As the 2013 election looms, one thing I can absolutely guarantee you is that both major parties have, for at least a decade and a half, regarded travellers as a handy ATM that they can turn to at any time for extra cash and nothing is going to change in that regard.
Even though travel is now with everyone’s reach, the political parties regard it as an indulgence for the rich, not part of day-to-day life, which it is for an increasing number of Australians.
On top of our use of international airlines, with around eight million – or a third of the population – travelling overseas each year, the equivalent of around 30 million people take a domestic air trip each year.
While domestic travel is subject to the 10 per cent GST, international travel is exempt. But, boy, do we get clobbered with the departure tax, which the current government increased from $47 to $55 in July last year.
With around 30 million people entering and leaving the country each year, that’s more than $800 million and around half of that forked out by Australians.
It’s the biggest short-haul travel tax in the world, exceeded only by the UK’s obscene Air Passenger Duty, which is now £94 (around $A163) for every long-haul traveller entering or leaving Britain.
I have no doubt that both major parties in Australia will continue to use the departure tax as a “sin” tax – simply because they can.
For all the major parties’ bleating about the need to focus on policy, not personalities, I found both websites utterly useless when I went hunting for their policy platforms relating to tourism and travel.
I found it equally useless combing the websites of the Labor Tourism Minister, Gary Gray, and the Coalition Shadow Tourism Minister Bob Baldwin: nothing but campaign froth and bubble and certainly not the respective tourism policy platform announcements.
But there were two big policy areas relating to travel and tourism that have got my attention in the past month: firstly, after its $20 million study announced earlier in the year, Labor committed to building the first stage of the Melbourne-Brisbane very fast train.
According to the spiel, high-speed rail will be built on a dedicated track, travelling at up to 350 kilometres per hour. Non-stop services between Sydney and Melbourne will take two hours and 44 minutes. During peak periods, up to five non-stop and five regional services will depart every hour in each direction. Stations between Sydney and Melbourne are also proposed for the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury Wodonga and Shepparton.
Labor proposes that the first stage, Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne, will be finished by 2035 at a cost of around half of the $114 billion total project cost, with Sydney-Brisbane to be finished later.
The government says it will initially allocate $52 million to begin detailed planning work.
It’s pie-in-the-sky stuff as private sector interest has fallen away in the past 15 years. It sounds more affordable when Part One is broken down into chunks of about $2.5 billion a year over 22 years, but it’s still a major expense for which the justification is mainly social, not economic.
And Labor, if re-elected, would have to get parliament to increase the allowable debt limit for the federal government for the fifth time as the current government, according to its projections, will exceed the current $300 billion limit in the next few months.
Both parties still have major polly scaredy-cat syndrome over the biggest issue facing the national air travel network – the building of Sydney’s second airport to relieve pressure on the existing Kingsford Smith airport – but the Coalition aviation policy caught my eye when the travel industry, through the Tourism and Transport Forum, got involved.
According to the TTF, the release of the Coalition’s aviation policy paves the way for “serious reform” of one of the artificial restrictions hampering air transport growth in two of our major cities.
TTF chief executive Ken Morrison said the pledge to review the list of business and private charter aircraft permitted to operate at Adelaide and Sydney airports was a good first step on the path towards creating an incentive for quieter, modern aircraft over older, noisier types.
“The Coalition’s policy recognises the absurdity of legislation that fails to take into account the massive gains made by aircraft manufacturers in making significantly quieter aircraft,” Morrison said.
“The list of allowable aircraft for Adelaide Airport (after curfew) has not been updated since 2000. The list of allowable aircraft for Sydney Airport has not been updated since 2005.”
This wouldn’t mean open slather at both airports around the clock as most people don’t want to be travelling when they should be in bed, but would relax restrictions on modern aircraft to allow airlines more flexibility late at night and early in the morning.
Do you have a message about travel and tourism for pollies at this election? Is there a particular gripe you want fixed? Post your comments below.