Southern Downs Council criticised on tourism merger
TOURISM operators and councillors have come out in scathing criticism of the proposed merger of the region's two main tourism bodies, ahead of a special confidential meeting of Southern Downs Regional Council today.
The meeting comes nearly two weeks after the council endorsed a report from the Tourism Transfer Reference Group which recommended the amalgamation of Warwick Tourism and Events and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism.
Glengallan Homestead Trust chair Donna Fraser has expressed concern that "dissenting councillors" who voiced their opposition in the media could stall the merger process even further.
"Indecision on local tourism has cost Southern Downs ratepayers millions of dollars over the past four years alone, not to mention lost momentum and lost opportunities," Mrs Fraser said.
"We can only wonder if anything will actually happen, given the politics involved."
Mrs Fraser said the politics were insurmountable and questioned why the council had even considered a merger.
"Can those two organisations not continue to do what they do best?," she said.
"The word and the concept 'merger' was not a factor in our recommendation of three years ago, given the disparity in constitution and funding of the two existing entities."
Mayor Peter Blundell has spoken out in strong defence of the council's decision, stating the biggest issue at the moment was the report being confidential.
"To say there hasn't been consultation - I don't have any truck with that," he said.
"There's been a hell of a lot of consultation stemming from the original Team Tourism report.
"Members of the various organisations have kept their boards informed."
The Daily News understands the council will discuss releasing the findings of the report and its final recommendations to the public during today's meeting.
Cr Jamie Mackenzie, an outspoken opponent to the merger, voiced his disappointment at the discussions once again being held behind closed doors.
"I don't believe it should have ever been discussed in confidential at any stage," Cr Mackenzie said.
"It may have budget considerations but so do dozens of other items of council business.
"This should have been open for public scrutiny."
However there are many with council who do support the merger and believe it's time to move on.
Cr Neil Meiklejohn, who voted in favour of the merger, said he didn't see a problem with making the report public.
"I'm concerned some of my colleagues don't believe we have a role to play in funding our tourism industry," he said.
The Mayor said he would do everything to see the plan implemented.
"I really do believe it's past time we implemented this," he said.