(Blue Mountains - Minister for Energy, Minister for Tourism, Minister for Corrective Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts) [4.24 p.m.]: I move:
(1) condemns the Federal Government for its failure to help the tourism industry, facing a severe downturn as the result of the Asian financial crisis;
(2) calls on the Prime Minister to urgently provide a reinvestment package of funding for the industry and to restore the $3.5 million stripped from the last two budgets of the Australian Tourist Commission; and
(3) notes the positive steps taken by the New South Wales Government to give practical assistance to the tourism industry of this State.
The New South Wales tourism industry is facing a grim year, its toughest year since the pilots’ strike of 1989. This bleak forecast results from the severe decrease in the number of visitors from Asia. That
decrease is the direct result of the problems besetting many Asian economies. Already there is strong evidence that many thousands of jobs have been lost in the hospitality sector across Australia. In New South Wales it is feared that several thousand jobs may have gone or are under threat from the sector that includes accommodation, restaurants and cafes. Figures published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for February show that the number of hospitality jobs has fallen nationally by as many as 17,000 since February 1997 and 8,000 since November.
The Government’s tourism advisers say that we must assume that a substantial proportion of that fall is attributable to the Asian currency crisis. It may be assumed that one-third of those job losses have occurred in New South Wales, as it attracts about one-third of the tourism market. The losses may prove temporary but that is cold comfort for families hit by the loss of income and for young people denied opportunities to work in the industry. Experts warn that this year New South Wales faces a decrease of 115,000 in the number of international visitors. Tourism New South Wales prepared this scenario based on the latest report of the Tourism Forecasting Council, which was released a fortnight ago.
A decrease of that order will mean the loss of 2.5 million visitor nights and $250 million in lost revenue. Tourism is arguably Australia’s most important industry. It is worth $60 billion to the national economy and employs 700,000 people; it is worth $20 billion to New South Wales, employs 240,000 people, and has by far the highest percentage of young employees in Australia. Tourism is vital to this State and country and cannot be taken for granted. At a time when visitor numbers are slumping, the industry is being squeezed by the increasing number of Australians who are travelling overseas; they are being lured to Asia by cheap holidays.
As many domestic tourists as possible are needed to fill the gap left by absent visitor days. The responsibility for tourism lies with both State and Federal governments. The State Government is taking firm and positive steps to support the industry through this downturn. The Government is acting in several ways. For instance, last Sunday evening a new $8 million domestic advertising campaign for Tourism New South Wales hit television screens around the State and in other major capitals. This groundbreaking campaign took many months to put together. Research has shown that potential travellers decide on what type of holiday they want before they choose a location. By reaching people early in their decision-making process through this campaign the Government hopes to significantly increase this State’s share of the market and, indeed, to increase the market.
The new Tourism New South Wales website has been established and is believed to be the most advanced and sophisticated in Australia, with more than 13,000 entries for locations, accommodation and activities around the State. In its first week of operation it received 6,000 hits. The Government is continuing its advertising campaign by relaunching the well-established Sydney all-day-long, all-night-long campaign in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong at a cost of $3 million. The Government has opened a new office in Hong Kong which will promote tourism in New South Wales. The Government is also currently running a number of specialist business workshops to help tourism operators stay afloat during the slump.
This Government has swung into action to support the tourism industry during this difficult time. It is showing leadership by helping to stem the damaging loss of jobs. The tourism industry will confirm that that is true. However, it is not true of the Federal Government. The Prime Minister’s performance so far has been of the Nero variety: all we have heard from Mr Howard is chiding of those who call the Asian problem a crisis. Perhaps it is not a crisis for Mr Howard, but I assure him and those opposite that it is a crisis for thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses now facing uncertain futures.
