Candidate grilled: ‘Wonder the ACCC wasn’t involved’
THE Labor Government was slammed for its lack of support for the Whitsunday tourism industry in an election forum on Thursday.
Labor candidate for Whitsunday Angie Kelly was in the hot seat on Thursday night as the crowd grilled her on why Cairns had received more funding than the Whitsundays, with one audience member saying it "was a wonder the ACCC wasn't involved".
Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association executive secretary Sharon Smallwood asked Ms Kelly why the region's tourism operators had been essentially locked out of a State Government funding package.
However, the scheme fell short of operators' expectations as the criteria left many unable to access funds.
However, members of the association pay about $2.5 million in berthing fees every year, not including those berthed on the islands.
"While these operators have been left short of help, the fund has been opened up to marine operators in Townsville as well as Port Douglas," Ms Smallwood said.
"Meanwhile, marine tourism operators in Cairns are receiving 100 per cent State Government support, ultimately paid for by all of us in this room, the taxpayer."
Ms Smallwood said it "was a wonder the ACCC wasn't involved" as Cairns had received $20.4 million in government funding compared to just $1.2 million in the Whitsundays.
"Can you explain why, when the Whitsundays contributes more visitation to the Great Barrier Reef, and therefore more revenue, the government has done this to us?"
Ms Kelly said funding was complicated because Coral Sea Marina was privately owned whereas the marina in Cairns was state-owned, and that she had advocated for more support.
"I can tell you very honestly, that (Tourism Minister Kate Jones) has tried her very, very best to advocate but the information she had before her was inaccurate," she said.
"I'm sorry, but left and right hand and what went to her was not correct."
In September, Association of Marina Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) CEO Gareth Philips said he was approached by the State Government to provide information on how many tour operators were based in the Whitsundays.
Using information from the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority, it was estimated there are 85 "legitimate permit operators" in the region.
Ms Kelly said while she could not change the fact the marina was privately owned, she would endeavour to advocate for the tourism industry.
"Right now as a candidate, I don't have any power," she said.
"But as a member of parliament I would and I will fight for you."
LNP candidate Amanda Camm also responded to Ms Smallwood's question, saying Kate Jones "failed" the tourism industry and the Whitsundays.
"It is not fair that Cairns' marine tourism industry got support and you didn't," Ms Camm said.
"It's black and white, there's no grey in this.
"You've been failed I believe by Kate Jones and the current Labor Government."
Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan said while he and Ms Camm disagreed on a lot of things, he sided with her on marina fees.
Mr Costigan referred to a hand-delivered letter to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
"There needs to be no bias against those who aren't in those government-owned marinas," he said.
One Nation candidate Deb Lawson also slammed the Labor Government's inaction in amending the criteria while Legalise Cannabis Queensland candidate Paul Hilder referred to what he said could be legal constraints on the fair use of public assets.