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.