DISAPPOINTED: President of the Granite Belt Wine Tourism board Michael Bourke is concerned about what future lay ahead for the local wine industry following the appointment of the new Destination Southern Downs board at last week's general council meeting.
DISAPPOINTED: President of the Granite Belt Wine Tourism board Michael Bourke is concerned about what future lay ahead for the local wine industry following the appointment of the new Destination Southern Downs board at last week's general council meeting. Emma Boughen

Tourism board make-up stirs up industry critics

SHOCK and disappointment was felt across the management committee of Granite Belt Wine Tourism following the announcement of the new Destination Southern Downs board.

GBWT president Michael Bourke said the process of selection and the board announcement had dismantled trust between council and the local tourism industry.

"The appointed board of seven contains just two representatives from the Granite Belt tourism industry," he said.

"All three independent directors are from the Warwick region while the wine industry nominee was rejected."

The board of seven, headed by Corinne Butler - which was named at the general council meeting in Stanthorpe - was selected by Mayor Peter Blundell and independent selectors Sharon Raguse, director of Brisbane and Southern Queensland Country Partnerships, TEQ, and David Janetzki, head of legal and governance, Heritage Bank.

Mr Bourke said council's "alienation" of the wine-tourism industry would most likely have ramifications when the Granite Belt Wine Tourism members met to vote on the passing of GBWT assets for the new organisation.

"The Granite Belt tourism industry has a long history of co-operative investment in the marketing of this destination," he said.

"It is unfortunate that when endeavouring to set up a similar structure for the entire region, council has alienated those active participants by appointing a board that is disproportional in its reflection of the broader region's tourism industry.

"The weekly meetings scheduled with the working group of key stakeholders were abandoned without explanation and, from that point forward, the council has taken an authoritarian approach without industry consultation."

Symphony Hill winemaker Mike Hayes said the lack of representation from the Granite Belt was "absolutely deplorable".

"There should be even representation throughout 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 - we've got 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, shared in Mr Bourke's disappointment.

"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 go to Granite Belt wine country."

However newly appointed board member and owner of Aloomba Lavender, Peter Bonner, said it was not a matter of Warwick versus Stanthorpe but rather working together.

"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.

"We are one region working together to improve the visitor experience."

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. Councillors Pennisi, Bartley and Gow voted against the motion.

Cr Jo McNally attacked suggestions made by Cr Mackenzie that councillors' decision 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."

Council has drawn much criticism following the appointment as initial recommendations asked for nine committee members, not seven.

Mayor Peter Blundell said the selection panel nominated the smaller board mainly for efficiency reasons.

"Smaller boards are sometimes seen to be more efficient than larger boards," Mayor Blundell said.

"However the selection panel also recognises the Transition Reference Group's recommendation that the board comprise nine members.

"In doing so, it was felt appropriate for the board to have input into the selection of further board members at a future time if necessary.

"A representative from the wine industry could be appointed to the board and it would be very appropriate for this to happen - it would also be appropriate to have another industry representative from the northern part of the region."

To date, the formation of Destination Southern Downs has cost council about $2000. All board positions are voluntary and there is no remuneration.

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

The new board met for the first time yesterday afternoon.

Stanthorpe Border Post

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