The Prime Minister and his tourism Minister have been sitting on their hands. The Australian Tourism Commission, which markets Australia overseas, has received no additional funding. The tourism industry, which is deeply worried, has received no leadership or practical support. The Prime Minister has been happy to grant more than $300 million in aid to manufacturing and primary industries hit by the Asian downturn. That is reasonable, although perhaps he should have given a little more. However, he has not given 1¢ to tourism; instead, he has cut $3.5 million from the Australian Tourism Commission budget in the past two years. That has directly affected the tourism industry. The brand marketing overseas conducted by the Australian Tourism Commission has been cut, and the States have been asked to invest more money in television and print advertising overseas. The so-called Aussie helpline services in the United Kingdom and Europe which help to sell Australian tourism in Europe are being cut. Frankly, that is stupid.
All that is being done at a time when the Federal Government should be increasing its support for an industry in trouble, an industry that should be maximising the advantages of the Olympics and attracting more visitors from Europe and North America while the number of visitors from Asia is falling. The Federal Government has proposed a goods and services tax at the same time as it has cut $3.5 million from the Australian Tourism Commission budget. This is the worst conceivable time in the past 10 or 15 years to cut the budget. Apparently Mr Howard wants to introduce a goods and services tax of as much as 15 per cent across the board, which would hit tourism across the country.
Every family-run bed and breakfast, tour operator, hire shop and restaurateur would be hit by a goods and services tax. It would be an indiscriminate and regressive tax. The proposed tax is scaring the hell out of the tourism industry. The Federal Government has adopted an extraordinary attitude to an industry that is worth $60 billion across the country. This House must back the tourism industry by supporting this motion. We must let the industry know that it has not been forgotten, despite the deafening silence from Canberra. In particular, the House should support the industry’s urgent call to the Federal Government for a reinvestment package to allow the industry to put in place infrastructure and strategies to ensure that it is well placed for growth.
A reinvestment package must include one-off funding for a domestic tourism campaign and the introduction of new international promotional initiatives. While I strongly support the call for such a reinvestment package, I must confess that I was not the first person to think of it. The call came from the managing director of the Tourism Council of Australia, Mr Bruce Baird, who once graced the benches opposite. Mr Baird is of the view that the latest tourism figures are a nightmare for the industry. He said that the Federal Government must no longer ignore official forecast figures. The tourism industry is not the only industry suffering as a result of the Asian financial crisis, but it is suffering. The New South Wales economy cannot afford to lose the significant benefits that flow from tourism.
Mr Baird called on the Federal Government to become aware of the industry’s issues and concerns. Together with Chris Brown, the director of the Tourism Task Force, the other major peak organisation in the tourism industry, Mr Baird demanded that the Federal Government respond by making the commitments I have described. Mr Baird and Mr Brown made it clear to the Federal Government that they are disillusioned and that they are angry because the Prime Minister has failed to act. They want to know how Mr Howard will protect the thousands of jobs that have been threatened and, indeed, restore the thousands of jobs that have been lost. They have asked the Federal Government how it plans to help the tourism industry survive the significant loss of hundreds of millions of dollars which will not be spent in New South Wales partly because the Federal Government has refused to provide the industry with rational support. This Parliament should ask the same questions as those being asked by tourism industry leaders. I commend the motion to the House.
(Ermington) [4.34 p.m.]: The most extraordinary aspect of the presentation of the Minister for Tourism was his willingness to part company with those responsible for his Government’s policies. The State Labor Government has been primarily responsible for the threatening policy determinations of both State and Federal governments. The Government cut the budget for Tourism New South Wales. The Government was the first government in Australia to introduce a bed tax. It said there would be no bed tax but gave the State a bed tax. That blatant lie sacrificed and damaged the viability of the tourism industry in New South Wales.
So what? If the Federal Government had done the right thing this Government would not need a bed tax.
The ignorant member for Auburn is suggesting that the bed tax has not damaged the tourism industry. The 10 per cent bed tax levied on hotels in Sydney is a bad tax. It is discriminatory and inequitable, and demonstrates the Premier’s ignorance of the tourism industry. I challenge the Minister for Tourism to repeal the bed tax and provide a rescue package for the tourism industry, which is the biggest employer, the fastest growing industry and the greatest generator of export dollars in New South Wales. He should provide not rhetoric but action and additional funding. The Government has cut the Tourism New South Wales budget and delivered a death blow to the tourism industry by introducing a 10 per cent bed tax.
