August 20, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Federal Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment, Dan Tehan at The Australian Tourism Exchange in June Credit: Tourism Australia

On Monday the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) discussed three urgent requirements to support the business events industry with the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan.

They were clear. Poignant. Compelling.

The online meeting was attended by the Minister and two advisors, one being a recent appointment from industry.

BECA was represented by Deputy Chair, Geoff Donaghy with Matt Pearce, Kate Smith and Andrew Hiebl representing BECA’s members. People with skin in the game and capable negotiators and communicators. Between them they have an excellent and wide-ranging perspective of the trickle-down impact of the pandemic to all parts of the business events sector.

With the worsening pandemic climate and the increasing impacts on business owners and employees, the importance of these talks could not be more critical. These were not talks about triaging the industry, but about saving it.

Tehan has been around the visitor economy a long time. He was the Chief of Staff to Tourism Minister Fran Bailey about 12 years ago. Those years were in the good times of tourism. Buoyant times when Australia’s destination appeal was in overdrive and emerging markets like China and India were just about to take off. At the time, Scott Morrison was the Managing Director of Tourism Australia. There was not much trust between the Minister and Morrison at the time and Morrison was replaced by Geoff Buckley.

It’s a very different story now. The Chief of Staff is now the Minister for Tourism and he also has responsibility for Trade and Investment. The perfect combination of portfolios to have a full picture of the impact of the visitor economy and especially of business events.

What difference does this make? In principle, Tehan has a pretty good idea about the importance of our industry. But in the complexity of the current crisis and the electoral implications of policy and funding programs, what hope does our industry have of getting any cut-through for additional support?

The Morrison Government will be looking to minimise the electoral fallout of its performance during the pandemic. It will try to reassure the Australian people and business that this Government knows what it is doing and is in control. It will also pander to the big influential players. Those whose votes matter most, in seats where they count more.

Eighteen months into this crisis, we sure as hell know this. There have been no special targeted packages to support our sector. Yes, there has been assistance and additional grants programs, but not enough considering the events industry was the first to shut and will be the last to reopen fully.

That our sector is not top-of-mind with this Government is no surprise. We’re not big enough. Powerful enough. Vocal enough. Organised enough. Resourced enough.

We need to remember the lessons of the past 18 months in advocacy. And we need to learn that now we have to play an electorally focussed strategy. Marginal seat by marginal seat. Local Member by Local Member. Working with the Opposition and the cross bench.

For a federal election is just around the corner.

Election analyst Anthony Green says the likely months for the election are October or November if the Prime Minister chooses to go this year, March 2022 if he chooses to hold over to the new year, or May 2022 if an earlier window of opportunity fails to open.

“Which date the Prime Minister chooses will depend on how events and politics unfold over the next nine months. By far the biggest factor working against the election being held in 2021 is ongoing delays in [the] vaccination rollout,” says Green.

This week we got some extra vaccine from Poland. Poland – because the Federal Government didn’t get enough of the stuff when it should have.

Vaccination supply is what has stood in the way of other sensible policy decisions about mandating vaccination. You can’t mandate if there’s not enough of the precious supplies needed. That would only show up further how inept the Federal Government has been at procuring enough supplies, at the right time, to get Australians vaccinated as a matter of urgency.

The Prime Minister had said it wasn’t a race – well that statement may well be the foundation of the Coalition’s re-election campaign. We’ll see.

Given that BECA has provided an important industry update following its meeting with Minister Tehan, I have contacted his office for a response.

And so far, I’ve had no response. But I’m hopeful that I will get one to at least hear what the Minister is going to do to make the case to his boss, the ex-boss of Tourism Australia, about our industry’s pleas for help. Yet again.

This time those pleas are even more desperate. BECA says the survival, confidence and recovery of our industry are what we want support on.

Let’s hope the pleas are heard. Irrespective of the result – there’s an election on the way. Let’s dial up political advocacy.