Why we need an alliance for tourist visa reform

In the annual Current Affairs in Aviation lecture at the University of New South Wales today, I outlined the five biggest barriers to air transport growth in Australia. 

Air ticket taxes remain the number one bug bear of the air transport industry, dampening demand for travel as they do. 

However, visa fees have rocketed up the wider tourism and aviation industry's watch list. Much of this has focused on the Backpacker tax, but a wider acceptance of the inequity of charging most Asian visitors $140 while allowing Europeans to visit for no charge is fast taking hold. 

There is about to be a golden opportunity for change. Unless the tourism and aviation industries present a united front against the federal government, we could have a re-run of the Passenger Movement Charge introduction and subsequent rorting by federal governments. 

The European Union is close to introducing an electronic visitor visa waiver program modelled on the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation and the Australian Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). The planned EU Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS), will require Australians to lodge details in advance for any trip to the Schengen zone. 

A related, but separate, move by the UK towards electronic visa waivers is also likely to be extended to cover Australia as the post-Brexit government scrabbles for additional revenue. 

Why this matters is because our current fee exemption for Europeans (UK included) is based on reciprocity. Once this disappears, the federal government will be able to move Europeans to the ETA, for which the fee is currently $20. This is a windfall of $1.5 billion that could be used to fund a reduction in visa fees applying to Asian visitors. 

It won't be used for that, of course, unless a campaign is mounted. 

Message Shapers is working with a number of its clients to develop the narrative and conduct the research needed to mount such a campaign. We are interested in talking to anyone with a desire to see genuine reform of the visitor visa process.

The tale of the notepad, the prime minister and a minority parliament

The tale of the notepad, the prime minister and a minority parliament

As the 45th Parliament of Australia sits down to business, the early signs are that it will be a bruising two and a half years if we make it that long.  A sort-of majority in the lower house and an emboldened cross bench in the Senate may be nothing compared to the factional rifts within the government ranks, if yesterday's moves are a presage for things to come.

Release of 20/2020 - 20 Travel technology trends for 2020

20/2020 - 20 travel technology trends for 2020 is available for digital download

20/2020 - 20 travel technology trends for 2020 is available for digital download

Message Shapers report into 20 travel technology trends of 2020 released

Following two highly rated sessions at the Travel Industry Expo in Melbourne and Sydney, Message Shapers has released its digital disruption roadmap for the Australian travel industry. 

20/2020 - 20 travel technology trends of 2020 outlines the merging travel technology trends that will be commonplace in just four years time across Australia and the world. 

The report is available for free download for a limited time only by entering your name and email address below.

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The lessons Brexiteers should learn from Australia

The Leave.EU camp in the UK is salivating at the prospect of being able to replicate Australia's notoriously harsh immigration rules on foreigners should the polls be confirmed and Britain votes to exit the European Union. 

But even if the Barclay brothers, owners of the UK's prime Eurosceptic newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, were to bequeath the post-Brexit government use of their private Channel island of Brecqhou for a Nauru-style prison camp, there are other areas of Australian policy to learn from. 



In Australia we're in the middle of State of Origin season. The game, referred to as "football" by half the country pits Queensland against New South Wales in rugby league. Or as New Zealand actor Sam Neill recently categorised it: "the warm part of Australia playing the warmer part of Australia in a game no one outside Australia cares about".  
Meanwhile, the forthcoming England vs Wales clash in Euro 2016 is as rare as Northern Ireland reaching the finals. 
But in a post-Brexit world, the Home Nations Championships might reclaim their pre-EU place as the football tournament of choice. 
Let's not forget that we have Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman to thank for overturning foreign player quotas by citing his EU freedom of movement rights. The Premier League was transformed through the influx of Europe's best players. The Leave campaign says it expects British talent will replace foreign players in the league once tighter work restrictions come into force.  
Meanwhile in Australia, the other football code, Aussie rules, restricts young players from Ireland, the only other country to play a comparable game. So Brexiteers could look to Australia for a lesson in protectionism of football. 



Shoppers queued around the block when Swedish fashion store H&M opened in Sydney recently. Ditto Sephora, Zara and even the Ikea megastore in Canberra.
European retailing phenomena took a long time in reaching Down Under. Part of this is geography, but an equal part is the importation rules that apply to textiles. 
Fashion has been a key success of European policymaking, extending the Single European Market to the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa for textiles and garment production. This has provided jobs in politically unstable neighbours of the EU and also helped to keep prices low for consumers.
Of course, Australian designers and retailers are not happy with the recent influx of cheaper European imports. As a Boris-Farage led Westminster government is inevitably forced to wave goodbye to tariff-free European fashion imports, it could open the door for Australian clobber to fill the empty high street shops. 



Australia is blessed with many things. Beaches, weather and good coffee. But low prices isn't one of them. In fact, in cost of living indices, it ranks behind only Switzerland and Singapore as the most expensive places to live. Petrol is cheap, but everything else is quite a bit costlier than elsewhere. 
Why? Chiefly because it is a highly-developed country with a small market In the EU, some 300 million people share the bureaucracy that keeps food safe, employers straight and monopolies rare. In Australia 23 million pay for the same services.
The EU's single aviation market created the conditions for low-cost carriers. Now the complex and costly task of aviation safety is also handled at a European level, further reducing costs. As a result, air travel has never been do affordable or so popular. 
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has an army of bureaucrats employed to check every rivet and bolt of any aircraft type likely to fly in the country . And Australia has airfares some 30% higher than in neighbouring Asian states. 
Post-Brexit, the UK (or a rump Anglo-Welsh statelet) could seek to have access to the European Common Aviation Area, but just as Switzerland finds, it will come at a cost of duplicating EU agencies that will be passed on to consumers in higher airfares. 

So before the Brexit campaign tells the rest of Europe to F off and rejoices in the prospect of fewer foreigners, it should also consider the loss of the 3 Fs: football, fashion and flights.

Not to mention food, farming, furniture, financial services, film making and forestry. 

The 9 steps to securing an election commitment

The 9 steps to securing an election commitment

In the 2013 federal election, spending promises by the two major parties totalled $70 million ($60 million by the Coalition, $10 million by Labor). 

Here’s how to get your pet project in the mix for 2016 largesse.

Learning from food revolutions past

Learning from food revolutions past

Every leap forward in our food culture has been accompanied by significant shifts in public policy. As technology reshapes the restaurant industry, government safeguards must be flexible enough to keep up with the change.