Marina businesses call out for financial lifeline
FAMILY businesses say they are sinking under the strain of continued marina fees, as Whitsunday industries call on the State Government for a lifeline.
The Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association has campaigned for relief to marine businesses through subsidising marina fees.
Executive secretary Sharon Smallwood said the package would help about 400 commercial vessels floundering in the coronavirus pandemic.
But the State Government says fee reductions should be a negotiation with marina owners, similar to new landlord and tenant agreements.
Ms Smallwood said the Whitsunday marinas remained open, but vessels were "languishing" in the ports.
She said hundreds of people were out of work from the Coral Sea Marina, Port of Airlie, and marinas on Hamilton, Hayman and Daydream islands.
The pandemic was the latest blow to tourism operators' bottom line, after Cyclone Debbie, sharks and bushfires.
"There's been so many challenges. As soon as we're ready and starting to rebuild another comes," Ms Smallwood said.
Mackay Marina Village manager Ben Anderson said while most of his customers were private vessels, Mackay's commercial fishers and marine tourism operations were also struggling.
He said the loss of interstate travellers had impacted Mackay's "cruising season", from April to October.
To help marinas through the pandemic, Mr Anderson called for the government to continue to relax boating restrictions.
While state and federal governments said businesses could "hibernate" through the crisis, Ms Smallwood said this was impossible for marine tourism.
She said berthing costs and fees would cost businesses $1.9 million over the next six months at the Coral Sea Marina alone.
In February, the State Government offered a $3.67 million fee relief package to Cairns marina businesses.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad announced the state-owned asset would provide temporary rebates to its tourism and commercial operators.
But no help has been given to the privately-owned Whitsunday marinas, Ms Smallwood said.
Unlike Cairns, Ms Smallwood said Whitsunday's tourism sector was "a cottage industry", meaning any collapse would hurt local families.
Transport and Main Roads minister Mark Bailey said fee and rebate negotiations should be with the owner of the marinas, not the State Government.
"This is a situation between privately-owned businesses including a privately-owned marina, and I urge the parties to work together and come to an agreement in line with the mandatory code of conduct they're required to abide by," Mr Bailey said.
State and federal coronavirus rental reforms required landlords to offer reductions in rent based on the commercial tenant's reduction in trade, he said.
Coral Sea Marina Resort general manager Kate Purdie said the marina was also a "victim of the pandemic".
"Coral Sea Marina Resort is doing our best to work out payment arrangements for each of our commercial operators on a case-by-case basis, but no one entity can bankroll the devastating effects that the pandemic has had," Ms Purdie said.
"The future of tourism in the Whitsundays is more uncertain than ever before. We don't just want assistance, we need it."
Ms Smallwood said the pain of coronavirus would continue long after restrictions were eased.
"Tourism is going to be one of the last sectors to reopen," she said, "but we are worth saving."
Based off economic data, Ms Smallwood estimated the Whitsundays sector of the Great Barrier Reef was worth more than $2.8 billion annually and employed 26,400 people, all of whom were at severe risk.