Budget Reply Speech 2020

2020 Budget reply for the portfolio of Trade, Tourism and Investment


The Hon. Z.L. BETTISON (Ramsay) (17:00): I rise to make my contribution to the appropriations debate. I want to start by talking about trade. We are now in a time of challenge. We have had dry conditions, bushfires, COVID-19, rising trade tensions with China, and the decisions of Brexit have put us in a new position with our relationship with the United Kingdom.

But what I see from this government is inaction. We are underprepared for this time of challenge. The budget papers show a 5.7 per cent decline in the real value of goods exports from South Australia. That is a fact. The Marshall Liberal government came to lead South Australia with the initial target of a 7 per cent share of national exports. It was a key part of their election policy. They felt that we had been underdone for some time and that we needed to improve South Australia's share of national exports.

I know that even before COVID we were nowhere near that goal. In fact, we were going backwards. This government has been trending on average around 3 per cent of national share and, year on year, our goods exports are down by 700 million. So let's have a look at what this government has been doing when it comes to trade. It has ripped up our regional trade strategies. It sacked our regional trade advisers. There have been constant machinery of government changes and we are onto our second minister for trade, all in a very short period of time.

We lag behind in rolling out trade missions and then we rolled out a trade office program that came at the cost of direct assistance in our state. I have said it before in this place but I will say it again. My message to the Marshall Liberal government is just to get on with it. Trade is incredibly important to South Australia. Listen to the experts, act on that advice, and stop cutting and shuffling the deckchairs.

It was very clear to me that there was a dismantling of the previous trade strategies based on a political vendetta. Of all the things that we make decisions on, trade should be something on which we agree the way forward, but we know they just could not help themselves. So all the combined work of people involved in exports to develop those trade strategies was ripped up overnight because it happened to be under a Labor government. How insulting to the people in that industry.

What that brings me to is our big risk, and the clear strategic risk that we have with our global trade is the lack of diversification. For example, let's look at the international education sector. Prior to the pandemic, the top export market for international education in South Australia was China. It had a 40 per cent market share. That market is nearly the equivalent of the next top nine markets combined. It is significant. It had been growing and it had been substantial, but that made us very vulnerable—40 per cent market share.

In our merchandise exports, there is a similar story. In the 12 months leading to September 2020, our goods exports to China were 3.75 billion. That is 30 per cent of our total export portfolio from South Australia goes to China, which means that we are more heavily exposed to the potential challenges of trade with China. When we look at our key export industries, such as international education, tourism, wine, minerals, wheat, timber and rock lobster, I have my concerns.

As shadow minister, I think this government needs to get the most at-risk industries around the table and work through a plan. I am sure that if I spoke to any business and said, 'Would you be worried about a shutdown of 30 to 40 per cent of your total income?' the answer would be yes—not only yes, but there would be a mad scramble to address this issue. I am not seeing concern or energy from this front bench—in fact, quite the opposite. Where is the leadership and expertise for these challenges for us now? Where are the plans to support these industries?

These are industries that employ South Australians all over South Australia, whether it be in the South-East, with the rock lobster or timber, or our beautiful wine regions exporting—Barossa Valley, Clare, Fleurieu, Adelaide Hills; there are many. Throughout these areas where there are high exports, there are jobs. There are 79,000 Australians employed in export industries—11 per cent of our workforce—yet there is inaction and a lack of urgency from this government about the challenges of trade before us.

There are 165,000 South Australians who are actively looking for work. We know that in this budget paper there is zero per cent job growth this financial year, yet a key part of our employment industry—trade—barely got mentioned in the budget. Where is the urgency? Where is the money in this budget to make sure that our trade remains at the levels it is? We can only hope that it gets to 7 per cent of the national share. We are not even where we were when Labor left government. Get on with it, but where is your urgency and your action?

When we turn to the area of investment, the government's budget papers report a decline in South Australian business investment by 4.8 per cent last financial year. The opposition has made it consistently clear that this Marshall Liberal government made a terrible error in disbanding Investment Attraction South Australia, an agency that brought the likes of VeroGuard and Boeing to South Australia, creating thousands of local jobs before it was abolished in 2018.

Until this day, it still astounds me that this government made the decision to abolish the Investment Attraction agency, an agency dedicated to encouraging investment from companies that will be looking for future work opportunities to relocate to South Australia and dedicated to being a smart state and building jobs for the future, but once again political vendetta come in and says, 'We can't have that just because you did it.'

We need increased business investment to flow for more jobs, and that is why we recommended in our budget reply the reintroduction of an investment attraction agency. We proposed that you put $50 million from the Economic and Business Growth Fund to assist that work because we need to be out there, aggressively bidding for that investment. We have an opportunity. We have done a very good job in responding to the health needs of COVID. We need to follow that up with aggressively going out there to market South Australia as a safe place to invest.

We now have this moment in time when we can show to the world the runs on the board in terms of what we have been able to achieve, but we need to get out there because there is lots of competition. Everyone wants jobs for the future, everyone wants industries for the future. This is our moment, and we need to get out there and grab it.

When I have talked about tourism I have often spoken about the very challenging conversations that I have had with tourism operators. I have spent most of the time during COVID, during lockdown, calling people, talking to them. They asked, 'What's happening?' The single biggest issue was the uncertainty that, overnight in March, everything switched off and people did not know when that would end.

