Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s reshuffle is a lost opportunity to ramp up the Labor Government’s commitment to tourism.
Ms Gillard could have taken the portfolio – crucial to the Gold Coast – from the hands of Martin Ferguson who, at best, is described as missing in action.
This is despite the fact the industry in Queensland, worth more than $9 billion to the economy each year, is struggling to gain momentum since the global financial crisis cut the discretionary spending of would-be holiday-makers.
The Gold Coast, the state’s tourism capital, is bracing itself for a slow winter, with figures forecasting the number of backpackers will drop dramatically.
Exchange rates between Australia and the UK, Europe and the US, combined with cheap Asian competition, are playing a part in sending the traditionally Down Under-bound backpackers to other destinations.
The industry still needs help but Mr Ferguson has time and again shown little interest in it, despite wearing the tourism minister hat.
His other portfolio, mining, is pre-occupying him as the battle between the resource companies and the Government over the proposed super profits tax continues to make headlines.
Tourism, which directly employs 28,000 people on the Gold Coast and has an economic impact of more than $3 billion, has disappeared off his radar.
Tourism Australia’s appointment of Andrew McEvoy appears to have given it some direction, despite criticism of new $150 million There’s Nothing Like Australia campaign.
But the voice of tourism needs to be louder in caucus.
We applauded the inclusion of tourism in the inner Cabinet when it was first announced as part of Ferguson’s portfolio but in reality it is little more than tokenism.
Tourism deserves its own minister and we look forward to the Gillard or Abbott government post-election taking it seriously.
Perhaps if the Gillard Government is re-elected, Kevin Rudd could be made tourism minister.
After all, he’s from Queensland, so understands our needs; he has the experience and loves to travel.