The Premier said, "Read my lips: no new taxes and no tax increases." However, the Government has introduced 13 new taxes, an unlucky number. The motion can be easily recognised as one of the most hypocritical urgency motions in the history of this Parliament. How dare this Minister crow about the
Federal Government when his Government, in one fell swoop, shook the foundations of the State’s tourism industry! A survey conducted by the World Travel and Tourism Council showed that the bed tax alone will move Sydney from being the second cheapest to the sixteenth cheapest of 52 tourism destinations. Sydney no longer has the cutting edge. In this State the 240,000 people employed in the tourism industry had a cutting edge, but the bed tax has moved New South Wales from a cheap ranking to a middle ranking.
How dare the Minister apportion blame when he is responsible for such a reprehensible tourism initiative and his Government cut funding to Tourism New South Wales! The Government closed the New South Wales Tourism offices in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne. New South Wales no longer has a travel centre. More than 50 per cent of domestic travellers to the country come to New South Wales but we no longer have a shopfront. Tasmania and the Northern Territory sell their business in Sydney, but this Government closed its New South Wales travel centres. To make matters worse, it closed down the New South Wales travel centre in Castlereagh Street. For nearly 100 years New South had travel centres in various locations but this Government has now closed the last remaining travel centre in the State, which was located in Castlereagh Street. The Government is closing down tourism; it is not lifting the lid and creating opportunities.
A study conducted by the accountancy firm Ernst and Young showed that the bed tax had jeopardised $166 million in tourism revenue and would result in the immediate loss of 1,200 direct jobs. The Government has ripped $60 million from the same industry through its bed tax. That is a loss to New South Wales of $166 million in tourism revenue. The State Government will benefit by a lousy $60 million in tax revenue from yet another Carr broken promise.
Though the downturn in Asia poses a threat, it is not the greatest threat to the New South Wales tourism industry. This State’s low inflation and buoyant economy will help the industry weather the storm. The Federal and State governments should do everything possible to improve the marketplace to better promote, fund and support the tourism industry. The Carr Government has failed to grasp the advantage of focusing on and exploiting special events. New South Wales now plays second fiddle to Victoria.
The Victorian coalition Government has recognised the importance of special events by creating a specialised promotional unit aimed at luring major attractions to Victoria. The Australian Formula One Grand Prix, Madame Tussaud’s waxworks and the Australian Open tennis competition are three events to which I have travelled, and many others are featured on the Victorian program. In contrast, the Carr Labor Government has allocated four staff and $1.6 million to its special events budget, one of the smallest in any State. Victoria sells tourism even when venues do not exist, and creates opportunities with minimal investment.
The New South Wales Minister for Tourism, by a broken promise, has slugged the tourism industry in the neck with a 10 per cent tax. The Premier says, "Don’t worry, that is another broken promise. I break them every day." The Carr Government has broken more promises than there are days in a leap year! Yet, this State’s special events unit has four staff struggling under pressure with a budget so lousy that it could not sell a country town as an international venue. Tamworth spends more promoting its festival than Sydney does on special events.
The job cost to New South Wales is significant. The Asian crisis could cost this State 5,000 jobs. With overseas tourism to this country predicted this year to fall from the original 6.3 per cent forecast increase to a 3.4 per cent decrease, New South Wales tourism is in a state of decline! The tourism industry needs the Minister’s help, not his throw-away criticisms of another government that are designed to offload his responsibility. The Treasurer even said that the bed tax is a "tourism boom dividend".
The facts, outlined today by the Minister, clearly demonstrate that the New South Wales tourism industry is under threat and is declining because of this State’s bed tax. I confirm again that the coalition when in government will repeal the bed tax immediately. It is a bad tax and jeopardises the future of the industry. The Minister said the bed tax is not affecting the tourism industry. I have a letter dated 2 March from the general manager of the ANA Hotel, Arthur Nigro, to the Premier. The letter states:
I have just returned from Japan where I made courtesy calls on several of our best Japanese tour operators, responsible for bringing thousands of tourists to Australia. This business results in millions of dollars in revenue to Australian businesses and the New South Wales Tax coffers.