We have seen some rebounding in our regional areas, but there are still many areas of the tourism sector, including tourism operators, who are focused on international guests, and our very own travel agents are still in a world of pain. We know that JobKeeper came in and that helped us survive, but when that finishes in March there are still people in tourism and hospitality who will struggle to survive.

One of the areas that I am concerned about is the lack of focus on those who make up our tourism industry. Tourism Research Australia in June of 2019 showed in their data that 90 per cent of all employing businesses in our state tourism sector are classified as micro or 'small'. These are smaller businesses, normally family run, that employ between one to 19 employees. These are the people our tourism stimulus should focus on. These are the real people who have mortgaged their homes, built their businesses from scratch, spent their life savings and their blood, sweat and tears to build their business and who are now trying to survive through this COVID challenge.

My message to the Marshall Liberal government is: don't forget the small operators. That is why not only did I call for a tourism voucher back in July but also I have criticised the Great State voucher because of its narrowness, because it did not encompass any accommodation providers who had less than 10 rooms and it did not give the opportunity for tourism operators to participate. They feel ignored because of the limited scope of these vouchers.

Recently The Advertiser quoted Ben Neville from the Off Piste four wheel drive tours on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and I quote:

We were disappointed the first round was only for accommodation and would love a round where tour operators were included—our guests spend on all sorts of things on a tour so there is a ripple effect.

Mark Gleeson from Food Tours Australia told Channel 9 news, and I quote:

There are a whole lot of small operators like me out there who are holding onto a very fine thread to whether or not their business is going to survive in the next six months.

The government needs to focus its efforts on making sure that our SME tourism operators can survive. The existing stimulus does not spread far enough, and I have called it out many times that only 3 per cent of tourism operators registered on southaustralia.com can even be part of the voucher system. We need a broader scope and investment on the sector that is currently available.

In anticipation of this budget, the Transport and Tourism Forum called on this government to invest in efforts to attract new direct flights to appropriate locations, such as the trans-Tasman bubble, as well as major investments in new tourism-related facilities and infrastructure. According to their analysis, the South Australian Tourism Commission would need at least $400 million over the next four years to address the economic black hole that the pandemic and the bushfires have left, but instead we see a continuation of the cuts that tourism has to continue to accept. The trend of cuts continues.

In the previous budget, the government made cuts to tourism to the tune of $11 million. This cut meant a reduction in international marketing and direct flight attraction. The cut meant a reduction in sector development, activity and projects that help small business and this led to cutting the support for events such as the Adelaide Fashion Festival and the Adelaide Motorsport Festival. Now, of course, the shock is still reverberating. We know there is a rally this weekend about the biggest cut of all and the biggest shock of all, the Adelaide 500.

As I said many times, if you are going to make a big decision like this, if you are going to cut a major event, you need to have a plan. We have no plan. We have no plan to replace the economic hole that is going to be left by the Adelaide 500. For all the concerns I had previously about the other cuts to those festivals, festivals that gave us an extended calendar of events through the year, nothing came close to my shock about the cut of the Adelaide 500.

There is no plan to reshape our festivals and events. We have decades of history with the Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Adelaide Fringe. We are known as the Festival State and I am very proud about that. In this budget there was no reference to our homegrown festivals and events, such as the Fringe, the Festival of Arts, OzAsia, WOMAD and all the major festivals that contribute to the vibrancy of Adelaide and deliver economic returns to the state and we saw no mention in this budget of additional support for these events.

This has been the most challenging year for people in tourism and hospitality. We have seen the visitor economy reduced from $8.1 billion to $6.5 billion. The tourism sector in South Australia is losing on average $453 million a month. Every mechanism that is available to government should be used to support this industry.

If it were not for the advocacy of the Labor opposition and the bus and coach industry, the concessions on bus and coach licences would not have happened. If it were not for the advocacy of the Labor opposition and the outdoor tourism sector, there would not have been a clear pathway for these accommodation providers to open. The government was slow and reacted to taking an holistic approach in supporting this sector. We called it out months before, that tourism and hospitality had been fundamentally impacted, but they were too slow to respond.

I have mentioned many times the cuts to tourism in the first and second budgets that have been presented to South Australia. I have to say to you I thought, after this most difficult year, with our national borders shut and our state borders reduced, that these cuts would have been reversed. It is very, very clear in the budget papers that these cuts remain—$10 million worth of cuts in the forward estimates.

I say again: has tourism not suffered enough? We know that businesses are fighting to survive. They are not thriving: they are trying to survive. Now that some of the bank loans have unfrozen, people are questioning whether they will be able to do that. It is a really challenging time for them, so let's reverse these cuts, let's take them out of the tourism budget and let them get on with it.

Today, we talked about what we would do if Labor was here. We talked about an investment attraction agency with the $50 million. We talked about accelerating infrastructure projects. We would encourage South Australians to buy local. From a tourism perspective, we said the underspent tourism vouchers should be rolled out again in a matched program, with $200 matched for interstate and for South Australians, because we want to support our tourism industry going forward. There is going to be a lot of competition out there, so we want to put our best foot forward. These are some of the hardest hit sectors and I remain bitterly disappointed that they did not get the attention that they deserve in this budget.