The year 2015 has marked the end of the Parliamentary careers of some prominent Australians and their contributions to public life as elected members are worth reflecting on before the year officially comes to a close.

There was the shock of the sudden passing of the House of Representatives Member for the Western Australian seat of Canning, Don Randall. For those who knew him, Don was a very effective local member whose style of not being frightened to call a spade a spade won him respect from across the political spectrum when he represented his constituents in Canberra.

The year 2015 also saw Joe Hockey retire from Parliament, bringing to an end more than 19 years of service as the member for North Sydney.

Ultimately, Mr Hockey, who has since been appointed as Australia’s next ambassador to the US, was collateral damage in the demise of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September. With incoming Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull promising a new economic direction, there was no chance that Mr Hockey would stay on as Treasurer after the leadership change.

Mr Hockey enjoyed many successes during his time in Parliament. So much so that in his valedictory speech, which was delivered on 21 October, he tabled a document titled “Community Service Report Card to the People of North Sydney”. The 16-page document listed Mr Hockey’s achievements as a Minister in the Howard Government, as a Shadow Minister after Kevin Rudd led Labor back into power in 2007, as Treasurer in the Abbott Government and as the member for North Sydney. The fourth page of the report card looks at Mr Hockey’s time as Minister for Small Business and Tourism from 2001-2004. The tourism industry, in particular, is greatly indebted to him for what he achieved when he was in charge of this portfolio.

In September 2001, leading domestic carrier Ansett Airlines collapsed. It immediately ceased flying and never operated again. This came just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US which caused many people around the world to re-think their travel plans. In short, Australia’s tourism industry was teetering on the brink.

As the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Mr Hockey developed a blueprint for the future of the industry which was arguably the most significant tourism public policy document that Australia has ever produced – “Tourism White Paper – A medium-to-long-term strategy for tourism”. In the introduction to the white paper, which was released in 2003, then Prime Minister, John Howard wrote: “The Government looks forward to working closely with the industry on the implementation of this plan. Working together to achieve future growth in the delivery of quality tourism services will provide very significant economic benefits for the nation.” Then Minister Hockey wrote: “The Tourism White Paper represents input from our best tourism minds and outlines a series of key strategies to underpin the industry’s drive to achieving its full potential.”

Among other things, the release of the Tourism White Paper saw the establishment of Tourism Australia, the Government’s tourism marketing authority, and a pledge from the Government to invest an additional $235 million over five years to support the implementation of key measures in the policy blueprint.

That was in November 2003 when it was fair to say that tourism advocacy to government was incredibly strong. In the 12 years since, the tourism industry’s ability to successfully advocate to government has appeared to slowly diminish. This hasn’t been through lack of effort – there are many passionate public advocates for tourism – rather, this has more to do with the fact that other industries have committed more resources and in a more coordinated way. In Canberra, tourism is seen as fragmented because it has representation from too many industry bodies and therefore, other industries have surpassed tourism in the eyes of many decision-makers in Canberra, notably within the bureaucracy.

With tourism now at the point where there are strong growth predictions for the next decade, it could be time for the tourism industry to reflect on whether it needs to band together to lobby for a new Tourism White Paper. With the mining and manufacturing industries suffering downturns in the past three years, tourism looms one of the most viable alternative economic drivers, particularly in regional parts of Australia. However, there is a risk that without a stronger focus from government and industry combined, this growth potential will not be realised.

As Australia heads into an election year next year, it could be just the right time for the tourism industry to hold fresh discussions with all major parties to determine if there is an appetite for doing more to address the perception that some within government have that tourism is no longer all that important to the economy. A new Tourism White Paper could go a long way towards doing this.

– By Hamish Arthur