SENATOR ANTHONY CHISHOLM
SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
WEDNESDAY, 29 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Regional Queensland listening tour; Wide Bay economy; Paradise Dam; JobKeeper; Border Closures.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: It's great to be in Bundaberg today with Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. We've been on a road trip over the last couple of days. We've been through Roma, we've been through Emerald, we've been through Biloela and we're in Bundaberg today and we've done a roundtable with tourism and business operators around town. It's been a great insight for us to hear about their resilience and how they've been dealing with COVID-19 here in Queensland, and they really are quite positive about what the future looks like. But there also are significant challenges as well so it was a really good opportunity for us to hear directly from them about how their businesses are faring, and also what we can do to provide assistance to them. It's great that the Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers has been with us. It's really important for Jim to get a good sense of regional Queensland being the senior shadow minister for the Labor team out of Queensland so I'll now hand to Jim to add some comments as well.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Anthony. It is really important that we understand that if the Australian economy is to recover strongly then the local economies of regional Queensland need to be a big part of that story. I want to pay tribute to the businesses of Bundaberg and the surrounding area for the way that they have rolled up their sleeves and dealt with what has been an extraordinarily difficult period and the way that they are looking to the future. I want to thank them for the jobs and opportunities that they provide in communities like this one. Just having met with tourism operators, and other businesses from the region, I can say with some confidence that they have done everything that's been asked of them. All of the extra compliance, all of the extra cleaning, all of the extra responsibilities to make towns like Bundaberg and the surrounding region, a safe place for people to visit. There is an appetite for people to get out and about and Queensland having gotten on top of the virus better than other places, means that people can come and visit Bundaberg. They can get on the train from Brisbane, they can come to Bundy, they can come to Childers, they can come to the surrounding areas and support the local economy. So I do want to pay tribute to the businesses, the tourism operators and others who are doing absolutely everything they can to keep the wheels of the local economy turning, to keep people in jobs and if this country is to recover strongly from this recession, then we will be relying very heavily on the businesses and communities of regional Queensland. That's why Anthony Chisholm and I have made it a priority to get around Queensland, to understand the different industries and the different communities. We were in Roma, talking about agriculture. We were in Emerald and Biloela talking about mining. Now in Bundaberg and later today in Hervey Bay talking about tourism. These are the sectors that we will be relying on very heavily as we come out of this first recession in three decades.
JOURNALIST: What are the concerns you're hearing from businesses on the ground?
CHALMERS: Clearly it's a difficult time for businesses, they want to make sure that they're doing the right thing. So they need to keep up to date with the various changes in the regulations and I know that that's a stressful time because everyone wants to be doing the right thing, so they want to make sure that they're keeping up to date and that's an additional responsibility that they feel. When it comes to hospitality businesses in particular and we've been speaking to a number of them today, there are extra responsibilities to do things like the way that they clean, the way that they provide the opportunity for people to sanitize and all of those sorts of things. They want to do the right thing but it means an extra responsibility, so that's on their mind. The JobKeeper programs have been important but imperfect. So we will always be looking for ways to improve that important program. Things like tenancy, the arrangements that have been struck there which are temporary, there's concerns about when those arrangements end. There's been cancellations of festivals including in Childers and that makes it harder for local tourism operators so those are the sorts of things that we've been hearing about, and you only hear those sorts of things that are specific to local communities if you spend time in local communities and that's why we're here.
JOURNALIST: So what can be done to alleviate those concerns?
CHALMERS: There might be opportunities for us to aggregate better the information that's provided to business from all levels of government, whether it's liquor licensing, whether it's the cleaning requirements, or other state, federal and local regulations. We need to find a way to give people confidence that they're getting that information from as few channels as possible to make that easier. The JobKeeper program, there's a lot of workers, particularly in arts, entertainment, hospitality and accommodation, who fall through the cracks there because they might be a casual worker who hasn't been working for the same employer for longer than 12 months. So there are opportunities there for the Government to clean that up so that fewer people are left behind,.
JOURNALIST: How have the businesses fared comparing to other regions because we are heavily reliant on agriculture here?
CHALMERS: This community is not short of challenges, but compared to some other communities around Australia there's a sense that things are not great but not horrible. And speaking to some of the hotel operators they might have occupancy around 80 per cent, which a lot of hotel operators in other parts of Australia would be quite pleased with, not 100 per cent but not the 3 per cent that it was in the depths of the shutdown. There's something special about the business operators in Bundy, even with everything that people have been through there is a sense of how do we get on top of this? How do we get the place moving again? And to be honest with you that was quite a heartening, if not inspirational, sense that we got from them that they will get on top of this. There's something special about regional Queensland. Businesses are so accustomed here to responding to difficulty, whether it be weather events or some other kinds of difficulty so it's a really forward looking place. I would like to see the rest of Queensland reward that spirit by visiting Bundy spending money here, getting through the shops and tourism opportunities that are here.
JOURNALIST: Bundaberg farmers have announced a class action against the Queensland Government for its handling of Paradise Dam, does Federal Labor have any opinion on what happened with the dam? Should it be reinstated because of the economic impact to the region?
CHALMERS: I've seen those reports but I haven't had a chance to speak with colleagues about it so we might comment on that at a later stage.
JOURNALIST: With regards to tourism operators are you hearing a lot of concern about the uncertainty about border closures as well obviously that's going to have a major impact on these tourism operators who have only just started getting some visitors back.
CHALMERS: Two things about that. Clearly, there is a very concerning outbreak in Victoria and to some extent in New South Wales, as well, state leaders of either political persuasion, not just in Queensland but right around Australia, the advice that they get is continually updated. We need to be cognisant of those developments down south. I'll let the Premier speak directly to the prospects for any future border closures but one of the things that we do hear about here is clearly if the border was closed that would have an impact on business but what would be absolutely devastating for business would be if there was an outbreak and businesses had to close down again. We hear that elsewhere in Australia and we heard that this morning, the big fear is; closed down, reopening, and then closed down again. That would be devastating for confidence. So we need to be vigilant about making sure that we keep Queensland, as free of this virus as is possible.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean an increased concentration on domestic tourism?
CHALMERS: That's a big part of what businesses here are thinking about, how do we get as much of the Queensland tourism market traveling through communities like this one? With the international border closed there's a lot of Australians who can't get away, whether it's Bali or Paris or wherever they might have been headed so there is an opportunity there to try and soak up some of that interest, and to get people traveling through these beautiful towns of regional Queensland.