Tourism and Transport Forum — Leadership 2016

Speech

FNS003/2016

23 November 2016

Parliament House, Canberra

Introduction and acknowledgments

Thank you Margy (Osmond, CEO, Tourism and Transport Forum- TTF) for the kind introduction.

And Katie Lahey, Chairman, TTF for the invitation. It's my first time to front this event—I know it's held in extremely high regard by both government and industry.

It's great to have the opportunity to speak about tourism in relation to my passion—regional Australia.

Tourism is one of our national strengths.

In 2015–16 it added A$37.9 billion to the Australian economy and employed nearly one million people.

Regional Australia too is a national strength.

Currently, regional Australia contains one third of our population and workforce, but through our agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining industries, which are located across our diverse regions, it makes up over 55 per cent of Australia's merchandise exports.

Tourism Research Australia data already shows that while only 34 per cent of all tourism businesses are located outside capital cities, 46 cents in every tourism dollar is spent in regional Australia.1

With the success tourism has already achieved, and the positive signs for regional Australia, collectively; governments, industry and communities—must do all we can to find new ways to drive growth and develop the linkages between the two.

I'll speak to what the Coalition Government is doing on that front, but before I do, a bit about me.

Since February, I have had the honour of being the Deputy Leader of the Nationals.

Our party exists solely to champion the cause of rural and regional people.

I've seen a lot of Australia—particularly our regions—since I gave my maiden speech to Parliament 11 years ago.

My aim is to build the kinds of regional communities our children and grandchildren either want to stay in or come back to.

Tourism is integral to regional economic development, and it is one of the Coalition Government's five national investment priorities.

And without adequate access—by air, sea, road or rail—some of Australia's best sceneries could go unseen and our best experiences go untried.

This isn't just a matter of dollars, it is investing in the right projects, at the right cost, and at the right time, and it's having the right policies.

It's also recognising we're a big country, with far more to offer than just our major capital cities.

Aviation and regional Australia

My focus today is on the co-dependence of tourism and transport in regional Australia.

I'll begin with our aviation industry. It has a rich history and a great future.

Ours is a safe, strong and competitive aviation industry that is essential for Australia's economic prosperity, and the continued growth of inbound tourism.

This is because of continual improvements to policy settings and investment in key infrastructure.

We are one of the most open aviation markets in the world, both internationally and domestically, which continues to pay dividends.

Since the current process of liberalisation and privatisation began in 1992, passenger and international aircraft movements have trebled.

I made the point at the Rural Press Club in Melbourne this morning—there's far more to us than our capital cities.

Our regions offer spectacular natural beauty, as well as adventure, history, culture—and a great deal more besides.

Our aviation sector is continually looking for opportunities to get visitors to our regions.

Many of Australia's air services arrangements contain a ‘regional package’ of entitlements.

This means that airlines can operate an unlimited number of services from overseas destinations to points other than our four major gateways.

Cathay Pacific's flights to Adelaide and Air Asia X's flights to the Gold Coast currently utilise these ‘regional package’ entitlements.

Avalon Airport and Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport are included in a regional package as a pre-election commitment.

Wellcamp has been implemented, and we welcome the announcement that Cathay Pacific will commence a weekly freight service—indeed I understand the first Cathay Pacific freighter landed this week, which is excellent news.

We are working with our bilateral partners towards a similar outcome at Avalon.

Airport infrastructure itself has a positive impact on international and domestic tourism.

The majority of regional airports are owned and operated by local councils. Many contain businesses which bring money and jobs to their communities.

A significant number of regional airports are in the process of being upgraded through a variety of funding means.

Just last week the Government reached agreement with Sunshine Coast Council to provide a $181 million concessional loan—the first time in recent years a concessional loan has been provided by the Commonwealth for an airport project.

This clears the way for the new runway and expansion to be operational by Christmas 2020, opening direct routes to the Asia Pacific Region as well as opportunities for business tourism.

Mareeba airport is being upgraded, as well as Port Macquarie, Tamworth, Moruya, Merimbula and the Busselton-Margaret River Airport as successive election commitments.

A further 16 aviation related projects are underway through two funding programs—the National Stronger Regions Fund and Community Development Grants, sharing funding of $53.4 million.

These projects range from upgrading Kangaroo Island Airport for direct access to new markets, and to show off the Island's world-class tourism experiences and fabulous produce—to my recent announcement of $6.7 million in government funding to upgrade Dubbo Airport and Aeromedical Facilities project.

The Dubbo project has dual benefits—it will ensure the airport's ongoing sustainability as a major transport provider in the Dubbo, Orana and Western Regions and provide improved healthcare for remote patients.

Our Government is contributing $38 million to extend the runway at Hobart International Airport as well as other works.

The runway extension will open up new opportunities for the Tasmanian economy such as the ability to better participate in Asian markets and be a stronger Antarctic gateway for Australia and other nations.

You may also be aware of the Coalition Government's efforts to support regional commercial operators on low-volume or new routes to regional and remote communities through the Airservices Australia Enroute Charges Payment Scheme.

Since its reintroduction eight new commercial services have been established such as Mudgee to Sydney, Mt Isa to Cairns and Perth to Onslow.

Tourism, transport and regional Australia

I'll now move to transport infrastructure.

The Coalition Government's record $50 billion investment in infrastructure over the next three and a half years, combined with high quality digital communications support to our cities and regions, will help to grow our tourism dollar and build better regions.

Currently, around 1,000 transport infrastructure projects are underway.

What I'm most excited about is how these projects are invigorating our regions and building better connections between our regions and our cities, and the world.

