MCM Strategic Communications

MCM Strategic Communications
Leading Canberra-based government relations and media relations consultancy firm.

31 December 2015

Is it time for a new Tourism White Paper?

The year 2015 has marked the end of the Parliamentary careers of some prominent Australians and their contributions to public life as elected members are worth reflecting on before the year officially comes to a close.

There was the shock of the sudden passing of the House of Representatives Member for the Western Australian seat of Canning, Don Randall. For those who knew him, Don was a very effective local member whose style of not being frightened to call a spade a spade won him respect from across the political spectrum when he represented his constituents in Canberra.

The year 2015 also saw Joe Hockey retire from Parliament, bringing to an end more than 19 years of service as the member for North Sydney. Ultimately, Mr Hockey, who has since been appointed as Australia’s next ambassador to the US, was collateral damage in the demise of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September. With incoming Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull promising a new economic direction, there was no chance that Mr Hockey would stay on as Treasurer after the leadership change.

Mr Hockey enjoyed many successes during his time in Parliament. So much so that in his valedictory speech, which was delivered on 21 October, he tabled a document titled “Community Service Report Card to the People of North Sydney”. The 16-page document lists Mr Hockey’s achievements as a Minister in the Howard Government, as a Shadow Minister after Kevin Rudd led Labor back into power in 2007, as Treasurer in the Abbott Government and as the member for North Sydney.
The fourth page of the report card looks at Mr Hockey’s time as Minister for Small Business and Tourism from 2001-2004. The tourism industry, in particular, is greatly indebted to him for what he achieved when he was in charge of this portfolio.

In September 2001, leading domestic carrier Ansett Airlines collapsed. It immediately ceased flying and never operated again. This came just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US which caused many people around the world to re-think their travel plans. In short, Australia’s tourism industry was teetering on the brink.

As the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Mr Hockey developed a blueprint for the future of the industry which was arguably the most significant tourism public policy document that Australia has ever produced – “Tourism White Paper – A medium-to-long-term strategy for tourism”. In the introduction to the white paper, which was released in 2003, then Prime Minister John Howard wrote: “The Government looks forward to working closely with the industry on the implementation of this plan. Working together to achieve future growth in the delivery of quality tourism services will provide very significant economic benefits for the nation.” Then Minister Hockey wrote: “The Tourism White Paper represents input from our best tourism minds and outlines a series of key strategies to underpin the industry’s drive to achieving its full potential.”

Among other things, the release of the Tourism White Paper saw the establishment of Tourism Australia, the Government’s tourism marketing authority, and a pledge from the Government to invest an additional $235 million over five years to support the implementation of key measures in the policy blueprint.

That was in November 2003 when it was fair to say that tourism advocacy to government was incredibly strong. In the 12 years since, the tourism industry’s ability to successfully advocate to government has appeared to slowly diminish. This hasn’t been through lack of effort – there are many passionate public advocates for tourism – rather, this has more to do with the fact that other industries have committed more resources and in a more coordinated way. In Canberra, tourism is seen as fragmented because it has representation from too many industry bodies and therefore, other industries have surpassed tourism in the eyes of many decision-makers in Canberra, notably within the bureaucracy.

With tourism now at the point where there are strong growth predictions for the next decade, it could be time for the tourism industry to reflect on whether it needs to band together to lobby for a new Tourism White Paper. With the mining and manufacturing industries suffering downturns in the past three years, tourism looms one of the most viable alternative economic drivers, particularly in regional parts of Australia. However, there is a risk that without a stronger focus from government and industry combined, this growth potential will not be realised.

As Australia heads into an election year next year, it could be just the right time for the tourism industry to hold fresh discussions with all major parties to determine if there is an appetite for doing more to address the perception that some within government have that tourism is no longer all that important to the economy. A new Tourism White Paper could go a long way towards doing this.

- By Hamish Arthur

2 October 2015

Second Sydney airport a significant legacy of Tony Abbott’s term as PM

Old Parliament House in Canberra, which now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy, has a special display devoted to Australia’s prime ministers.

