Friday, 21 February 2020
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Editorial: The jewel in the drought

Full credit to Mayor Greg Christensen for grabbing the attention of metropolitan media with his pre-Christmas launch of the Scenic Rim’s tourism agenda for next year.

It is unfortunate, though, that such a worthy message should be framed in a statement that suggested: Forget the farmers - tourism is the key to the future prosperity of the Scenic Rim.

This, of course, is what happened on the Gold Coast, where inland farms and

hundreds of dairy cows were gradually replaced by serpentine canal estates, dense clusters of housing, shopping centres, schools, hotels, resorts, and interminable lengths of roads, many of them heading east towards the tombstone skyline of beachfront high rises.

So maybe the Mayor had his eyes on a similar vision when launching a strong new tourism promotion campaign for the region? Because he made it clear that the ‘twin terrors’ of drought and bushfire had crippled the Scenic Rim’s $240 million agricultural industry.

But, apparently, dry brown and burned black landscapes, plus a thick mantle of smoke shrouding vast extents of land from west of the border ranges east to the coast, is not so bad for tourism.

He didn’t say that of course. In fact, in a statement released last month, he said while bushfires affected only two percent of the Scenic Rim, the perception of devastation had created ‘quite a significant impact on the region’.

There had been a significant number of cancellations by potential visitors and a subsequent drain in the ‘flow-on effect’ to many businesses which supported tourism operators with goods and services.

As a result, accommodation and tourism operators were continuing to feel the pinch two months after the ‘localised disaster’.

That final obvious reference to the fires at Binna Burra and Canungra ignores those that have blocked the Cunningham Highway at the Gap, and the Mt Lindesay Highway between Rathdowney and the border; fires that burned out vast tracts of national parks, threatened properties and homes from Burnett’s Creek out to Moogerah and Tarome, and are still smothering huge areas in their smoke.

However, understandably, those are matters that are best left unsaid when trying to kick-start another part of the region’s economy.

Unfortunately, what the Mayor did say last week was not well reported, using often unattributed indirect speech which interpreted his hope that tourism could ‘fill the void’ left as the region’s farms were forced to scale back or shut down altogether.

For the past three years, the Brisbane report ran, the [Scenic Rim] ¬region had been dogged by below-average rainfall, while two rounds of recent bushfires had  been ‘another blow’.

Yet, the number of visitors to the region had increased by more than 260,000 people last year to more than 2.5 million - the highest on record.

None of these details were attributed to Mayor Christensen. But as they are Council sourced it’s reasonable to believe they were his sentiments.

So he would almost certainly have been the unnamed authority for this passage: Convincing just a quarter of the region’s 1.4 million day-trippers to stay the night would add an estimated $70 million to the economy, surpassing agriculture as the Scenic Rim’s economic powerhouse.

According to the Brisbane report Cr Christensen then disclosed that the region’s dam levels were not yet at dire levels and farms could still irrigate. But there was no doubt the drought had taken a toll on agriculture. 

Then, in a rare direct quote [the fault of the reporter not the Mayor] Cr Christensen said: “The drought has been extremely challenging and there’s a lot of pain out there in agriculture - that’s why our tourism industry is so important. I believe this is a region that has massive potential for tourism that creates joy in  people. It’s just an hour out of Brisbane. We are the jewel of south-east Qld.”

Although cliched, that metaphor sounds better than the slogan created for the campaign that pitches the Scenic Rim as “The richest place on earth … in Australia.”

Huh? But then, of course, that’s the idea of slogans, to catch one’s attention by being different.

The campaign is being rolled out ahead of the approaching peak holiday season. It has included coverage on television programs such as Queensland Weekender and Great Day Out - two Channel 7 shows scheduled for the axe in the New Year. 

An odd coincidence that the fate of popular tourism programs such as these should reflect what is happening to the once number one industry of agriculture. Mayor Christensen is not the only one to assign it to virtual oblivion. 

The Palaszczuk Government, in closing agricultural colleges at Emerald and Longreach, as they end the school year, is demonstrating the same lack of confidence in what is an essential industry for our nation’s food production.

If we lose that asset and rely only on imports, we lose all security of control over the production of our food. Without self-sufficiency we lose safety, quality, and assurance of supply, and we become exposed to the vagaries of the international market.

In time, we might conceivably even feel the lash of the type of sanctions handed out to hostile nations - maybe inflicted to persuade us to do more about boosting immigration or measures to combat climate change.

All because, for whatever well-intentioned motives, we began minimising the importance of primary industry.