I thought you may be interested to know that the dominant themes for discussion were the Bed Tax and how tour operators will seek to minimize the impact of the Tax.
Tour operators, both at the wholesale level and retail level, have "bad feelings" to use their words, regarding the implementation of the Tax and they believe it will hurt business to Australia. To counteract this Tax -
I ask the Minister to listen to this cry for help from the tourism industry across New South Wales -
they have reduced the number of nights spent in Sydney and increased the nights spent in other parts of Australia.
This State’s bed tax is making the New South Wales tourism dollar portable. Those dollars are not staying here. The bed tax forces tourists to go interstate for a good deal and New South Wales is all the poorer for it. The letter continues:
The overall level of business expected for the upcoming April to September season is down.
. . . In light of the Asian crisis and the extremely negative effect of the Bed Tax on Sydney and New South Wales tourism, I respectfully request that the Bed Tax be repealed.
He is begging on behalf of the tourism industry:
I respectfully request that the Bed Tax be repealed. This will send a very positive message to our tourism partners around the world, and stimulate much needed imports into Sydney and New South Wales.
I waited and listened with bated breath. Will this new Minister offer some hope for tourism? Will this new Minister offer the opportunity to kill the bed tax? It is a bad tax. He did not make that offer; he is a failure. The coalition’s commitment is to increase funding to Tourism New South Wales, increase marketing, open offices, and appropriately fund the industry, not tax it with a bad tax. [Time expired.
(East Hills) [4.44 p.m.]: It is interesting that throughout his speech the honourable member for Ermington never offered one word in defence of the actions of his Federal colleagues. He knows that the Federal Government’s failure to support the tourism industry is another example of that Government walking away from its responsibility to support an industry upon which this State and nation so desperately depend. People in the East Hills electorate agree that the Federal Government is the most reactionary, divisive, negative and bloody-minded government ever.
The Federal coalition has decimated State budgets, hit the elderly, the young, the handicapped and families, and particularly working mothers. Indeed, one cannot point to any section of Australian society that has not experienced the cruel and ruthless cold hand of the Howard Government upon their daily lives or industries. Of course, that same Government takes a different approach for one of the Patrick stevedoring companies or Mr Corrigan! As the Minister said, the tourism industry is worth $60 billion and employs 700,000 people nationally, of which New South Wales claims $20 billion and 240,000 jobs. The Minister quoted the recent comments of Mr Baird, a former Liberal Minister in this House. He was critical of the lack of Federal Government support for tourism despite the perceived crisis within the industry. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald
on 10 April, under the heading "Tourism decline may cost $800m", stated:
The total number of tourists coming to Australia will fall almost 5 per cent this year because of the Asian economic crisis, leading to $800 million loss of revenue.
The figures are a nightmare for the industry, said the managing director of the Tourism Council of Australia . . . Mr Bruce Baird.
The article further stated:
Mr Baird describes the expected growth of about 8 per cent in the number of Australians heading overseas this year as "a double whammy" for the industry and has demanded that the Federal Government "no longer ignore official forecast figures which predict . . . big declines in international tourism".
In another article in the Sydney Morning Herald
on 14 April Mr Baird referred to funding by the Federal Government:
A reinvestment package should include one-off funding to help finance a domestic tourism campaign, the introduction of new international promotional initiatives, and the removal of unnecessary impediments like visas, to assist the industry to remain competitive.
Those are the views of Mr Baird about the lack of Federal Government response to the crisis faced by the industry. I am delighted by the initiatives taken by the State Government, announced by the Minister today. On 8 April the Premier launched an $8 million domestic advertising campaign to encourage more Australians to spend their tourism dollars in New South Wales. Tourism New South Wales has redoubled its marketing efforts in Asia, and recently relaunched the successful all-day-long, all-night-long advertising campaign in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. New offices were recently opened in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines and Korea to promote New South Wales tourism. The Government will focus also on existing opportunities in China.
