PM defends cheap flights plan after NSW ‘got nothing’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the government's tourism and airline support package, saying that it was designed to help parts of the country that were hardest hit by the closure of international borders.
He did not rule out extending the program to include destinations in the regions.
Speaking at a Qantas maintenance hangar at Sydney Airport on Thursday morning, the prime minister responded to criticism the program was too Queensland-centric and was leaving regional NSW behind, saying "this isn't about interstate politics. This isn't about arguments between premiers, this is about jobs for people on the ground."
"What we're focused on here are those areas that are heavily dependant on international tourists and on planes coming in to support that tourism, and those destinations have been devastated by that," Mr Morrison said.
"In NSW in particular, in many locations we've seen the return of internal travel … we have seen (people taking) tours of NSW down the south coast to out west … you couldn't get a hotel in Orange. That's something to celebrate," he said.
"We'll look at what we can do and we'll work with the airlines and we'll work with the tourism operators to see what other destinations may well be potentially added to the list."
"But in NSW … many of those locations are already going very nicely."
Mr Morrison also singled out the NSW government for "making sure that keeping businesses open has been the order of the day", which has meant that the tourism industry has done better here than in other jurisdictions.
CHEAP FLIGHTS PLAN SLAMMED FOR OVERLOOKING NSW
The Tourism Minister is facing criticism for overlooking regional NSW in a plan aimed at boosting tourism across the country.
Dan Tehan appeared on breakfast radio this morning to spruik the $1.2 billion support package which will see the federal government cover half the cost of any airfare for specific routes between April 1 and July 31.
Flights are offered from Sydney to destinations in tropical Queensland, Alice Springs, Broome and Tasmania but the plan includes just one route into NSW - from capital cities to Merimbula on the south coast.
Mr Tehan was slammed by 2GB's Ben Fordham who was critical that the plan favoured Queensland after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's hard border rules.
"It is like having two children, one of them is the naughty one and one is the well behaved one. One of them follows the rules and the other ignores them," Fordham said on air.
"And then you get a cupcake and you think who am I going to give it to, you give it to the brat who would ignore the instructions and never listen to a word you said.
"Meanwhile you've got goody-two-shoes Gladys Berejiklian who has done the right thing. So the people of NSW get nothing."
The Minister explained the program had been set up to help towns that are not typical tourist destinations, adding that Byron Bay was not included as it had fared well during the pandemic.
He said there would likely be more NSW locations added to the scheme.
"We have had to step in and support those locations which predominantly have international tourists fly into them which have been incredibly hard hit by the pandemic," he said.
"They are in locations that are four to five hours away from capital cities and they're the areas which really need our support."
From April people will be able to log onto major airline websites including Qantas and Virgin, and book as many discounted flights as they want on 13 designated routes including to Launceston, the Gold Coast, Cairns, Uluru and Kangaroo Island.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the cheap airfares would be the tourism sector's "ticket to recovery" with thousands of businesses expected to benefit from the increase in domestic travel.
"This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard," he said.
"That means more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviations sectors as Australia heads toward winning our fight against COVID-19 and the restrictions that have hurt so many businesses."
The flight subsidy will be demand driven, but the government estimates it will fund 46,000 trips a week or 800,000 for the life of the scheme.
The government's airline support package will also include direct funding to international carriers who provide assurance they will maintain a set level of flight readiness for when overseas travel resumes.
Each month from April until October 31, when international flights are expected to resume, Qantas and Virgin would be required to demonstrate they have kept on staff.
It is expected to keep about 8600 international airline workers in a job.
The government will also offer low interest loans to small and medium businesses in the tourism sector who have been on JobKeeper in the most recent quarter, but is due to end this month.
The loans of up to $5 million for 10 years with a 24-month repayment holiday could be either credit or to refinance.
The government will also fund an aviation services accreditation support program from the end of March until September to cover the cost of ground handlers maintaining their mandatory training, certification, and accreditation.
Originally published as PM defends cheap flights plan after NSW 'got nothing'