The message from the Murray River tourism industry was painfully clear at a meeting of major clubs and tourism operators in Echuca-Moama this morning.
Organised by The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, the wider industry said if the Victorian borders do not open immediately, many of them will die.
Mr Walsh invited Steph Cooke, the Parliamentary Secretary to the NSW Deputy Premier, to attend and take the message back to the NSW Cabinet.
Ms Cooke joined him for a breakfast meeting at Rich River Golf Club before they hosted a series of industry specific discussions to get the message loud and clear.
She was told the region was continuing to suffer catastrophic damage due to border closures; claims supported by a Murray Regional Tourism survey of more than 400 river town businesses which showed 72 per cent cuts in turnover, 70 per cent of all reservations cancelled and staffing numbers halved.
Mr Walsh said he was told in Moama the reduction in turnover and cancellations would both be in the 90 per cent range.
“Echuca-Moama Tourism chief executive Kathryn Mackenzie told me that report showed losses for some businesses, just in January, were as staggering as 100 per cent cancelled bookings through to a $1million fall in accommodation turnover in some places,” he said.
“She said this was compounded by the difficulty of getting tradespeople and repair crews to cross the river because they do not want to face the inevitable delays in getting back to Echuca.”
Mr Walsh said perhaps even more important, the mental health of business owners and their staff have declined considerably – the stress of bills that can’t be paid, of cutting people’s shifts to cutting people right out, the confusion and misinformation from the Victorian government and the agony of throwing out tens of thousands of dollars of perishable stock.
He said it has already reached the stage where members of the accommodation association were concerned about the wellbeing of several of its members.
“This is a tragedy that just keeps unfolding, the pain of uncertainty is exacting a much greater toll than the certainty of pain,” Mr Walsh added.
“Many of these people have put their working lives into building up their business and now they are seeing it smashed without second thought by a Victorian government that has no concept of how the river economy works – and couldn’t care less finding out,” he said.
“I cannot recall a Victorian government treating its own people with such disdain; such contempt; when at the same time it is a government that has repeatedly demonstrated it can bungle everything it touches; such as its failure with hotel quarantine and contact tracing – and now the bridges and their chaos.
“There is no reason for the Victorian border to be closed; there is no rampant outbreak of the virus, there have been no cases south of the river for a month and no new cases to the north for more than a week; yet in Echuca-Moama, Mildura-Wentworth, Yarrawonga-Mulwala and on and on; up and down the river, tourism, one of the biggest employers and financial contributors in every one of those communities, is being sacrificed on the altar of Daniel Andrews and his arrogance.”