The Government is taking positive steps to help the tourism industry despite the Federal Government withdrawal of the $3.5 million it had provided previously to assist promotion of Australian tourism. The honourable member for
Ermington has left the Chamber, but I should like to tell the House that his comments on funding cuts by the State Government are completely false. The Minister will respond to that outrageous allegation in his reply. He spoke about Victorian tourism promotion initiatives. Obviously he has not seen the marvellous promotions and advertisements recently released.
(Northcott) [4.49 p.m.]: We are debating a three-part urgency motion by the Minister for Tourism. The first two parts concentrate on condemning the Federal Government for things that it may or may not have done. The third part seeks the support of this House for patting the Minister on the back for positive initiatives by the Government to assist the tourism industry. Not a single announcement has been made today by the Minister to demonstrate what has been put in place by the Government in response to the Asian economic crisis. All the initiatives that have been referred to were already in train. They were part of normal planning and are not a response by this Government to the Asian economic crisis. As the honourable member for Ermington said, it is straight hypocrisy.
This three-part motion has but one intent: to blame the Federal Government for this State Government’s inadequacies. The Carr Government is taking that approach in every portfolio area, blaming the Federal Government and trying to hide behind the significant changes that Government is making. The Minister’s opening remarks were that 1998 has been the worst year for New South Wales tourism. Not so long ago people were saying that 1997 was the worst year for New South Wales tourism because in that year the Labor Party introduced the first ever State-based bed tax in Australia. The effects of that bed tax are still being felt around the world in the inbound tourism industry. As the honourable member for Ermington said, the General Manager of the ANA Hotel, Arthur Nigro, has indicated the effect that it is having on Japan.
The bed tax is keeping tourists out of Sydney. They are choosing to visit other States. How that helps the New South Wales tourism industry I simply do not understand. The Minister for Tourism said something honest when he made the point that tourism creates dual responsibilities. The tourism industry will never be satisfied by any government. Let us be honest about that. The tourism industry is one of those that always wants governments to do more, and governments tend to try to assist it. But it is the Federal Government that is trying to cope with economic adjustments in the Asia-Pacific area and with the enormous deficit left to this country by the Keating-Beazley Government. It is little wonder that the Federal Government has difficulty handing out goodies.
It might be all right for the State Treasurer to go around handing out goodies, but the State budget has blown out from a projected surplus to a $400 million deficit. Those are the voodoo economics that the Minister for Tourism and his lefty mates, and even the right wing of the Labor Party, are engaging in these days. It is all about taxing and spending and not worrying about who has to pay off the debt. The Howard Government is concerned about Asia and is addressing the Asian economic crisis. The Federal Government is spending billions of dollars in Asia trying to prop up the South Korean and Indonesian economies, and as a result it will reap benefits for all Australian industries. The Federal Government is taking not merely a sectional approach - as adopted by the Minister - but one that seeks improvement for the tourism industry and all other Australian industries.
Do you support efforts to assist South Korea and Indonesia? Do you support injection of those funds, which will have a significant impact upon the tourism industry in this State? The Carr Government’s failures include not only the bed tax but a much-vaunted rerelease of the New South Wales Tourism Commission’s advertising program - a tired rerun of what has gone before, a pale imitation of Victorian jigsaw advertisements which concentrate on regional tourism.
It is better, far better.
The problem with members opposite is that they think tourism in this State revolves around Sydney. That is the reason Labor holds so few seats in the bush. Government members do not understand that the key to the tourism industry in New South Wales is in regional and rural areas. It is because Labor hates regional and rural areas and will not put money into those areas that the tourism industry is being affected. Economic tourism is in the Minister’s backyard. The Minister for the Environment is preventing ecotourism operators from having access to the national parks in her electorate. How will that help the New South Wales tourism industry?
The Government is kicking the guts out of regional tourism because it does not understand regional and rural New South Wales. It is not supporting agritourism because the Government is so centred on Sydney. The Government is dead wrong.
