Economy

Tourism industry calls for “urgent” action on penalty rates – and can’t wait until the election is finished

Yolanda Redrup /

The majority of tourism operators believe penalty rates require “urgent” attention from the government, according to a new survey – and the election period hasn’t helped.

The latest Tourism and Transport Forum and MasterCard survey released today found 67% of businesses said penalty rates required “urgent” attention.

The survey comes as both parties have declined to make specific comments regarding penalty rates during the election period, with the exception of Labor suggesting it will maintain the status quo.

TTF chief executive Ken Morrison told SmartCompany high penalty rates are continuing to harm the industry.

“Tourism is a 24/7 industry, so penalty rates make it difficult for tourism operators and hotels to stay open on Sundays and public holidays, while still delivering their services well.”

“The Coalition has taken a shy approach to industrial relations reform, but this will remain a priority for us moving forward,” he says.

Morrison says a lack of government support for the sector is worrying.

“With tourism statistics showing growth in inbound arrivals and domestic travel, tourism is well-positioned to help Australia in the post-mining investment boom economy.

“So we are disappointed that while both major parties have acknowledged the need to plan for that future, neither has yet chosen to release a tourism policy ahead of the federal election,” he says.

Morrison says the Labor government has ruled out any changes, but the Coalition has taken a more “sympathetic” stance.

“The Coalition has expressed sympathy, but it’s done so without wanting to reopen the headline-making industrial relation reform issues from the past,” he says.

Respondents ranked the exchange rate, taxes and other charges as the biggest impediments to the tourism industry.

Despite the falling Australian dollar, 45% of industry executives ranked the exchange rate as one of their top three business impediments. Concern about the dollar has moderated from a high of 72% in mid-2011.

Concern about government taxes and charges on Australian tourism businesses has risen from 23% in mid-2011 to 29%, and is the second highest priority issue for businesses.

Morrison says this has sparked the organisation to call for a freeze on passenger movement charges.

“This tax raises around $1 billion a year, but less than a quarter of that goes back into tourism businesses. The industry believes this need to be reviewed,” he says.

Other general tourism impediments which ranked highly included the shortage of skilled labour, concerns about the quality of retail offering and opening hours of bars and restaurants and concerns about Australia’s ability to attract business meetings and conventions.

But Morrison says despite these concerns, the industry is generally positive about the future.

“Elections always dampen business and consumer confidence. It’s been an especially long campaign and there’s been a minority government, so everyone will be glad, whoever wins, when the election is over and we can get back to doing business and consumers can go back to being confident,” he says.

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