Release type: Transcript

Date:

Doorstop with Phillip Thompson OAM, Member for Herbert — Townsville

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Mr Phillip Thompson OAM, MP
Member for Herbert

E&OE-----------------------

Topics: Townsville economy; The National Plan for reopening; small business sector; AgMove

PHILLIP THOMPSON:

It’s great to be here with Minister Robert, a senior Cabinet minister, in Townsville today. We’ve spent some time on Magnetic Island talking with small business, seeing what the issues, seeing how people have adapted through this global pandemic, and then also talking about what it looks like on the other side and what we need to be doing to create a good relationship and a good kind of support network for these businesses. 

You know, we heard today that they're not here for a handout. They just want to know that their government has their back and that's what we've said today. This has been a difficult and challenging time for tourism, for small business. 

Magnetic Island is no different than on the mainland and around the country. They've been doing it tough. So to see many people getting on the ferry today, many cars going across the school holidays, it's been really good. Businesses are going well. And this is very positive, but we need to be talking about what it looks like when we get out of COVID, what we need to be doing, what they want to be doing, because they want to prosper. They want to grow. They want to be living their life like the way that they should be, and that is without restrictions, without lockdowns, without closures, and that's the message we heard today.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah. Thanks, Phil, and great to be with you and spend 24 hours here in North Queensland, in Townsville, listening to small business owners last night, all of today, and of course, on Magnetic Island meeting with Townsville Enterprise, as well as substantial players in the tourism and domestic hospitality industry, to look at the struggles and the challenges they’ve got, and also to hear reiterated again and again how much we much we need to stick to the National Plan – that at 80 per cent, we need to ensure our borders are opening safely and that business can get back to normal. 

Confidence is what small business operators are looking for, and that confidence comes from the National Plan because it delivers the national hope that our small business needs.

QUESTION:

The current Queensland plan is looking more like the State Government wants to reach 90 per cent, which probably won’t happen till after Christmas. If that is the case that we wait longer, what kind of impact do you think this would have on local businesses and small businesses like the ones on Magnetic Island?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Right now, businesses throughout the year have been struggling with very low occupancy, very low spend because of a lack of confidence. The National Plan is set out. It’s agreed by state and territory leaders. The National Plan sets what's going to happen between 70 and 80 per cent. It talks about no lockdowns except in extreme circumstances. 80 per cent- we're opening borders internationally at 80 per cent. We expect state borders to be opened at 80 per cent as well.

QUESTION:

Minister, just chatting on ag, in particular the AgMove scheme. It’s been reported that less than a thousand Aussies have actually taken up that scheme. Why do you think that these numbers are so low, and are you hoping that they kind of increase?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The AgMove was set at a cap of 5000, which has almost been hit. The vast majority, 70 per cent, have been visa holders, and of course, a little over a thousand Australians have taken up the opportunity to go on the Harvest Trail. Borders being closed to New South Wales and Victoria haven't helped, but the great encouragement is Australians are taking up the incentive. And incentives are very generous, up to $6000, really, to go west. Great opportunity for young Australians to take a gap year, join the Harvest Trail, see a part of Australia you haven't seen. So whilst borders have been challenging, we've still seen up to 5000 Australians and visa holders go. We need more. We need more people out there, not just picking fruit, but working in hospitality and other areas across the bush.

QUESTION:

But if only a thousand have actually qualified for that reimbursement, is there push for more people to do more hours? Like, why is there such a difference between the 5000 and 1000?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The other 4000, if you like, are being taken up by visa holders in Australia. End of the day, what we want is people to go and work in the regions. That's what we want. And whether they're Australians or visa holders, I don't think the strawberry farmers and the avocado farmers actually mind. They just want people and labour out there. I think it'd be great if more and more young Australians do the gap year, do the gap six months. Hey, do the gap for four weeks. Go and experience what we know and love, which is the regions. How good are the regions, Phil?

PHILLIP THOMPSON:

Fantastic.

MINISTER ROBERT:

They are superb. More Australians should get, not just up here to Townsville, but get into the regions, and AgMove is a wonderful way to do it.

QUESTION:

Just back on tourism for a second. What were you hearing from business owners and tourism operators over on Magnetic Island about the issues that they’ve been experiencing?

MINISTER ROBERT:

They want certainty. People can't book experiences. Whether it's jet skiing with Ash, whether it's going out on boats, whether it's going to the koala sanctuary, whether it's staying in accommodation, whether it's lodging into hotels here, they don't have the certainty to do that if they think they're going to be locked out. 

So we need certainty. Tourism operators need certainty. Mums and dads with families who want to travel need certainty. The only way we get certainty is with state premiers sticking to the National Plan, communicating what the National Plan means. We've seen that in New South Wales. We've seen that in Victoria. We now need to see it in Queensland exactly what sticking to the National Plan looks like.

QUESTION:

Phil, I've just got a couple of questions for you if that’s okay, or just one really just on the AgMove as well. Do you think enough is being done to support farmers here? And what is the Federal Government's involvement in making sure we’ve got boots on the ground [indistinct]…?

PHILLIP THOMPSON:

Well, as you heard from the Minister, he wants to see people take a four-week gap, a 12-month gap, probably longer as well, but here locally, in speaking with farmers, whether it's with AgForce or Farmers United, they want people to be able to go out, work on their farms, ensure that there's workforce there because we've seen a lack of workforce, especially in the regions, especially with border closures. And I believe that, you know, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that our farms are supported. We've seen people, not just- like the Minister was saying, not just about picking fruit, but, you know, working on cane fields and all these things, they need more workforce, and so, we'll be doing everything we can to support them. But led by industry, not led by government, led by farmers in consultation with them to ensure that we see business continue to grow.

QUESTION:

We’ve seen Bob Katter pick some bananas this year. Are you going to take a four-week break?

PHILLIP THOMPSON:

I will not be taking a four-week break.

MINISTER ROBERT:

He's not getting a day off. He's representing his constituents every single day.

PHILLIP THOMPSON:

[Laughs] Yeah, there won't be- there’s no time for banana picking or banana bending or putting stickers on bananas or any of the good stuff like that.

Thanks, guys. 

QUESTION:

Thanks guys. Appreciate it.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks very much.