The Federal Government has increased funding to New South Wales and to the National Tourism Development program by 40 per cent in the last financial year and 60 per cent this financial year. That is a record the Federal Government ought to be proud of, and a record that this Government cannot match.
(Auburn) [4.53 p.m.]: The honourable member for Northcott forgets that the motion condemns the Federal Government for its failure to help the tourism industry, which is facing a severe downturn as a result of the Asian financial crisis; calls upon the Prime Minister to urgently provide a reimbursement package of funding for the industry and to restore the $3.5 million stripped from the last two budgets; and notes the good work being done by Tourism New South Wales.
On a point of order. I seek your ruling on whether it is permissible to wear political party badges in the Chamber?
Order! Rather than giving a ruling, it is sufficient for me to say that generally speaking previous Speakers have ignored the wearing of badges in the Chamber.
I am indebted to the honourable member for Northcott for bringing it to the attention of honourable members. On Sunday, an $8.1 million domestic advertising campaign was launched to promote tourism in New South Wales. One brochure that has been issued is entitled "Touring by Car". Honourable members should read it because it sets out an excellent seven- to eight-day trip. The honourable member for Northcott said that people in the west are not getting anything, that those in regional New South Wales are not getting a cent. If the honourable member will listen for a moment he may learn something. In response to requests from the former Minister for Tourism and from the current Minister for Tourism, I spoke to a number of people and presented cheques to promote tourism in various areas of the State. In Armidale I met some wonderful people who are working extremely hard to promote the New England Wool Festival. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the function to celebrate the festival, although my wife and I had planned to attend.
The Glen Innes Celtic Festival was another very worthwhile event to which the Government contributed funds. Jeff Campbell and Dale St George from Coffs Harbour each received cheques, one to promote the Master Games in Coffs Harbour, the other to promote yachting, with the objective of promoting those events in Coffs Harbour and make that city a centre of activity. The Labor Government provided the cheques to assist those wonderful people in Coffs Harbour who have done a great deal of work. I was also asked to present cheques at the Explorer Country Board meeting in Rylstone, which I did with the support of Jill Blackman, Phil Wilkinson and others who attended that meeting. They were very appreciative of what the Government is doing to promote tourism. The Australian Labor Party caucus committee on tourism is promoting tourism in New South Wales, and that is the work that I have been doing. I invited the local State member of Parliament to attend, but he was unable to do so.
The central west group received a grant of $37,000. I visited Armidale to promote tourism in New England, the big sky country, and presented another $37,000 to Darryl Morris, chairperson of the New England and North West Regional Tourist Organisation. That organisation was also very appreciative of the grant. Mr Morris chaired the meeting, ably assisted by Miss Christine Harvey, tourist manager of the local shire council. The people I met were very interested in promoting tourism.
I went also to the North Coast Regional Tourist Organisation in Gloucester. This time the honourable member for Myall Lakes came with me and helped me present a cheque and promote tourism in his electorate. In all the areas I visited I saw neither hide nor hair of any conservative forces, except for the honourable member for Coffs Harbour and the honourable member for Myall Lakes, promoting tourism in their electorates. I congratulate Peter Thompson, from the Mid North Coast Regional Tourism Organisation, on the great work he is doing. His organisation received a $30,000 cheque. Likewise, in Coffs Harbour the good work goes on.
I was invited to go to Wagga Wagga and to the Riverina, where I met Fiona Schirmer and other hard workers such as Kay Hull, chairman of Tourism Wagga Wagga. I was mistaken. A conservative member, the honourable member for Wagga Wagga, who is very interested in his electorate, was there, trying to promote tourism. All those who were present received letters from me telling them what I was doing because it was a bipartisan effort to promote tourism.
The honourable member for Northcott gets on his high horse and says that Government members do not know anything about tourism. He well knows that the caucus committee on tourism is promoting tourism in this State by allocating funds. He also knows that more money could have been available if the Federal Government had not been so mean and miserly and had provided the funding necessary to promote tourism in New South Wales.