The display features a portrait of each of the 29 people who have held our country’s top job. Alongside each, there are a series of brief points about the major achievements of each prime minister while they were in office.

With the recent transition from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull, the political spotlight has, for a brief period, focused on what Mr Abbott’s legacy in the top job will be. His administration spent much of its initial period in office following the 2013 election honouring promises to wind back Labor policies, such as the carbon tax and the mining tax. There was also the introduction of a rigid border protection regime which stopped the passage of illegal asylum-seekers to Australia and this was arguably Mr Abbott’s most significant achievement.

However, there was another ground-breaking move the Coalition Government made under Mr Abbott which has the potential to, perhaps, be his greatest legacy – even though it hasn’t attracted anywhere near the same level of publicity as the other measures mentioned above.

In April 2014, Mr Abbott announced that Badgerys Creek, some 50km west of the centre of the city, would be the site of a second major airport in Sydney. After decades of governments at both federal and state level considering (and arguing over) many different sites – even Canberra Airport linked to Sydney with a very fast train was considered – a decision had finally been made.

At the time of the announcement, the Federal Government spruiked the economic benefits for western Sydney of a new airport at Badgerys Creek, including the creation of 60,000 jobs once the airport is fully operational, with construction to build the airport expected to start in 2016 at a total estimated cost of $2.5 billion.

There were mixed feelings among local federal MPs about the announcement. While most welcomed it, many also harboured concerns about aircraft noise and increased traffic congestion. It set the scene for what could have been a controversial period following Mr Abbott’s announcement. But this wasn’t the case.

If, indeed, a second Sydney Airport is successfully built at Badgerys Creek, then Mr Abbott will be able to claim a lot of credit for this. Given how significant this will be, it’s probably surprising that he didn’t spend more time publicly talking up the benefits of the airport when he was prime minister. It will be interesting to see if or how it appears alongside his portrait in the display of prime ministers at Old Parliament House.

- By Hamish Arthur

5 August 2015

Penalty rates reform could be just the beginning

The old weekend penalty rates chestnut has been raised again, courtesy of the release of a draft Productivity Commission report as part of its inquiry into Australia’s industrial relations framework.

The Australian Government’s principal economic advisory organisation has, among other things, recommended that for industries including hospitality and retail, high penalty rates paid to staff who work on Sundays should be reduced to the same level as penalty rates which are paid to workers on Saturdays.

The response to the Commission’s proposals was fairly predictable – unions were up in arms while business groups were, by and large, supportive.

For its part, the Government was at pains to point out that this is a report to government, not by government and that there would be no changes to the workplace relations framework before the next election. The Opposition claimed the Government was attempting to return to the “WorkChoices” regime of the mid-2000s which was one of the major reasons why the previous conservative government lost office in 2007.

In trying to predict the end result of this debate, the only certainty is that it won’t be known for some time and could ultimately be a key battleground for the major parties at the next federal election, which is likely to be held in the second half of next year.

As various stakeholders consider the make-up of their submissions to the draft report, two other points should be considered.

The issue of penalty rates on Sundays is merely one area which is holding back Australia’s tourism and hospitality industries. It could only be a matter of time before the practice of restaurants and cafes charging more for customers who eat in their premises, compared to those who take their food and drink away becomes widespread in Australia. Many restaurants and cafes in Europe already have such a pricing regime in place and it hasn’t deterred customers.

The other is the visionary call made by then outgoing union leader Paul Howes at the National Press Club in February 2014 for the development of “a grand compact in which business, unions and government all work out a deal that we all agree to live with for the long haul”. At the time he made the comments, Mr Howes attracted broad criticism, but the more that time goes by, the more sensible his proposal appears.

Who knows – if (or when) Mr Howes runs for Parliament, his plan could turn out to be the basis of a future Labor policy position on industrial relations.

- By Hamish Arthur