Tourism operators divided over new board

CONTROVERSY continues to surround the establishment of the region- wide tourism board Destination Southern Downs, with fiery scenes at a meeting of the Southern Downs Regional Council in Stanthorpe.

There was rigorous debate surrounding the legalities of whether council could approve the proposed board, set to be headed by Warwick-based Corrine Butler.

Only two of the seven board members are from Stanthorpe.

The controversial debate was to be confidential but that was reversed when Cr Jamie Mackenzie requested the meeting be more open and transparent.

His motion was supported by fellow councillors Glyn Rees, Ross Bartley, Vic Pennisi and Cameron Gow.

The make up of the board sparked strong opinions from tourism operators.

Leeanne Gangemi from Ballandean Estate said she was confident in the board but Symphony Hill winemaker Mike Hayes said the lack of representation from the Granite Belt was "absolutely deplorable".

"There should be even representation through out the whole Southern Downs," Mr Hayes said.

"I think Warwick are trying to take over without a doubt.

"I think we've really got to sit back and take a big look at this and say I know we're a part of Southern Downs but is this particular group going to represent us?

Let's face it, Stanthorpe has got a majority of the iconic visiting points in the Southern Downs.

"It is the coldest temperatures, the highest elevation, the best wineries, two national parks a plethora of multi-industry as in fruit and veg, everything is here."

Owner of 31 The Rocks Phil Moy was also disappointed.

"It means we won't be properly represented, it was supposed to be even from Warwick and Stanthorpe," Mr Moy said.

"Honestly, no one cares about the Southern Downs. Nobody even knows where that is. They know where Granite Belt Wine Country is."

Mrs Gangemi however said it wasn't a matter of Warwick versus Stanthorpe, but rather working together.

"The appointment is interesting," Mrs Gangemi said.

"I have every faith in this board's ability to do the job because it's not two people from my area, it's seven because we're all in this together."

Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley congratulated the people who put their names forward for the new board but said he couldn't support the board's appointment.

"In all essence of consistency I cannot support the board members as I didn't support the establishment of the board originally," Cr Bartley said.

Council voted six to three in favour of the new board with councillors Pennisi, Bartley and Gow voting against.

Cr Jo McNally attacked suggestions made by Cr Mackenzie that councillors voting to appoint the board wouldn't be legal.

"We've made our decision yet again," Cr McNally said.

"You're just trying to hold this up yet again."

Newly appointed board member and owner of Aloomba Lavender Peter Bonner said he was excited to put his ideas forward.

"I want to see better public transport and for us to appeal to a more upmarket clientele," Mr Bonner said.

"We can now access overseas visitors with the new Wellcamp airport. We have good high- value accommodation and I'd like to see visitors here all year round."

Mr Bonner said another concept he hoped to push was a Granite Belt climate centre, highlighting historic weather events from the region with interactive screens.

"It's not just tourism that will benefit, it's all business," he said.

The board comprises Corinne Butler as chairperson. Ms Butler is Queensland president of the Australian Human Resource Institute and vice president of the Queensland Rural Regional and Remote Women's Network.

Marion Carrick, co-owner of Allure Boutique Villas has been named vice chairperson.

Also on the board are Warwick Credit Union CEO Lewis von Stieglitz; AgBiTech co-owner and Southern Downs Regional Council Futures Board chair Peta Dawes; Peter Bonner, owner of Aloomba Lavender and Stanthorpe Agricultural Society Organising Committee member; Spring Creek Mountain Cafe and Cottages owner Bev Ruskey; and Majella Kahler, the owner of Kahler's Oasis Caravan Park and president of Caravan Parks Association of Queensland and board member of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia.

Mayor Peter Blundell said the board could now push ahead with planning.

"I am delighted with the appointments and feel we have the right mix of knowledge, experience, skills and enthusiasm to achieve our goals with this new direction in tourism," Cr Blundell said.

"As council agreed earlier this year, the Destination Southern Downs board will be responsible for the holistic development of tourism across the Southern Downs Region.

"The key focus of the board will be developing a strategic plan for the region, approval of major projects and budgets and advocating on behalf of operators at all levels of government. The chairperson and directors will also provide strategic direction and support to the chief executive officer of Destination Southern Downs.

"The people we have appointed care deeply for this region and want to see it grow and develop into a burgeoning tourist destination.

"Now that the board has been appointed, the chairperson will set dates for board meetings.

"We are happy with the progress of DSD and will meet our timeline of having DSD operational by July 1 this year."

Stanthorpe Border Post

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