(Blue Mountains - Minister for Energy, Minister for Tourism, Minister for Corrective Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts) [4.58 p.m.], in reply: I should correct some blatantly untruthful things said by the honourable member for Ermington. The 1995-96 New South Wales tourism budget was $31,321,000; in 1996-97 it was $31,400,000 and in 1997-98 it was almost $35,300,000. The budget of the Australian Tourism Commission in 1994-95 was $79 million; in 1995-96, $79 million; in 1996-97, $76 million, and in the current financial year it is $78 million, but $3 million of that is specifically allocated to the Olympics. Effectively, funding for other ATC programs is $75 million, a reduction on 1996-97 Federal funding. That is to say, Federal funding has gone down, State funding has gone up. It is quite simple.
Not a single member opposite even attempted to answer this question: why is it that the Federal Government is prepared to provide $300 million in export insurance credits and similar arrangements for manufacturing industry and primary industry - and everyone agrees it should have done that - and did not give a cent for similar, parallel purposes to the tourism industry? I asked that question, the State Government asked that question, Bruce Baird and the State Tourism Council asked that question, and not one member opposite made any attempt to answer it.
The honourable member for Northcott had the effrontery to say that this Government paid no attention to regional tourism. I guarantee that almost every speech I have ever made to the tourist industry has emphasised above all the Government’s concern for regional tourism. In recent weeks I have been present at many tourism awards. I can assure the honourable member for Northcott, despite whatever propaganda he wants to put out about this subject, that tourism operators appreciate what is being done. They know that a most substantial program is in place to provide assistance to regional organisations and regional events and to support regional visitor information centres.
The honourable member for Ermington is so ignorant as to think that it is a serious criticism to suggest it was a bad thing to close down shopfronts in several capital cities in this country. As if it is better in this day and age to keep a shopfront open than to create a powerful television program. As if it is better to keep a shopfront open that nobody goes to than to open a website that could receive 8,000 hits in a couple of days. The honourable member for Ermington and the honourable member for Northcott show that they do not have the faintest idea of what they are talking about. They just do not have a clue.
I will say one or two things about the bed tax - which does, by the way, apply in the Sydney central business district. Does the honourable member for Northcott know why it does not apply in the regions? The bed tax does not apply in the regions because the Government is concerned that every opportunity should be offered to that part of the industry which has the most difficulty attracting visitations and lacks the advantage of being in a global city that has a certain international iconic value, which is the fortunate circumstance that Sydney is in. That is why during 1996, the last year of full measurement, New South Wales received 63 per cent of international visits to Australia and 33 per cent of domestic visits by Australians, far in excess of any other State.
Hotel occupancy rates on the Gold Coast and in Cairns have been hit much harder than those in the Sydney CBD in recent months. Hotels at Sydney airport and at Parramatta are reporting a decline in occupancy, as are hotels in the CBD. The bed tax rate has actually been renegotiated, in recognition of the present economic circumstances. But it is obvious that while the Asian crisis is causing the loss of some customers, they are coming from Asia and in increasing numbers from America and Europe, and the bed tax has very little to do with it.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Ms Meagher
Mr Amery Mr Mills
Mr Anderson Ms Moore
Ms Andrews Mr Moss
Mr Aquilina Mr Nagle
Mrs Beamer Mr Neilly
Mr Clough Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rumble
Ms Hall Mr Scully
Mr Harrison Mr Shedden
Ms Harrison Mr Stewart
Mr Hunter Mr Sullivan
Mr Iemma Mr Tripodi
Mr Knowles Mr Watkins
Mr Langton Mr Whelan
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Woods
Mr Lynch Mr Yeadon
Mr McManus Tellers
Mr Markham Mr Beckroge
Mr Martin Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr O’Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Phillips
Mr Cochran Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Glachan Ms Seaton
Mr Hartcher Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Small
Mr Humpherson Mr Smith
Mr Jeffery Mrs Stone
Dr Kernohan Mr Tink
Mr Kinross Mr J. H. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr R. W. Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers
Mr Oakeshott Mr Fraser
Mr O’Doherty Mr Kerr
Mr Carr Mr Armstrong
Mr Gibson Mr Brogden
Mr Knight Mrs Skinner
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.