February 4, 2014  |  Second Reading

Travel Agents Repeal Bill 2013

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. It is a nice change to be able to address you as the Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate you on your elevation to this significant role.

In  regard to  the legislation  that is before  us tonight,  I along  with other members on  this side  of the  house speak in  opposition to  the Travel  Agents Repeal Bill 2013. We have several concerns with regard  to  the  legislation. As members   on  both sides of the house have already said, this legislation  comes about with  a  view to ensuring that  we provide a national  scheme  for the way travel agents are regulated around the state. It also recognises that travel has changed.  The   way  people  make  their   travel  bookings  has   changed  very significantly over recent years with the advent of the internet and people being able to make a lot of bookings online. We recognise that.

As somebody who has travelled quite  a  lot over the years — more so  before  I came into Parliament than since  I came into Parliament — I have to  say that I have  appreciated being able to use  my Ballarat  travel agent  to help  me with making my  airline bookings.  However, I have found in recent years that I  have tended to use my  travel  agent less and less. I  have found it is useful  to be able  to look  online and find  that there  are ways  of even  comparing airline bookings  through  the  internet.  When  looking at  accommodation,  the use  of Booking.com,  Agoda.com  and  other  providers  of  information   about  booking certainly has made booking easier.

I have to admit that I am the sort of  traveller who likes simply to travel to a destination and perhaps have the first accommodation place  booked  for me. At least  then  I know that  if  I am arriving in a  country  late  at  night,  I  have my first night’s accommodation booked. But once I get to a country I like to go looking around the town to find out for myself  what I think are the best places  to stay at the most reasonable rates  and  so  on, so I rarely even use those accommodation  providers  online. However, as  I have said, I have  appreciated using the one travel  agent that I have  found has been very helpful,  supportive and able to  get  back to me with lots of  useful  information. It is nice to  be able to know that  I can trust a travel agent. Many  others  who perhaps are less adventurous than myself like to go  to a travel agent, book  up their whole trip and  know that when they get on their first flight they are going to be able to rely on the bookings  that their travel agent has made both in terms of the flights, accommodation  at the  other end,  transfers to and from accommodation and so on, or booking a cruise — that everything is looked after.

The existing  legislation,  which is being  repealed, recognises that  over  the years  a  number  of people who  have  paid  a lot  of  money  for  their travel arrangements have found their travel agents  have gone into liquidation and that they have therefore lost  all their money and been  left at the whims  of  those travel agents. A central feature of the principal  act  that  people  know about these days is that if there is  a problem with a travel firm going bust,  people who have paid  for various  aspects of  overseas travel — for their cruises and whatever — are covered by  the  existence  of the Travel Compensation Fund into which all travel agents have to pay some of the money they get from fees.

The Travel Compensation Fund also has a role in ensuring that the various travel firms are being overseen  from a  financial point  of view so that the community knows they  are  sound and not likely  to go bankrupt and  are  likely to follow through with providing travellers  with the various  forms  of travel they  have paid for.

The system as we have  it at the moment is very sound  and very reliable. Travel agents have of course  pointed out that it is somewhat expensive for them to pay into  the Travel Compensation Fund. They point out quite rightly that  they  are getting less  and  less travel business because more and more people are booking their  travel arrangements directly online. What this government and governments across Australia have therefore done is  to have a meeting and  to say, ‘We need to nationalise the scheme. The compensation fund  is  expensive, so we are going to do away with it’. They are doing away with the mandatory regulation of travel agents and instead having travel agents setting up their  own  schemes, with the Australian Federation  of Travel Agents  (AFTA) providing some support  for some travel agents, although not all travel agents will have to be  AFTA members.  So we are going to have a system in place that leaves a number of travellers pretty vulnerable, meaning they can still have their fingers burnt.

Yes, we hear from the government and we read in this legislation  that there are lots  of schemes in place through consumer affairs  that will provide protection and  that paying  via credit card will provide protection, but this side  of the house is not convinced that those new forms  of protection  will be reliable and sound. We are not  convinced that a number of  people who cannot afford to  lose their money will not still book holidays  and find  they have  lost their  money because their  travel agent was not part of AFTA  or  was not part of a relevant scheme, or because it had not been mandated that they be part of the scheme they had fallen out of it.

This side of the house is therefore very concerned about that.

We  want  to  see all  people  being  protected  when  they  book  their  travel arrangements, meaning people will  know  that  when they go into a travel agency they do not  have to look and see whether the agent is part of  AFTA or part  of some  other protected  scheme or has perhaps decided to go it alone,  because if those people do end up finding  that some aspects of their  travel have not been paid for and they  have been left high and  dry, they do not need to  go through consumer affairs or other difficult and  less reliable forms of redress; instead they can rely on the holiday arrangements  and the  agent they  have booked them through. So we are concerned about what is being put in place.

We  have heard  from other  members on this side of the house  that stakeholders such as CHOICE are opposed to the abolition of the Travel Compensation Fund.

CHOICE says there is  reason — and we accept there might be reason — to reform that fund  and  change  the  way  it  operates, but  we still  think that  those arrangements, and  even credit card chargebacks,  are not reliable and  that the only way to ensure that all people who go to a travel agent  can be assured they will get  what they paid for or be supported if arrangements  fall through is to have a mandatory system where all travel agents have to have insurance through a compensation  fund. CHOICE raises  a range of concerns  in its submission, which was a  significant  submission of  over  21  pages. Others  have  also expressed concerns  to the  Labor  Party. We  believe  this  legislation is  significantly flawed.

As I  have said, I have enjoyed the travelling I  have done. I am confident that if I use  a  travel agent, I am going to be able to rely on that travel agent. I am also satisfied that any bookings I do over the internet will be made in small components and will not expose  me unnecessarily.  Of course  I am also a person who is able to use my credit card to make those bookings. However, it is a matter  of ensuring that all people who look to travel and who have that dream set  before them when they look  at advertisements will be able to rely on the travel  arrangements  they pay for  and will be appropriately  supported. We oppose this bill.