Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker and can I also thank the Member for Newcastle for bringing this matter to the house and allowing me to share the stories I am hearing as I speak with travel agents in the Mighty Eden-Monaro.
Jenny and Jim at Queanbeyan City Travel were among the first to reach out.
The Coopers have run their Monaro Street business for 32 years – this last year has been their hardest.
They are determined to survive the challenges and continue to employ staff, serve their clients, and contribute to the community.
They are grateful for the government support they have received to date including JobKeeper but as Jenny told me – “we need it till the end of the year.”
With just a couple of weeks left before JobKeeper runs out, Jenny and Jim have been waiting – hoping the government would hear the calls of their industry and do the right thing.
The Morrison Government keeps making the right sounds but sadly for Jenny and Jim and their friends in the industry has failed to deliver.
Last week the government rolled out half price airfares to a number of destinations.
Welcome news if you are Qantas or Virgin or one the towns announced, and you would think it would be welcome news for travel agents too – but at this stage its’s just not clear.
Right now, Jenny and Jim are waiting and hoping that the cheaper tickets can be purchased through a travel agent.
Jenny’s real fear right now is that the tickets can only be booked via an airline’s website – surely local travel agents won’t be left out and left behind.
But you just can’t be sure when it comes to this government – all photo op and no follow up.
For the last 12 months travel agents have been chasing refunds for their clients.
Their business has been in complete reverse - chasing thousands of dollars in refunds and being charged an “admin fee” for the privilege – and this government has left them scratching their head, unsure of their future.
The stress and pressure local travel agents are under is a story echoed around Eden-Monaro.
Lesa at Summerland Travel in Merimbula has had to close her shopfront.
Lesa says, “Having to close our shopfront after 38 years and operate remotely was not an easy decision but it’s the reality of the situation facing travel agents.”
Like Jenny and Jim, Leesa’s business has been part of the fabric of her community and she’s working hard to be a part of Merimbula’s future.
Then there’s Jill at HelloWorld Merimbula who has had to diversify her travel business and start selling gifts and homewares.
Sadly, Mary at Twofold Travel in Eden didn’t make it and has had to close the doors on her travel agency.
Mr Deputy Speaker the fear is many others will have to do the same if the Morrison Government doesn’t extend JobKeeper beyond the end of this month.
The fact that we are talking about it now, at this late stage, at a minute to midnight - is just cruel to people who have been a part of their local business community for decades.
These people deserve our support and feel disrespected and ignored.
A recent survey by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents makes it clear.
Close to one in three businesses will shut if the JobKeeper wage subsidy is not extended beyond March 28.
More than half of the 15 hundred respondents were unsure about their business future.
And Mr Deputy Speaker, on this day especially, a day when thousands of women gathered on the lawn in front of this place, can I say in a loud and clear voice - women make up 80 per cent of the travel agent workforce.
The sector's decline is having a disproportionate impact on female employment.
The Prime Minister missed an opportunity today to change his rhetoric on fairness and justice for women – as March 28 looms he faces another line in the sand.
Strong communities and strong businesses need a plan – they need the confidence that flows from a government that is listening, seeking advice, and making plans to help them survive.
Jenny and Jim don’t feel like this government is doing any of that – in fact they are frightened about what will happen to the people and lives in the industry they love and have helped shape.
In the meantime, they will keep seeking the refunds their clients deserve because that is the right thing to do.
The big question is “will this government do the right thing?” and back these businesses and the 40,000 families they support.
Extend JobKeeper and do it now – it’s the right thing to do.
Photo: Jenny Cooper, Queanbeyan City Travel and Cruise.
Media contact: Ian Campbell, phone 0417 482 171