised us no surprises.

How then do we explain the fact that for the first time in 40 years we have no designated Federal Minister for Tourism?

Surely we had been led to believe that Shadow Minister for Tourism Bob Baldwin would have the role in an Abbott ministry with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop representing our industry around the Cabinet table.

Instead Baldwin is languishing as a parliamentary secretary for industry while responsibility for tourism has been split between three Ministers – Bishop and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb are looking after international tourism while domestic tourism comes within the brief of Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane.

This splitting of tourism into two areas of responsibility is in line with Coalition policy that domestic tourism should be the province of the states.

But if this is the case, it doesn’t foreshadow much of a tourism role for Baldwin in the industry portfolio.

Which is a great shame in view of the good impression that Baldwin made on many industry representatives in the lead-up to the election.

Presumably he had a big part to play in the universally welcomed Coalition policy of freezing the Passenger Movement Charge (PMC) – a policy that no doubt helped trigger strong pre-election support for the Coalition from industry bodies (unusual for a traditionally politically neutral industry).

One of those bodies was AFTA but the federation’s chief executive Jayson Westbury has called the omission of tourism from the Ministry of this “no surprises” Government a shock.

Westbury, however, remains confident that the Abbott Government can be a government for tourism.

He puts the best possible construction on the new set-up, pointing out that the industry now has three senior Ministers representing it. (See AFTA View)

And the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) is positively gushing about the new portfolio arrangements helping Australia to maximise the potential of the tourism industry.

Mind you the TTF attitude most certainly does not come as a shock given that its chairman Bruce Baird is a former Coalition Minister and close colleague of Julie Bishop.

I am in the camp of those who find it difficult to believe the three incredibly busy senior Ministers will be able to have much of a focus on tourism and I am not encouraged by the relegation of Baldwin who put in the hard yards getting across tourism industry issues. Ultimately, however, the Government will be judged by policy outcomes.

And it is off to a good start with the freezing of the PMC – a move that contrasts starkly with the previous Government which did have a Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson.

Ferguson assured the industry there would be no increase in the PMC just weeks before the Budget that did increase it.

It will be important for industry bodies to lobby hard on tourism and to hold this Government accountable.