It gives me great pleasure today to come in here to speak on a matter of great positivity for the state of Tasmania.
Senator Smith interjecting—
Senator DUNIAM: Yes, I thought so too, Senator Smith.
Senator Cameron: Change of government!
Senator DUNIAM: Thanks, Senator Cameron. We look forward to you moving to Tasmania in the very near future too. Unlike some, I would like to talk about the good things that come out of our state. On Monday, I spoke about our strong medical research capability and the history we have of achievement in that field. While others will talk doom and gloom, and try and create a perception that things are not good in Tasmania at all, I think it is important to try and set the record straight and to go with the Tasmanian community to look forward with optimism rather than just at the challenges we face.
Today, I am going to be talking about one of the bright spots in the Tasmanian economy, and that is the tourism sector, which I am sure we are all big supporters of in this place. I made mention of this sector in my first speech for good reason. I believe the importance of that industry to our economy cannot be underestimated. As I say, I do not think any senator from my home state could possibly disagree with me when I say that it is one of the key industries in our state when it comes to employment, because it is one of our competitive strengths.
While Tasmania is a smaller jurisdiction, by comparison with the larger mainland states, our performance at the annual Australian Tourism Awards is a good indicator of how right we do it down there. We won more gold medals than any other state in the Commonwealth, and I have to add that this is for the third year running. This is from the small state of Tasmania.
In the words of the Premier, Will Hodgman, who is a good friend, as Senator McKim alerted to before, but an even better Tourism Minister, ‘Tasmania does tourism better than anyone else in the country.’ I have to agree with that. He is also right to point out that the strength of the Tasmanian performance, not just at the awards but as an industry in general, comes from the strong relationship between the government and the industry.
I have to give a hearty commendation to the leaders of the tourism industry in Tasmania. They are people who have worked hard, who have had a vision and worked extremely hard with government and other industry operators to bring about the realisation of our competitive strengths. There are too many to name, of course, but I would like to make particular mention of a few that have worked exceptionally hard over the years to see the growth that we have had in this industry. I will start with Luke Martin, who is the head of the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania. It is led by the chair of its board, Daniel Leesong, and before him the venerable Simon Currant, who would be familiar to many Tasmanians, I am sure.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Senator DUNIAM: That is right. The board, the chair and the CEO have all worked tirelessly to realise the tourism potential of our state, and I think they have done great things.
There are also the private investors, who have seen the opportunity to invest in our state and make the most of what we have to offer. People like David Walsh who created the incredible MONA, and the associated festivals and exhibitions, which, quite frankly, have transformed the face of tourism in our state. I do not think anyone can argue with this. There is Rob Pennicott with his wilderness adventures and Brett Torossi with her stunning boutique accommodation properties across Tasmania. The work of these people in the industry, with government, has resulted in the strong performance I have already mentioned.
Nationally, as was highlighted by our federal tourism minister, Steve Ciobo, there has been significant growth across the country, and I am pleased Tasmania is part of that. Nationally, spending by international visitors reached the unprecedented height of $39.1 billion last year. We have seen incredible growth in international visitor numbers from right across Asia and the US. The investment by government in assisting the growth in the tourism sector is vital. The Turnbull government’s investment—it is an investment that has been made by many successive governments I must point out—of $639 million to promote this country as a destination, alongside being able to negotiate some of the world’s best aviation access agreements and the introduction of visitor visa access improvements, are all aiding this fantastic growth.
Again, specifically turning to the state of Tasmania and the rate of growth in this piece of paradise, for the first time ever Tasmania has passed the 1.2 million visitors per annum mark. I believe that is an incredible achievement. In opposition—Senator McKim would recall this—the now Premier, then shadow tourism minister, named a target for visitors reaching the state of Tasmania, hoping we would be at 1.5 million visitor per annum by 2020. This target was set on advice from industry. It is important to point out that when the target was set, industry said that when we reached that target we would create an extra 8,000 jobs, particularly in regional Tasmania, where jobs are so badly needed. It is clear though the government is well on its way to achieving this target, given that it only requires a five per cent growth in annual visitor numbers to reach it. In the last year we had a seven per cent growth in visitor numbers to the state, so we are on the way. Further, we have seen an increase in spending of 10 per cent, bringing it to a total of $2.14 billion. So Tasmania on these numbers and by any objective measure is punching well above its weight and I believe this is a great thing for our state.
Back to the importance of tourism to the regions in Tasmania, I have previously made mention of the fact that Tourism Research Australia has previously reported that the east and west coasts of Tasmania, both made up of several regional communities, are the fifth and sixth most tourism dependent regions in the country. That demonstrates just how important good policy and hard work in this area is to the growth of this economy and creating jobs. We saw an 11 per cent increase in visitation to the north of the state, a 10 per cent increase to our spectacular east coast and a seven per cent increase to the equally beautiful Cradle Coast region in the north and the west. Credit also must be given to the steps the Tasmanian government has taken in altering how the ferry service across Bass Strait, the TT Line, operates, focusing now on maximising the number of visitors that utilise the service rather than commercial returns. This change in focus has seen an increase in sea visitors of 11 per cent, and those visitors are arriving in the north of our state where we are seeing more stay and take in what the north has to offer.
As was the case with national statistics about international visitors, the same applies at home in Tasmania. International visitors have grown by 11 per cent. The US is the largest market. And it is on this point, the growth we are seeing from international markets, that the investment made by the Australian government of $38 million in the Hobart International Airport runway extension will be vital to seeing that continued growth in international visitor numbers. In the very near future, we will be seeing direct air freight flights from Hobart direct into Asia, meaning that the fresh produce—the seafood, the berries and cherries, the meat products that the world is willing to pay such a premium for—will more easily make it to market. This is a boon for our local producers.
Similarly, once the runway extension is completed, I am certain—and I also have it on good authority—that we will see direct charter flights to and from Asian destinations into Tasmania. And hopefully, one day, we will see regular scheduled flights to and from Asian destinations into Tasmania. Although, to continue to be viewed as the ‘must-see destination’, the Tasmanian government realises the state needs to continue to work with industry and foster the creation of new product offerings—new experiences, new things for people to see and do, new reasons for them to come, or hopefully return for a second, third or fourth trip.
And so I await with excitement the outcome of the work being undertaken on the Cradle Mountain masterplan. This is one of those developments in a truly spectacular part of the world that I think absolutely needs investment. So I look forward to working with the Tasmanian tourism industry, including the Cradle Coast Authority, to see that the required funds will be made available to bring the Cradle vision to life.
Very exciting, too, are the moves by the state government to remove uncertainty around the process to enable developers who wish to lodge development applications to build a cable car up Mount Wellington. This is an exciting development in our capital. I am certain those who know the mountain will see the merit in such a project. It has worked well in other countries, and indeed one only has to look at the Kuranda Skyrail in Cairns to see what such a new product can do for visitor demand.
Additionally, the amazing and revolutionary policy adopted by the Tasmanian government in allowing sensitive, sustainable and appropriate tourism developments in our national parks and reserves is to be commended. We have some of the most spectacular reserves in the world, and it is time to open them up to allow not just the uber-fit, but everyone, to see them.
I end on this note: we have the best environment, the best forests, the best beaches, the best rivers, the best restaurants and chefs, the best food and the best drink—whiskey, wine and beer. We also know how to market ourselves. Tasmania is doing well. Come on down see what the hype is all about.