April 06, 2021

PAUL TURTON, HOST: Pat Conroy is the Member for Shortland and also the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific. He’s taken a specific interest in this and joins us to give us some insight into concerns.
Pat, thanks for coming on the program today.
TURTON: So the pictures we’re seeing coming from our close neighbours are very distressing aren’t they?
CONROY: They’re very grim. It’s absolutely the last thing those countries need after the crippling impact of the COVID lockdown on their economies, so it’s tragic. Over 50 lives have been lost in Timor Leste that we know of. We expect the figure to grow, and there’s already huge food and fresh water shortages that we expect will only get worse as they predict more rain over the next week.
TURTON: So the COVID-19 problems, the implications are predominately around tourism and accommodation?
CONROY: Initially. Certainly for Timor Leste it was an economic hit that was obviously incredibly brutal given it’s one of the most impoverished countries in the world. But unfortunately over the last couple of months we’ve started to see a spike in cases similar to what was occurring in Papua New Guinea for example. So there’s a double whammy of the economic impact, then they were seeing mounting cases of COVID, and in fact the first plane bringing in COVID vaccines landed, on my information, late yesterday/early today. So obviously the rollout of the vaccine which is desperately needed in Timor Leste will obviously be impacted by the tragic floods.
TURTON: So what would you like to see our Federal Government doing?
CONROY: Well I’ve been calling on behalf of the Labor Party for the Federal Government to listen to any requests the Timor Leste Government makes and to move with extreme urgency to fill those requests. Beyond obviously that they are a near neighbour and they’re very, very poor, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Timor Leste that we can never fully repay.
It’s not widely known that hundreds of thousands of Timor Leste civilians died during World War II, partly through starvation and partly through reprisals by Japanese soldiers for their assistance to Australian soldiers. And that’s obviously a debt that we can never repay, but giving urgent assistance in this tragic time is one small sign of our respect and gratitude.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, also in your shadow portfolio area there’s better news today. The New Zealand Government will allow Australians to travel to the country quarantine free from Monday week.
CONROY: Yeah it’s great news, great news from both obviously people wanting a holiday but more importantly the economic impact on both New Zealand and Australia from this increased tourism. We have to see how it goes and we have to make sure that we can fix up the vaccine rollout in this country because what’s very clear is if we continue to see the dysfunction around the vaccine rollout, we will see community outbreaks, and that will obviously put that bubble under threat. But I welcome the news of it.
TURTON: And this is what the Prime Minister had to say on the subject:
GRAB OF SCOTT MORRISON: This will mean, importantly, jobs for Australia. I’ve already made major announcements about our travel sector and it is true that the trans-Tasman route is one of the most busy in terms of volume. That means more planes in the air. It means more jobs on the ground and in the air as well for our airlines. It means further support for our travel agents who book many of the international – the first of the international travel that we’ll see for Australians. And so I’m sure that will be welcomed by those in the travel sector and in the aviation sector.

TURTON: Are you happy the Government is doing enough for those working in the tourism sector? We know of course that for Newcastle Airport specifically, the two big markets are Melbourne and Brisbane - Brisbane and the Gold Coast - which have been smashed. Most recently the Queenslanders of course but before that the Victorians.
CONROY: No I’m not happy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Government has bungled the vaccine rollout which is meaning that we’re seeing state economies being locked down as we see community outbreaks. If the vaccine rollout was on track, we’d be in a much stronger position to open up the economy and get tourism dollars flowing in. 
And secondly, the Government has ignored the travel agent industry. People don’t realise that the travel agent industry employs 55,000 Australians – bigger than the motor vehicle industry before it shut down – and the assistance that the Government’s announced for airlines doesn’t help the travel agents in any particular manner. In fact it actually hurts them. So for example, when you ring up for one of the half price vouchers with Qantas, Qantas will try and sell you accommodation and car rentals which is understandable, so that’s actually taking more business away from travel agents. 
So we need more there, but ultimately the only way we solve this crisis is fixing up the vaccine rollout. That will allow us to open up the economy. But sadly we are seeing bungle after bungle including one of my GP practices not getting their delivery because the courier delivered it to another doctor’s surgery, so we are seeing things like that happen quite regularly. 
TURTON: Pat Conroy, thanks for giving us your insight. Thanks.
CONROY: Not a problem, have a great afternoon.