‘Get your crayons out and work out a better plan’: Regions lash half-price flights bonanza

There has been swift backlash to the tourism package from some sectors.

There has been swift backlash to the tourism package from some sectors. Photo: ABC/Reflections Holiday Parks

The federal government’s tourism support package has drawn an angry response from regions who have been left out of the $1.2 billion cut-price flights scheme, with one regional mayor calling it “alarming and short-sighted”.

The package will fund half-price airfares to 15 destinations across Australia, which will be available from the beginning of April.

Around 800,000 half-price tickets are being made available for interstate travel, targeting areas the federal government says are particularly dependent on aviation for tourism.

The announcement of the package comes ahead of the JobKeeper wage subsidy coming to an end later this month.

The government argues that program could not be kept running forever, but with more than 600,00 Australian jobs tied to the tourism industry, it was under pressure to provide more support.

Melbourne Airport is not included in the scheme. Photo: ABC News/James Hancock

Dubbo mayor, Ben Shields, says it’s unfair that four destinations in Queensland are included in the scheme, while Victoria and New South Wales have just two between them.

“The idea that we will just continue to leave the Dubbo regional airport sitting out there losing money without many flights here, while we are throwing money at these Queensland destinations is so unfair to western NSW,” he said.

“In fact, it is quite alarming how short-sighted this proposal is.

“There is still time to go back to the drawing board, get your crayons out and work out a better plan for tourism and the aviation industry for Australia.”

Victoria’s Tourism Minister Martin Pakula says he’s planning to write an angry letter to his federal counterpart to call for more areas to be included in the package.

Mr Pakula says Victoria and NSW are being short-changed, while the scheme encourages people from those states to travel elsewhere for their holidays.

“This is about the Commonwealth really treating Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide as nothing but cash cows for other parts of the country and that’s just not reasonable,” he said.

“The Commonwealth could say to Australians, there are 800,000 half-price flights available, they’re available to any part of the country.”

Late on Thursday, Darwin and Adelaide were added to the scheme.

Avalon Airport is the only destination in Victoria included in the package so far, while Merimbula is the only location in NSW on the list.

“There are a range of other locations in Victoria and just over the border, so Albury, Bendigo, Mildura, and of course, Melbourne Airport which should also be eligible to receive cut-price flights,” Mr Pakula said.

The federal government says more destinations could be added to the list of destinations in the coming weeks.


Regional Victorian centres call for support

Bendigo Tourism Chair Finn Vedelsby is hopeful that central Victoria will be included in any expansion of the package.

“It’s an opportunity that’s going to be sorely missed by Bendigo as our airport has only been going from strength to strength,” he said.

“Throughout this pandemic, central Victoria certainly needs more support.

“It’s really important that every Australian go visit their backyard, and by backyard I mean visit other regions – Bendigo, go and visit Bright, go to the Hunter Valley.”

Mildura Paddle Steamers operator Ashton Kreuzer says regional Victoria is again missing out on support.

“Victoria has only got the one place, which is Avalon which is quite metro-centric, whereas Mildura itself has one of the biggest regional airports in Victoria, so why haven’t we been considered?” she said.

“When they’re looking at doing things like this, they’re again focussing on the big destinations that are already popular and have massive drawcards, but forgetting the regions that still have massive tourism opportunities and potential.”

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