Scott Morrison has dismissed claims the government targeted marginal seats with its aviation and tourism rescue package as “absurd”.
The government’s plan for the sector after JobKeeper ends this month includes 800,000 half-price airfares on selected routes.
Many destinations on the selected routes are in marginal or winnable seats for the government, but the Prime Minister dismissed claims politics played a role in the decision.
“That’s absurd, that’s ridiculous,” he said on Thursday.
“This has been based on the advice received about those areas that best could use this support, and it’s an initial list.”
Mr Morrison said the initial focus was on areas heavily dependent on international tourism, but he expected the program to expand over time.
“We’re starting with these destinations and I would foresee that as the program rolls out we’ll see more opportunities,” he said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was “about time” the tourism sector was supported, but support should not come as a replacement for JobKeeper.
He warned the tourism sector had already suffered 10,000 job losses.
“There are a whole lot of areas that are still missing out but never received any support,” he told K rock radio.
“So, we do need to make sure that we keep the aviation sector going.
“It’s really important for a country with our population, spread as we are over such a vast continent, and of course we need aviation to connect with the world as well.”
The plan would also financially assist Australia’s two international passenger airlines, Qantas and Virgin, from April to October to keep 8600 aviation workers employed.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce welcomed the development as a “lifeline” for airlines, enabling them to survive the interim between JobKeeper ending and the resumption of international travel.
“The great thing about this package is it gets us ready, allows us to keep those employees connected to the airline,” he said.
But Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner warned the bulk of operators were unlikely to benefit from the discounted tickets.
He said the package only supported the airlines and tourism operators not on the targeted flight routes. would miss out on any assistance.
He warned destinations such as Cairns and far north Queensland relied primarily on international tourism and believes an increase in domestic numbers cannot fill the void of the collapsed overseas market.
“I am not sure this will make much of a difference to them,” Mr Turner said.
“This really is targeted to the aviation industry and maybe some tourist destinations … it certainly does not help us at all.”
The government argued that boosting flight numbers would have a flow-on benefit for businesses in areas that relied on tourism.
“We’ll see more tourists from around the country flying … use those cafes, use those hotels, go and shop in those streets and help drive jobs,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young also lashed the package as “a ticket to nowhere”, saying it would only support Australians who could already afford a holiday.
“Half-price airfares to 13 destinations for four months will not save Australia’s tourism industry,” she said.
“Many Australians cannot afford a $60 flight to the Gold Coast let alone, accommodation, food and experiences once they arrive.
“The only way to ensure the industry survives is with a wage subsidy.”
The Accommodation Association said the package did not support the nation’s two major international gateways Melbourne and Sydney.
The hotel industry body’s chief executive Dean Long said metro hotels were still not properly operating because of restrictions.
“Our hotels in these two major international gateways currently have a forward booking rate of less than 10 per cent for the next 90 days and desperately need immediate support,” he said.