Address to Tourism and Transport Forum

  • Speech, E&OE, proof only

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be here at the Tourism and Transport Forum dinner after what sounds like a very productive day and I'm particularly delighted to be introduced by my buddy, the Hon Bruce Baird, the chairman of your forum.

Back in 1998 when I was a new kid in the Parliament and Bruce had been around, because Bruce had been in the State Parliament, we teamed up and we've been great mates ever since. And I really do pay tribute to Bruce for his commitment to the tourism and transport industry through his chairmanship of this forum.

He of course established the Friends of Tourism in Parliament, which was a very innovative idea at the time. I became one of the founding attendees of the Friends of Tourism and through that initiative learned a great deal more about this industry and its importance to Australia and our economy and our society. I'm delighted that my colleague Dan Tehan is here tonight, one of Bruce's distinguished successors as chairman of Friends of Tourism.

A number of other sectors of the Australian economy and Australian society have sought to emulate this initiative. We have friends of virtually everything these days in Parliament, it's just a very friendly place! We just spread the love and Dan is doing a fine job.

When the Abbott Government was elected on the 7th of September, there were several things that I wanted to do immediately. The first was to be appointed Foreign Minister, and through the grace of the Prime Minister that came about on the 18th of September, six months ago yesterday.

The second matter that I wanted to achieve as soon as I could was for tourism to become part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Many of you in this room will know that this was something that I long advocated and desperately wanted to achieve should we win government and so here was an opportunity to do it.

It was not a cost saving measure, it was not to streamline the public service. Yes, it was to find the right home for tourism but it was also because I felt passionately that tourism was at the heart of Australia's international engagement and it had to be placed within the premier department responsible for international engagement and that was the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Having Andrew Robb, the Minister for Trade and Investment as the Minister for Tourism was an important part of my thinking and now Cabinet has two tourism Ministers, in Andrew and me, committed to ensuring that we have clear and concise tourism policy objectives and that tourism's voice is heard, doubly heard, in the Cabinet.

We have also ensured that international tourism experts are located within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, so I have access within my own department to people whose expertise lies in international tourism.

We see tourism as being at the very heart of our international engagement. It is essentially at the intersection of economic diplomacy, of public diplomacy, of international development assistance. It is part of foreign affairs and trade in every sense of the word.

Economic diplomacy is the term that I have applied to one of our pillars driving Australia's foreign policy. I've often said that the Coalition's foreign policy is designed to project and protect our reputation as an open, export-orientated, market economy - a very successful one - and project and protect our reputation as an open, liberal democracy, committed to freedoms and rule of law and democratic institutions.

And underpinning that vision for our foreign policy is this notion of economic diplomacy. By that I mean – just as traditional diplomacy seeks to achieve peace, economic diplomacy seeks to achieve prosperity. In that regard, we in the Coalition are very aware of the contribution that tourism makes to our economic prosperity.

After all we know that tourism is the largest services, export sector, we know that you employ well over half a million Australians, that you contribute well over $40 billion to the Australian economy.

And interestingly, you are also vital to our most important two-way trading partner in China, for now China is our most valuable tourism market which coincides brilliantly with its status as our largest two-way trading partner.

So in terms of our economic diplomacy pillar, tourism is key. But you're also key to our public diplomacy efforts as a country, because the people in this room and the people in the tourism and transport sectors, so often create the first impression that a visitor to Australia has of this country and first impressions count.

There are 18,000 new visitors every day to Australian airports across the country and about 38 per cent of them are coming to Australia for the first time. When you've 18,000 coming in every day and 38 per cent will be first time visitors, you know how important it is for our tourism and transport sectors to rise to the occasion.

So imagine you're a visitor arriving in this country for the first time. You're from Japan, or Korea, or China. You trip in from the airport, you're booking into a hotel, the meal, the room that you have, the landmarks that you see, the experience that you have in the first 24 hours can leave a lasting impression. And what we want to make sure of, is that tourism experience or that visitor experience, in every sense, will drive people to return – to look at Australia as a place to relax, to feel safe, to invest, maybe we'll send the kids to university here, come back for their holidays.

We want them to be attracted to Australia across the board, and your sector is vital to those important impressions. So tourism matters. It matters a great deal and that's why I'm so proud to have tourism within our department. And as Bruce mentioned that means that Tourism Australia - an initiative of a Coalition Government - Tourism Australia is part of our overseas team, our Team Australia in international engagement.

Over time I want to see Tourism Australia co-located with our embassies, our missions, our posts overseas so that our Tourism Australia representatives are working side by side with our diplomats, with our trade representatives with the vast number of people who advocate Australia's interests overseas.

On a recent trip to Japan and South Korea I had my usual briefing. When I arrive in a country the embassy or the mission lines up the experts to tell me about the political situation, the defence relationship, the security situation, the intelligence relationship, economic, cultural, you name it. Now, Tourism Australia representatives are at those briefing meetings. Now that's a vast difference to what's happened previously and it makes a difference.

