In a baffling decision, opposition leader Tony Abbott dumped popular Gold Coast MP Steve Ciobo as shadow tourism spokesperson, replacing him with little-known Bob Baldwin from the seat of Patterson, north of Newcastle.
The move is surprising as the opposition has a great opportunity to attack the Labor government’s tourism and aviation policies over the next three years as the re-appointment of both Martin Ferguson and Anthony Albanese will likely see a “more of the same” approach to these portfolios.
Mr Ciobo, as the tourism spokesman for the last term, had established a good working rapport with the industry and certainly knowledge of tourism. We can only hope that Mr Baldwin can quickly establish similar credentials.
Tourism minister Ferguson faces some major challenges, with international visitor numbers still in the doldrums at 2008 levels. He will have Tasmanian senator Nick Sherry as assistant minister but, despite the treatment of tourism as a serious portfolio, there is little doubt that Mr Ferguson will continue to place his emphasis on his joint areas of resources and energy as he did in the past three years. Mr Sherry, too, has another mission as minister for small business.
Support for tourism may also come from Simon Crean through his new role as regional affairs minister at a time when regional tourism is suffering very badly.
Craig James, from CommSec, says Australia’s tourism industry is in a downward spiral and regional and rural areas are bearing the brunt. Tourism directly employs nearly half a million Australians, almost half in regional and rural areas.
Mr James says the federal government may have to seriously consider paying money to tourism operators to leave the industry, as happened when the sugar and dairy industries were deregulated.
There has never been a time when the tourism industry has needed positive assistance from the federal government as it does now. Tourism minister Ferguson will need to do a whole lot better than he has in the past and the opposition needs a strong spokesperson to ensure that he does.
Dumped Gold Coast MP Steven Ciobo
Mr Abbott’s gamble on a serious swing to the right is clearly designed to unsettle the union of Labor, Greens and Independents and the tourism industry must force up its status on both sides if it is not to be swamped by the more powerful sectors of the economy.