01 Mar 2014

Politics in the Business Events Arena

Opinion by Andrew Hiebl, Executive Director

Cast yourself back to the morning of Saturday, 7 September 2013. What were you doing? What was your plan of attack for the day ahead?

As the date in question was the Australian Federal Election, I’m sure that you were debating who to vote for. Assuming that most readers are either directly or indirectly connected to the tourism and events industry, I imagine that as you were sitting down to your Weet-bix or Special K, you were downloading the Tourism Policies of the major parties on your tablet to determine who would get your vote.

As I presented this scenario at the PCO Association conference in November 2013 there were giggles and laughs from across the room. But this is serious! While I do understand that there are other important issues like the economy, education, health and the environment that influence your decision, I can only imagine how a majority of those employed in the automotive industry may have voted.

If we are not concerned with the policies that impact our employment – and we are a significant sector – then how should we expect political parties to take our industry seriously?

For those that remember, and those that weren’t even aware, the Coalition’s package concerning business events brought to the 2010 election included:

  • Provide Tourism Australia with a further $10.5 million over four years to increase the marketing capacity of Business Events Australia.This significant investment will increase the funding available to Business Events Australia and bring Australia’s business events marketing capability closer to our international competitors.
  • Provide $17.5 million over four years to operate a Business Events Bid and Boost Fund [international].This industry partnership fund will provide the business events sector with a significant pool of funds to coordinate and support bids for key international conferences. The fund will also help boost conference revenue.

While we thank Elizabeth Rich, then CEO of the Business Events Council of Australia, for raising the profile of the business events industry to the point of achieving the above policies, the election result robbed us of these game-changing investments. If you recall, even though Labour and the Coalition finished up with 72 seats each, Labour formed a minority government with the support of three independent MPs and one Australian Greens MP.

Three years on, and the election result this time favoured the Coalition. With the much debated ‘state of the economy’, there were no direct financial wins for the business events sector this time round, irrespective of Australia’s declining global ranking or increasing competition from our neighbours in the Asia Pacific region and even the Middle East.

Although only two lines from The Coalition’s Policy for Tourism 2013, they are significant: “We will also provide consular and ministerial backing for bids for key international conferences.”

Tourism, and therefore business events, now falls under the Trade and Investment portfolio with the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP as the Minister responsible.

While some still squabble over the fact that the word “tourism” is not in the Minister’s title, I have been on the record as saying that the alignment with trade and investment is a far better outcome for the business events industry than being lumped in with resources and energy.

So what has been achieved by the new Coalition Government after six months in office?

November – Scrap the Cap

On 6 November, the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer, announced that the Coalition Government would not proceed with the $2,000 Self-education Expenses Cap proposed by the previous Labor Government.

November - Business Events Research

The Government honoured TQual grant funding to the Business Events Council of Australia announced prior to the election. The federal grant of $110k matched dollar-for-dollar by industry is for vital research to better understand the economic benefit of the business events industry.

December - Australian Tourism Roundtable (ATR)

On the cusp of the Coalition’s first 100 days in office, Minister Robb met with a broad range of tourism industry representatives at the inaugural ATR held on 17 December 2013. The ATR is an industry-led forum, convened by the National Tourism Alliance, to foster the exchange of information and formulate common policy positions for the benefit of the Australian tourism industry. The business events sector was represented by the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, Business Events Council of Australia and Exhibition & Event Association of Australasia.

Agreed common policy positions of ATR participants as discussed with the Minister were:

  • Tax and red tape
  • Visa reforms
  • Skills and labour
  • Marketing (including support for international business event bid opportunities)
  • Cross-government coordination.

Minister Robb announced his commitment to the Tourism 2020 goal of doubling overnight expenditure to between $115 and $140 billion by 2020, acknowledging tourism as one of the nation’s top 5 strengths.

February – Multiple Entry Visas

On 7 February, the Minister for Trade and Investment and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection announced that Chinese business visitors will now be eligible to apply for a three year multiple entry visa, increasing the prospect of repeat visits to Australia and providing flow-on economic benefits to the tourism sector.                                                                          

“These changes will also support the government's ambitious trade and investment agenda and increase the opportunities to do business with China,” Mr Robb said.

Note that the Minister for Trade and Investment and the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection also announced the extension of SmartGate to all eligible Singapore nationals, making them the sixth nation to use this self-service processing technology when entering Australia.

February – AIME Visit

Minister Robb’s Chief of Staff, Zoe McKenzie, and Tourism Advisor, Luke Achterstraat, attended AIME 2014 to gain a better understanding of the business events industry and Australia’s global competition.

March – Export Market Development Grant Boost

On 6 March, the Minister for Trade and Investment and the Minister for Small Business announced a $50m boost to the EMDG scheme to help small to medium sized businesses reach their export potential. The scheme helps tourism businesses and approved bodies by refunding up to 50% of their export market expenditure. Changes to the scheme also see the eligibility threshold of expenses reduced from $20k to $15k.

While it is not for me to score the Government’s achievements to date, I do urge you to get involved and help drive policy into the future through your relevant business events association. The next election is only 2½ years away!

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