So when I'm being briefed on the bilateral relationship with the country I'm visiting, Tourism Australia is at the table. And in Japan and Korea, Andrew Riley who is the Tourism Australia manager - poor man - he had to meet me in Tokyo one day and then a couple of days later come down and see me in Seoul. It was good to see him on both occasions. This integral briefing on the part of Tourism Australia is very important to my understanding of my relationship with my counterpart Minister and Australia's relationship with the country involved in my visit.

That also means that when I have meetings with my counterpart Foreign Minister, or Trade Minister, or Deputy Prime Minister, or Prime Minister or President, whomever I meet, tourism is a top of mind issue, our international engagement is top of mind.

Now, I am aware of the Deloitte Access Economics report and I want to congratulate tourism for being nominated as one of the five super sectors that will drive Australia's future prosperity. I think that's a fantastic finding and it is quite right and quite appropriate that tourism takes it place with gas and agribusiness and education and wealth management as one of the five areas that will drive our prosperity into the future.

I've been very fond in recent weeks of talking about Australia as a top 20 nation. Other governments have their own definition or description of Australia, some call us a middle power and I say 'middle of what' of the 198 countries on Earth? I say no, we're far more powerful and significant than that. And because the G20 is being held in Brisbane this year I think that it's time we started calling ourselves a G20 nation because in fact against every economic indicator that counts Australia is in the top 20. We might be 53rd when it comes to population but when it comes to economic indicators we're right up there in the top 20. We're the 16th when it comes to the level of inward investment we're 13th when it comes to the level of outward investment. We're the 12th largest economy. We are the 10th largest stock exchange. We're the fifth most resilient economy. We're the fifth largest economy on a per capita basis, we're the fourth largest economy in Asia after China, Japan and South Korea. We have the third largest pool of investment stocks under management. I could go on. We're number one actually, we're number one when it comes to the proportion of the population that has a net worth in excess of $100,000, so how about that?!

Importantly, I now add to my list that we have the eighth largest national tourism market in the world. I was in London last week and the BBC informed me that they had nominated Australia as a superpower, a lifestyle superpower! I'm happy with that.

I mentioned that tourism is important for our economic diplomacy and our public diplomacy. It's also important for our overseas development assistance. Australia, under the Abbott Government, has focussed on our $5 billion per year aid budget, and being able to lift standards of living in our region, lift people out of poverty through economic growth. So we've taken quite a different approach to overseas development assistance. We're focussing on our region and we're focussing on economic development and jobs and opportunities for people to have a better life through economic growth, and the tourism industry is playing a vital part in that aspect of foreign policy.

Let me give you a great example. Carnival Cruises have entered into an agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Through this agreement, Carnival Cruises take their cruise ships through the Pacific - and they have a fantastic market in cruise liners into the Pacific - and working with DFAT they provide opportunities for the local people in the Pacific Islands to supply Carnival Cruises with goods and services. In Vanuatu for example, the water company, Vanuatu Water is supplying Carnival Cruises with all the water needed for the cruises once they stop in Vanuatu. This kind of support, assisted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through our aid budget, is making a real difference in our region. And believe me, if we can have prosperity in our region it's in our national interest. Stability, security, peace and prosperity in our region, underpinned by sustained economic growth is in Australia's national interest. So the tourism sector should take a bow at being part of our vision for a safe and secure, prosperous, Indo-Pacific.

Another area of particular interest of mine in the public diplomacy space is sports diplomacy. We've actually set up a division within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on sports diplomacy. It's one of our strengths. We're really good at it, as I reminded all the South Asian Heads of Mission at a morning tea this morning, because all seven nations -Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia were all playing in the Cricket World Cup or the T20 cricket cup in Bangladesh - so I just reminded them that we were good at cricket and they were all pretty pleased to hear that from me!

But it is one of our strengths and sports diplomacy is part of our international engagement, and we should take it seriously because events like the Cricket World Cup in 2015 will have enormous potential for Australia to sell itself to the world. There are cricket tragics from everywhere coming to Australia and New Zealand. And I hope, as Minister Morrison has talked about the visa arrangements that we've got, so there could be a one stop visa opportunity between Australia and New Zealand. That's the kind of thing we can do to make life easier for those in the tourism sector and for those coming to Australia. Because the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has that whole of government view, whether it's Immigration, whether it's trade, whether it's the AFP, whoever it is, wherever it is, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is used to being that whole of government facilitator. We know there is an Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in 2015, there's always the Australian Open tennis, there are so many opportunities for us to sell Australia via sports diplomacy, and we will continue to do that in cooperation and conjunction and partnership with the tourism and transport sectors.

