A leading Riverina tourism operator has accused newly minted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of paying lip service to regional Australia – and has called on the government’s “new-look” frontbench to overhaul its approach to regional tourism.
In another plea to have the Riverina cemented as Australia’s premiere food bowl destination, David Sheldon, who is head of the Australian Regional Tourism Network, said the regions needed to stop being treated as the “poor cousins” of Sydney and Melbourne.
“Turnbull is right that we are a land of opportunity,” Mr Sheldon said. “But hang on, Malcolm – look beyond the great divide.
“He got up there on the TV on Sunday and said what a priority the cities were. But where does that leave us? What’s in it for the regions? We’re still sitting like a shag on the rock.”
The Riverina’s tourism leaders, who had called for a dedicated tourism minister last year, were granted some reprieve when Senator Richard Colbeck took up the post on Monday. However, Mr Sheldon fears the appointment again demonstrates a lack of commitment to tourism because Senator Colbeck sits outside cabinet.
“Everyone talks about regional tourism, but there’s very little action. There are no policies and foundations to take the industry further,” he said.
“Everyone asks ‘what does this region offer?’ – but we should be saying ‘what don’t we offer?’. We’ve got everything; we’ve got so much diversity and opportunity. For heaven’s sake, we are the food bowl of Australia – let’s capitalise on that.”
The Riverina’s tourism leaders have for years pointed out the benefits of increased visitation including surges in infrastructure investment and house prices. And event organisers on Monday spoke of tourism’s “big picture”.
According to Destination NSW, the Riverina received 5 per cent of total visitors to regional NSW last year.
But Riverina MP Michael McCormack welcomed the appointment of a dedicated tourism minister – who is regional-based – as a positive sign for the industry.
Defending the government’s record on tourism, he pointed to ventures such as the Coolamon Cheese Factory as recent beneficiaries of federal funding.
“Regional tourism has always got the focus of this government,” he said.
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