Scott Morrison is keeping an open mind on providing more financial support for the tourism industry once JobKeeper wage subsidies end in March.
But the prime minister is tight-lipped on calls for tailored assistance in specific regions smashed by international borders staying shut.
“I’m not going to pre-empt or fly kites on these things,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Queensland on Tuesday.
Tourism operators faced with indefinite international border restrictions are appealing for more federal government support.
Australians are being warned that international travel is unlikely to resume until next year, even as coronavirus vaccines are rolled out.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond says the sector cannot survive on domestic travel alone, particularly if state borders keep closing.
“There is no way that domestic tourism can fill the gap that will be left by inbound international travel,” she told the ABC.
“Essentially your average Chinese visitor to Australia probably spends $8500 while they’re here. Your average Aussie who heads off for a holiday is probably spending about $1500.
“Make no mistake, while international borders remain closed, we have no hope of recovery.”
The prime minister said domestic travel remained the “bread and butter” of the tourism industry, accounting for 70 to 80 per cent of the sector.
Mr Morrison also argued Australians who were generally big overseas travellers were more likely to holiday closer to home.
But he said the government had a proven track record in supporting sectors in greatest need.
“We make the decisions about what’s necessary after working closely with those in the sector about what is needed,” he said.
“That’s how we’ll continue to approach this.”
Ms Osmond is calling for nationally consistent protocols around state border restrictions, after snap shutdowns caused chaos over Christmas.
She is also urging the federal government to provide more payroll support once JobKeeper ends in March.
“The government is going to have to think very seriously how it supports this industry for the next couple of years, not just the next couple of months, if it wants to have a tourism industry when we actually reopen our international borders,” Ms Osmond said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has consistently stated the JobKeeper scheme will not be extended.
But there are growing expectations he could announce targeted support packages for the hardest hit sectors such as tourism, hospitality and major events.
In the interim, Australia’s small business ombudsman has raised concerns about existing rules affecting struggling companies.
Under the terms of the wage subsidy scheme, eligible businesses cannot replace staff with new employees and still attract the government payment.
This is having an impact on businesses unable to top up wages since the subsidy was slashed in January, leading some staff to look for work elsewhere.
“From a struggling small business perspective, this JobKeeper rule makes a bad situation worse because they are losing their staff and cannot afford to replace them,” ombudsman Kate Carnell said.
“It’s imperative that the government changes JobKeeper so that small businesses that have been hit hardest by the COVID crisis can replace their staff to help them get their businesses back up and running.”