CANBERRA, AAP – Peter Dutton has pushed back against widespread criticism of the federal government’s tourism package.
Airlines have welcomed half-price flights in the $1.2 billion plan but almost all other stakeholders have panned the stimulus scheme.
The subsidised airfares are only available on about 15 select routes, leaving many hard-hit regions reeling.
Facing a barrage of backlash, the home affairs minister took aim at local mayors and others “playing politics” with the program.
“There are lots of people that will take any dollar that you give them, and if you give them one dollar they ask for a second,” Mr Dutton told Nine on Friday.
“The fact is mums and dads love this policy because they want a cheap airfare and they want to go for a holiday, they want to be able to spend money in regional areas.”
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles said the tourism package was a massive let down.
Mr Marles described the package as merely “half-price tickets to marginal seats”.
“What they have got here is a lemon,” he told Nine.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has a far rosier view of the program.
“One again we’re the white knight on the shining white horse,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
The $1.2 billion tourism and aviation rescue package will provide an estimated 800,000 subsidised airfares on government-nominated routes.
Adelaide and Darwin are the latest cities to be added to the list of destinations, with more expected to follow.
In Queensland the government has listed the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Cairns, and the Whitsundays and Mackay region including Proserpine and Hamilton Island.
Uluru and Alice Springs in the NT, the Tasmanian towns of Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, Broome in WA, Avalon near Melbourne, Merimbula in NSW and SA’s Kangaroo Island are also included.
The destination list covers eight marginal electorates including four that are Labor-held, three with coalition MPs and one independent seat.
Victoria’s Avalon is the only airport in a safe Labor seat, while the rest are in safe Liberals or Nationals territory.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was a predictable approach from the government.
“They always look at one thing and it’s not who needs support the most,” he told reporters.
“It’s not regional economic development and priorities and how we go forward. It is the electoral map.”
Mr Albanese noted Launceston, Devonport and Burnie were included but southern Tasmania missed out.
“I wonder what the distinction is between the two? The two marginal seats are in northern Tasmania,” he said.
But the government is adamant selections were made based on how much local economies rely on tourism and aviation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected suggestions the choices were political.
“I’d say it’s absurd, it’s ridiculous,” he told reporters.
Labor state governments also blasted the package, with Queensland concerned the flights could not be intrastate and Victoria claiming it is unfair.