CANBERRA, AAP – Scott Morrison has dismissed criticism of his $1.2 billion stimulus package for the tourism industry.
The prime minister is offering 800,000 discounted airline tickets as well as loans for struggling tourism operators, designed to ease the pain when JobKeeper wage subsidies end this month.
The major airlines have lauded the half-price return flights to more than a dozen regional tourism destinations.
But Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner says the $1.2 billion package will do little for the tourism industry.
“It is a very small, very meagre package at best,” he told Nine on Thursday.
“I don’t think this is going to help at all, really. It is about the borders. Keeping the domestic borders open and getting the international borders open as soon as possible.”
Tourism industry groups have also complained about the size of the package.
An estimated 800,000 government-subsidised tickets will be offered over the scheme’s duration which includes the Easter and winter school holidays.
Return flights to eligible locations will receive a 50 per cent discount between April 1 and July 31.
Initially, the government has listed Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region including Proserpine and Hamilton Island and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Lasseter 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.
Mr Morrison said the airfares would help Australians support tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines doing it tough during the pandemic.
“This is our ticket to recovery,” he said on Thursday.
“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard.”
Qantas, Virgin and a handful of smaller regional carriers will be the main beneficiaries, with airlines that have operated on the routes for the past two years eligible.
Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said this and other government measures announced on Thursday were “smart” and well-targeted and would deliver an economic boost.
Virgin is currently operating at 50 per cent of its pre-pandemic capacity but now expects this to ramp up to 70 per cent by Easter.
Business loans of up to 10 years with a two-year principal and interest repayment holiday will be available between April and the end of the year for small and medium firms that graduated from JobKeeper this year.
The maximum loan will be increased from $1 million to $5 million and businesses with a turnover of $250 million will be eligible.
Mr Morrison said the measures would mean more jobs and investment as the nation heads towards winning the fight against coronavirus.
“Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever. They want their tourists back,” he said.
The package also includes support to keep 8600 international aviation workers employed between April and the end of October, the earliest chance for flights overseas to resume.
In return, airlines will need to assure the government every month planes will be ready to take off when needed.
Airport security charges and other domestic flight operations charges will continue to be waived, while support will be extended for air freight exports.
The government will continue payments to zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks for six months and business events for three months.