First and foremost, we want our visitors, and our locals to be safe on our roads.

The drive from Sydney to the Queensland border on the Pacific Highway is one of our most beautiful coastal scenic drives.

As of this month, around 70 per cent of the final highway length of the Pacific Highway has been upgraded to dual carriageway, with all remaining sections either in planning or under construction.

Travel time savings of over 1.5 hours have already been achieved. By the time the upgrade is complete in 2020, the overall travel time savings is projected to increase to 2.5 hours.

Road fatalities are terrible anywhere, but they can absolutely devastate small close-knit communities.

So, by far the best outcome on the Pacific Highway upgrade is that fatal crashes have been almost halved, down from more than 40 to about 20 in recent years. Future upgrades will continue to improve safety.

The ten-year upgrade to the Bruce Highway upgrade, which commenced in 2013–14, is also well on the way and making a difference.

The Government's contribution of $6.7 billion will improve road safety for tourists and make it far more efficient for tour operators.

The Great Ocean Road, an international and domestic tourism favourite, is also getting a makeover.

Age, heavy rainfall and salt corrosion have increased the deterioration on this beautiful stretch of coast; slips and rock falls are common and sections of the road can be closed for long periods of time.

This not only reduces safety, particularly for anyone unfamiliar or unaccustomed to local driving conditions, but also impacts tourist trading in local townships.

And with tourism in Victoria set to grow annually by 4.3 per cent over the next 10 years, it's an investment that will pay dividends for Victoria and the nation.

There's some particularly good news for this great tourist area.

The area around these bridges was affected by the devastating bushfires over the 2015 Christmas period.

The construction of the new Separation Creek and rebuild of parts of the original Boggaley Creek bridges are now complete.

I think you'll agree that's quick work and fantastic news for tourists and locals.

More on bridges—our ongoing investment in the Bridges Renewal Programme is seeing some great results for tourists.

I'll mention just two examples out of many. Firstly, the bridge on Kent Beach Road in Tasmania gets tourists to their holiday areas and delivery vehicles to supply the goods to support the swell in holiday makers.

Working with the Fraser Coast Regional Council in Queensland, the Gutchy Creek Bridge is being replaced. This bridge makes the Glen Echo Dirt Bike Park accessible for competitions and gets holiday makers to their camp grounds.

The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Programme also contributes much to our tourism industry by reinforcing and widening road surfaces to take inter-city coaches and upgrading rest areas and building new ones not far from hotels and motels.

 Northern Australia

Northern Australia is the jewel in the tourism industry's crown. Developing northern Australia is a Government priority.

My department is responsible for managing both the Northern Australia Roads Programme and the Northern Australia Beef Roads Programme.

While these programmes focus mostly on supporting economic development, or improving connectivity between regional centres—there are real tourism benefits.

A perfect example is upgrading the Adelaide River Floodplain on the Arnhem Highway—this is the major land transport route between the Stuart Highway and Kakadu National Park.

Building Better Regions Fund

Of course, none of the initiatives I have mentioned could have happened without partnership with state and territory governments, local government, which is one of my responsibilities, and community organisations.

This morning was an early start for me. At 7 am I spoke at the Rural Press Club Victoria in Melbourne to launch the Coalition Government's new Building Better Regions Fund.

This new fund takes over from the good work the National Stronger Regions Fund has done for the past two years.

It is the same as National Stronger Regions in that we want to partner with councils and not for profit organisations to drive development in regional, rural and remote Australia, but Building Better Regions is different in that it is purely for rural, regional and remote Australia.

What also differentiates it from other funds is that it has two streams—an Infrastructure Projects Stream and a Community Investments Stream.

This Fund recognises it's not just bricks and mortar that grow strong regional communities.

We've changed the thinking to include an opportunity for communities to think outside the square, to show how they want to approach showcasing what their region has to offer.

This works directly towards tourism.

The new Community Investments Stream will allow local communities to choose their own priorities for their regions.

We will be looking for innovative projects that create employment opportunities, through staging local events, strategic planning, and building leadership capacity.

We will also be creating a level playing field, so projects of similar size compete alongside each other. This will mean better prospects for applicants from remote and very remote communities.

Applications for the Building Better Regions Fund open on 18 January, 2017.

While it has been in operation, the National Stronger Regions Fund has delivered some great results for tourism, as social and economic benefits that are felt far wider.

Apart from the airports I've already mentioned, there are 27 tourism projects with Government funding of $85.5 million and 11 road and rail projects with funding of $38.4 million.

Projects include constructing a 144 kilometre, multi-day walking trail across the Grampians in Victoria; developing the Shoalhaven Motorsports Complex in NSW for diverse motorsports; and restoring the historically significant Victoria Hotel in Roebourne, WA.

These projects will undoubtedly increase visitor numbers and play an important role in enhancing each community's vibrancy and economic prosperity.

Coastal trading

Before I close I'll say a few words about Australia's coastal trading sector.

To ensure the continued expansion of Australia's cruise industry, we need to get the regulatory settings right.

There is still huge potential for expansion into new regional ports, opening up new tourism opportunities, creating jobs and supporting local economies.

So… we acknowledge that Australia's coastal trading sector is at a crucial way-point.

There are problems, but we also see great opportunities for growth and expansion.

Conclusion

Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

Tourism, transport and regional Australia work in harmony. They need each other.

Growth in one area benefits the other.

The Coalition Government is listening to the tourism industry, just as it is listening to our rural, regional and remote communities.

Together we will achieve great things.

Thank you.

1. https://www.tra.gov.au/research/Tourism-Businesses-in-Australia_June%202011_to_June%202015.html