Nationals MPs are pushing for an expansion of the government's half-price flights program, arguing coronavirus-ravaged local economies cannot afford to be overlooked after JobKeeper winds up.
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack is facing pressure from party room colleagues who want destinations in their regional electorates added to the program.
One Nationals MP has even suggested cheap flights be offered to all regional and rural locations, arguing the government shouldn't be trying to "reinvent" tourism by directing "people to where they think they should go".
The Morrison government last week announced it would underwrite discounts on 800,000 flights to selected destinations around Australia, as part of a $1.2 billion plan to support an industry battered by Australia's international travel ban.
The government's initial list of 13 destinations was met with criticism and cynicism, with Labor's deputy leader Richard Marles describing the package as "half-price tickets to marginal seats".
A further four locations have since been added, but NSW and Victoria still have just one destination on the list. Canberra has so far been overlooked.
The government is now being pressured from within to expand the scheme, with at least two of Mr McCormack's colleagues pushing the case for discount flights to be offered into more regions.
Anne Webster said she was "really disappointed" that Mildura, which sits inside her regional Victorian electorate of Mallee, was set to miss out on a much-needed tourism boost.
Mildura was subject to harsh lockdown rules during the state's devastating second wave, despite being largely coronavirus-free and hundreds of kilometres from the outbreak's epicentre in Melbourne.
"Our travel industry has been arguably the hardest hit," Dr Webster said.
"Lockdowns and border closures [have been enforced] at random and in a sudden way. It has created a tremendous amount of insecurity."
Dr Webster, who also wants extra financial assistance for Mildura Airport after JobKeeper ends on March 28, has made her pitch directly to Mr McCormack and was "very hopeful" the city would eventually be added to the list.
Pat Conaghan, whose NSW electorate of Cowper runs from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour, has put forward an even more ambitious proposal, calling on the government to make the cheap flights offer open to all regional and rural cities.
"We shouldn't be trying to reinvent the tourism wheel by directing people to where we think they should go," Mr Conaghan said.
"Tourism will naturally attract people to certain areas as it has done for decades.
"I don't think as a consumer I should be told to go to the Whitsundays when I want to go opal mining in Lighting Ridge."
Mr McCormack on Sunday indicated more places could be added to the scheme, saying the destinations announced last week were "an initial list".
His spokesman restated that position on Tuesday.
The spokesman said the government would review the program "periodically", as it had done with all of its support measures throughout the pandemic.
He said the chosen destinations had been identified by Austrade as those most reliant on international tourism.
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