Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:17): I’m a bit bemused by this motion actually, but I thank the member for Ballarat for putting it forward. In fact, I did wonder when it was written because it calls for the government to immediately intervene in the administration of Virgin. Well, we’ve seen that the government actually held its nerve, and we’ve seen a very suitable response to the situation that Virgin found itself in. We’ve got a new investor. They are refashioning the airline, and hopefully, when we can get international travel happening in Australia again, Virgin will return to their pre-COVID position.
But right across the board, I’ve actually been pretty happy with the response of the government, particularly as a member who represents regional areas. We saw an imminent crash of services in regional areas. The government stepped up to the plate and put $198 million in to ensure places like Coober Pedy, Kingscote, Port Lincoln and Ceduna all had at least two flights a week being provided by Rex. That was the deal with the company, that they actually did run those. Since that time, in some of those centres the frequency of services has been rising. We’ve seen Qantas services to Whyalla and Port Lincoln pick up.
South Australia is in a fairly fortunate position. We’ve had a good government there that has managed the virus very well, I would have to say. But right across the board, we’ve seen some good performances from the government. I had meant to mention, when I was speaking about the intervention with Virgin—I have a report here from 2013 when the then opposition leader, Bill Shorten, was asking the government to intervene and rescue Qantas from immediate failure, if I remember rightly, when they stood down 300 workers. At the time the member for Maribyrnong was calling for urgent government intervention to save this failing international icon. Of course, within two years they were making record profits, which is why governments shouldn’t be lured into knee-jerk reactions.
Across the board we’ve put more than $1.3 billion into the aviation sector. The JobKeeper platform has been so important for providing some stability in aviation. It’s absolutely tough out there. It’s tough for travel agents, for people, for councils that own airports—of course it is. But we can’t magically fill in all the gaps that have happened because of the COVID virus. There is not an inexhaustible supply of money at the federal level—I suppose we have got printing presses! But the answer of some would seem to be to keep pouring money we don’t have into enterprises, even though we don’t know what their long-term viability will be.
We’ve had the international freight assistance mechanism, which has been very important in my electorate. We export a lot of seafood out of Grey both in aquaculture and wild caught fisheries terms. Their ability to get to the market on time—it is not the kind of thing you can put on sea freight; trying to get crayfish into Hong Kong, for instance, is time critical.
When the passengers stop coming into Australia we run out of freight, because, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, the freight travels in the cargo holds of passenger airlines. So the government has put money into providing aircraft and services so that these people can keep those businesses afloat, interacting with all their markets. That service has primarily been focused on Asia and South-East Asia. I have had calls from constituents and companies saying, ‘We need that kind support into Europe as well.’ I hear those calls but we don’t see the same kinds of tonnages trying to get in that direction, so it becomes a little more problematic.
But by and large those industries are very, very happy with what the government has done; that’s the kind of feedback I get across the board. The passengers flying out of Coober Pedy and Ceduna are very happy that the government has intervened and kept those services in the air. I understand Rex is on the verge of putting on more flights to Ceduna now, because that traffic flow has built up; it got them through the tight spot. After all, that is what so much of the government intervention around COVID has been—temporary, to get businesses and people through the tight spots.