Australia Today, COVID lockdowns and regional tourism

Australia Today, COVID lockdowns and regional tourism  Main Image

24 June 2021


RADIO INTERVIEW – Australia Today with Steve Price

Thursday, 24 June 2021

SUBJECT: COVID lockdowns and regional tourism

STEVE PRICE, PRESENTER: I think three of my favourite places in the world are Merimbula, Narooma and Tathra. Kristy McBain is the federal Labor Member for Eden-Monaro. And she's on the line presumably from a cold chilly Canberra, Kristy, g’day.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Good morning, Steve, how are you?

PRICE: Good. Couldn't happen at a worse time with school holidays. I know that your electorate also covers the ski town of Jindabyne. And the ski industry in New South Wales got off to a cracking start. Great snow, no limits on people arriving like there was over the border in Victoria. But this will create some dramas, I suppose from Greater Sydney people who would normally head down there.

MCBAIN: Yeah, look, it will. And the disappointing thing, I think, for many of our tourist towns, and as you said, the South Coast is obviously reliant on tourists during school holidays, but also the Snowy Mountains in the ski industry. But these aren’t the first holidays that we've missed out on. And I think that's probably the biggest disappointment. This is now two summers in a row, we’ve missed one Easter and now these winter holidays. And don't forget last winter holidays, the mountains were confined to a 50 per cent capacity rate. So these are cumulative impacts causing huge problems for many of our businesses.

PRICE: And when you look at the area that you cover, Kristy, I mean if you go back to the end of 2019 and the beginning 2020 they were smashed by bushfires.

 MCBAIN: Yeah, that's right. I mean, the South Coast evacuated about 70,000 tourists and there was a tourist evacuation zone over the entire coastline for a number of weeks. The Princes Highway was cut off north and south so we couldn't accept tourists from New South Wales or Victoria and we couldn't have accommodated them or dealt with them during the crisis anyway. And then the summer just gone, we lost because of Victorian border closure and an outbreak in north Sydney. Just after the bushfire crisis, we lost that Easter traffic because COVID had just reared its head and New South Wales went into lockdown.

And I think what we can see here is that, the vaccine rollout and purpose built quarantine facilities are a must, because it impacts our regional towns when these outbreaks are happening.

PRICE: Forgive me for not knowing this and I hope you do. The bottom end of your electorate takes in towns that many Victorians travel to all the time all year, particularly in school holidays. I'm talking about Eden and Merimbula. Is the New South Wales border open to Victorians who are now out of lockdown to cross and go back home without restriction if they're not going anywhere near Greater Sydney?

MCBAIN: Yes. As far as I know, yes, the Victorian Government hasn't made any declarations about closing their borders to New South Wales. We have been fortunate that there has been a border bubble in place for some time, which includes the local government areas just over the border. But the majority of those tourists coming from Victoria, are Melbourne based, so the border is open to them and they are able still to holiday along the coast. But we will miss out on ski traffic that normally comes from Sydney.

PRICE: Yeah, the Melbourne people now after midnight tonight don't have any problem in traveling where they wish in Victoria so they can go presumably across the border. But what you're now being cut off from is that big, big group of people in those seven council areas in Sydney, which would normally provide most of the visitations particularly the ski fields.

MCBAIN: Yeah, that's right. And you know, it's industry where people come down and they spend money in our towns. They spend money with small businesses who make a huge chunk of their profits during these peak seasons. So very disappointing for a number of small businesses who were probably looking forward to the school holidays. As I said last winter season for our snow operators was at 50 per cent capacity. So we're going to lose a fair chunk of those visitors.

PRICE: On quarantine and isolated quarantine facilities, we know there will be one building Victoria at Mickleham. There doesn't seem to be any debate in New South Wales about building an out of city quarantine facility. There is one that looks like it is going built in Queensland. As a Labor opposition, do you think there’s adequate answers from the Morrison Government about why they haven't and why they still seem reluctant to throw up Howard Springs type facilities right around the country?


MCBAIN: No, we're not getting any answers that I think that's the frustrating part. I think that their response is that they want to push the responsibility to states through hotel quarantine, which was always going to suffice for a period of time. But we've now had 25 outbreaks from hotel quarantine, because they're built for tourists. They're not built to deal with airborne diseases. And from all reports from all of the experts in the field, we will have to deal with more pandemics. So these assets are going to be needed into the future. And we need to get on and build them.

PRICE: Yeah, I think that's absolutely correct. Everybody feels that way. How tough are the tourist industries in your electorate, how tough are they doing it? And what can people listening to us who can travel do other than go there and spend some money?

MCBAIN: Look, I think, largely when international borders are closed, we have seen more domestic tourists around. We have a bit of a crisis where we can't actually get enough workers to come into our tourism, hospitality businesses, because we've got a housing crisis in regions where we've lost over 1000 homes due to a bushfire. We've got next to no affordable homes, because during the initial outbreak, so many people from the cities decided that they wanted to have a different lifestyle and moved to a regional area. So the biggest problem we have at the moment is trying to get workers to come in and take up some of our jobs. And as I said, not enough houses. But definitely when this outbreak is over, we want more people coming to visit because these communities have been doing it really tough. There's been an extended drought, bushfires, there's been multiple storm and flood events, there's been two border closures so far and as I said, we've missed a number of holiday periods. All of that has a cumulative impact on our communities. And we want to make sure that people keep coming to our regions, because it's going to be a long recovery process for many of our communities.

PRICE: Good on you. Nice to talk. You're very privileged to represent one of the great parts of Australia. There's no doubt about that. Have a great day in Parliament and talk to you soon. Thanks.

MCBAIN: Thank you very much.

PRICE: Kristy McBain Federal Labor Member for Eden-Monaro.