On election night, Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott said that Australia was under new management and was open for business. That phrase has resonated around the world. He gave a speech at Davos in January and he spoke of the initiatives that we were taking to get Australia's economy back on track. To get our budget back in surplus. To pay off government debt. To talk about the smaller government, less government interference in our economy. And it resonated.

I have Foreign Ministers from Norway and other European countries ringing and saying, thank god there's a world leader saying what needs to be said about how to stimulate an economy. And of course Australia is going into its 23rd consecutive year of economic growth but we cannot be complacent about it. So yes we will get the budget back into surplus, which means cutting back basically all government spending. Yes we will reduce government debt, which was heading towards $667 billion under the previous government. I wish I were kidding! We will get rid of unnecessary taxes, the carbon tax, the mining tax. We are committed to getting rid of unnecessary red tape and regulation, and no doubt you've heard that today was repeal day. We are setting aside whole days of the Parliament to repeal unnecessary red tape and regulation. The previous government used to boast about how much regulation and legislation they introduced into the Parliament. As if it was a badge of honour, to say well another couple of hundred regulations introduced today and it's completely against the interests of business and a growing economy. So we're doing completely the reverse. We are reducing the burden of red tape and regulation on Australian businesses, and I know that that will have an impact on the tourism sector.

So being open for business means making it easier to do business in Australia, not harder, and we are committed to that. Part of that is consulting with business, listening to them, getting your feet back, understanding your concerns. I know that my dear friend and colleague Minister Andrew Robb has been consulting and listening. He was telling me recently about the principles that he wants to apply to the tourism industry, specifically the belief that a tourism experience in Australia has to be high quality. We will do what we can to support you in what I know is a shared vision: a high quality experience.

Again we're going to get rid of the red tape that surrounds your sector. Please tell us what it is that we can repeal, what you believe is unnecessary. We don't want to compromise quality, we don't want to compromise transparency and accountability but there is a lot of red tape inherent in what you do, which is not necessary and we are the government to get rid of it.

We also believe that the marketing campaigns have to really hit the mark. We know that it's a very competitive world out there when it comes to the tourism dollar, and sure we're doing pretty well. We can do better. Our marketing has to be utterly and absolutely spot on, and we want to work with you to ensure that we achieve that.

Finally we want to be part of developing the necessary tourism infrastructure. Prime Minister Abbott has said that he wants to be known as the 'infrastructure Prime Minister' and we have a very ambitious agenda to get the roads of the 21st Century built. To ensure that we've got the infrastructure to assist you in the tourism and transport sectors to achieve your goals and your aims.

We're also concerned to ensure that we have a workforce that is attuned to the visitors and tourists who will be coming to Australia, and one of our signature foreign policy initiatives that will have an impact on your sector is what we've dubbed the New Colombo Plan. This is a student program that will see Australian undergraduates have a Commonwealth-backed opportunity to study at a university in the region. To learn the language. To undertake some study that will be accredited to their course back home. To live amongst the people. To immerse themselves in the culture and then come back to Australia with new perspectives and new ideas and new insights, and hopefully new skills of living and working in the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific because that's where so many of our tourism opportunities lie.

As part of this New Colombo Plan, our young students will have the opportunity to undertake an internship or a work experience in a business or organisation in the host country. You can imagine what potential this has for our bright young Australians.

We announced the New Colombo Plan in December, and the universities worked very hard over the Christmas break. The first tranche of 300 Australian students are going to four pilot locations; Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan. They'll be leaving Australia next month. The second tranche - another 300 - will be going in the middle of the year and then 40 in September for 12 month scholarships. By 2015, we will have opened the New Colombo Plan to the region and already, countries like China, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, India are asking to be part of the New Colombo Plan.

I want this to be a 'rite of passage' for young Australians, to spend part of their undergraduate years studying, learning, living overseas. I can't think of a better way of having a body of employees in Australia, a body of decision makers, community leaders, business leaders, politicians of the future, who have had that overseas student experience.

The original Colombo Plan was established by the Menzies Government in the 1950s. It saw 40,000 people from the region come to Australia over 30 years to study in our universities, and I'm continually surprised by the number of vice presidents, or presidents, or cabinet ministers, or business leaders from the region, whether it's in Singapore, Malaysia or Philippines, who say "I know about Australia. I understand Australia because of my experience as a Colombo Plan scholar in the 1960s or 1970s". We want to do that in reverse, and have young Australians understand the region, understand where we live and be better able to promote Australia – whether they are living here, or they are living overseas - so they become 'Asia-literate'. I hope that they will be part of what I see as an enduring vision for Australia, to be the global go-to destination for people across the world.

Congratulations on the work that you are doing for Australia. Thank you Bruce for having me here this evening and I wish you all the very best as together we ensure that tourism retains its rightful place at the heart of our international engagement.

Thank you.

- Ends -

Media enquiries