I wish to speak today on the concerning plans the government has for the tourism industry in this state and the impact of these plans on the industry, particularly in regional South Australia. The government has done two things which I believe will fail to grow tourism in this state and may even harm it. They are the implementation of the Regional Tourism Growth Plan and the privatisation of the South Australian Visitor and Travel Centre on King William Street.
I will start with the Regional Tourism Growth Plan. This ‘growth plan’ takes money directly out of the hands of the local bodies—including councils and operators—and centralises the services in Adelaide previously reserved for local experts. The plan requires that local government make more of a contribution to the operation of visitor information centres and to the assistance of local operators.
The government’s plans are to cut SATC’s representation in regional South Australia from 23 to 11 people and, of those 11, the commission has stated that ‘some’ will be based in Adelaide. So, the reality is that well short of the 11 regional tourism representatives will actually be based in the regions. I can confirm that the government will only be funding those people to the tune of $10,000 per person, so I am not sure how much they expect work-wise from them.
The government cannot confirm whether this handful of people will be regional experts or public servants from Adelaide. If they are from Adelaide, then the burden will be on the local council to provide local people for its visitor information centres. It is my personal opinion that it should be local people selling the secrets and beauty of their own regions and not bureaucrats from Adelaide. Therefore it should be locals employed by SATC to be based locally. I have had representations from regional operators, industry representatives and regional tourism councils: none were consulted about potential changes to the existing system or about how to best benefit regional tourism.
Local tourism operators are concerned about the cutting of funding, the cutting of representation and about the viability of visitor information centres without subsidy. Regional councils are already struggling without having further funding assistance removed from under them. I want to know how the government thinks that regional councils can afford to run visitor information centres without assistance from the state’s tourism department. Why is the government not focused on providing this public good instead of focusing elaborate marketing campaigns across all media, many of them I believe not proven. The minister may believe that the Adelaide centre could turn a profit if privatised, but how are centres based in the regions meant to turn a profit? I always thought it was the government’s job to step in where the market failed, but obviously not in this case.
Moving along to the new South Australian travel and visitor information centre to be operated by Holidays of Australia in Grenfell Street, we had Mr Derbyshire of the SATC on radio this morning trying to defend the deficiencies of the new site. How can a lack of disability access be defended? Mr Derbyshire stated that those in wheelchairs can be helped up and down stairs to get to the lift, that mothers can carry their prams up flights of stairs. This is unbelievable and I commend the Hon. Kelly Vincent for expressing her concerns with the new centre in terms of disability access.
Mr Derbyshire stated that those in wheelchairs can be helped up and down stairs to get the lift and that mothers can carry their prams up flights of stairs.
The minister stated that provisions for disability access was in the contract with Holidays of Australia. Therefore, why were not works started immediately following the granting of the tender in order for the travel centre to be available for all South Australians and visitors to this great state? The government has failed disabled South Australians.
I want to reiterate concerns of this venture I have made previously, concerns which have not been addressed by the minister, the SATC or even Holidays of Australia, for that matter. The industry has concerns about whether there are adequate protections and safeguards of the equity of operators when it comes to exposure and advertising at the travel centre. There are also concerns about the commission structure remaining similar to what it was at the old visitor information and travel centre. However, I understand that Holidays of Australia also needs to turn a profit, so how can these two issues be reconciled?
I and the people of South Australia want answers to these questions and taxpayers deserve them. After all, it is their money being spent and, if they are losing service quality as a result, they need to be made aware. The standard line from the minister seems to be commercial in confidence, but if there is nothing to hide then this detail should be revealed. The minister needs to answer the question of why regional and disabled South Australians have been forgotten and abandoned by this government. The minister also needs to answer why he has completely gone missing on this issue and why has it been such an absolute debacle—privatisation at its worst.