Tourism operators question council's expertise
"WE'RE not perfect. We know that.”
With these words, Councillor Danita Potter opened a tumultuous meeting with South Burnett tourism operators last night, December 6.
The meeting at Wooroolin Town Hall, ostensibly organised to introduce South Burnett Regional Council's revised industry engagement structure, quickly became a heated back and forth between councillors, council staff and frustrated operators.
Tourism operators took the floor to express their frustrations about what they saw as a lack of consultation with the industry, with a particular focus on the council's Let's Go South Burnett magazine.
At the start of the meeting, Cr Potter asked the 60-odd attendees to keep things positive and focus on solutions.
"What we need to do is move forward, not look back,” she said.
"If you've got something to say that we've done wrong, it'd be really good to hear another way of doing it.”
Jason Kinsella, president of the South Burnett Wine Industry Association, led the conversation for much of the night.
His questions, along with those of other meeting attendees, focused on the need for better consultation with the industry.
Let's Go South Burnett was cited as an example, with some attendees claiming the magazine was put together with little to no input from the industry.
Mr Kinsella questioned Craig Tunley, the council's senior economic development officer, on whether the industry would be consulted about the next steps after the night's meeting.
"This is an operational activity of council, so I report this to council,” Mr Tunley said, before Mr Kinsella interrupted.
"Consultation with industry, so consultation with operators,” Mr Kinsella said.
"Or ratepayers, should I rephrase that?”
Mr Tunley's response to this left some attendees unimpressed.
"Well, that's why you have councillors,” he said.
"The councillors are the ratepayers' representatives.”
One attendee questioned the council's ability to represent her industry.
"What do the councillors know about tourism?” she asked.
Mr Tunley's own tourism expertise was also questioned.
"Can I ask you what experience you've got in tourism?” one attendee asked.
Mr Tunley said he had a degree in tourism development and had worked in local government for 20 years, during which time he had marketed tourism.
The attendee was not convinced.
"It's tourism operators that know what to do. Not councils and not economic development officers,” he said.
At this point, Cr Potter stepped in to move the meeting to question time.
Mr Kinsella started things off, again bringing up industry consultation.
"Councillor Potter, as the councillor for tourism are you comfortable with the lack of consultation with the industry on tourism directions, given the poor performance of your own council assets?” he asked.
Cr Potter responded, saying performance of council-owned assets such as dams had actually gone up, a claim which was supported by council CEO Mark Pitt.