darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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TOURISM COULD BENEFIT FROM PRIVATE INVESTMENT

August 22, 2011

The Baillieu-Ryan Government is currently considering a report from the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission which promotes the opportunity for private development of new facilities in national parks.

It will be a contentious subject but one which needs to be openly debated in a constructive and thoughtful manner.

For many years, I’ve argued that the infrastructure on public land in East Gippsland is insufficient to help the tourism industry to grow and create jobs. As cuts have been made to some of our traditional industries like the timber sector, there have been a lot of wishy-washy promises about new investments in tourism.

With some notable exceptions like the Buchan Caves upgrade, Cape Conran cabins and some new boardwalks and walking trails, the level of government funding hasn’t been adequate to maintain facilities, let alone develop new initiatives.

When Premier Baillieu was in East Gippsland recently, I told him that we needed more investment in facilities on public land, such as our national parks and the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park.

If the State and Federal governments are not in a position to fund new developments, then we should carefully consider the opportunity for private investment.

The Carlton-based Victorian National Parks Association has already dismissed the idea claiming: “The State Government must rule out new major infrastructure in national parks…”

Such a knee-jerk response fails to recognise the opportunity that exists to sensitively improve facilities to allow more people to enjoy our natural heritage in a well-controlled manner.

Regional areas need new job-creating opportunities and I believe it’s possible to develop appropriately-scaled facilities on public land that will allow more people to enjoy our parks. The experience in the 1990s with Wilsons Promontory will hopefully prevent anyone from proposing major hotel developments in our national parks but other options may be viable.

Eco-lodges, bushwalking and kayaking huts and facilities for cruises are more likely to get off the ground if there is a level of private investment and the developers have access to world-class natural attractions.

Finding the balance between allowing private development to occur, without shutting the general public out from these natural assets, will be a challenge but it should not be insurmountable.

Locals and visitors to our region are more likely to gain an appreciation of environmental issues if they have the chance to stay and play in our parks, than if they are forced to endure rundown facilities.

There will always be a critical role for government investment in new facilities such as picnic areas, roads, bridges and walking trails but we shouldn’t rule out private development that provides more opportunities for young East Gippslanders to live and work in our region.

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