Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said the Victorian government inquiry examining the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Victoria’s tourism and major events sector must conduct hearings in northern Victoria.
Mr Walsh said the region’s tourism industry has been smashed by lockdowns, snap border closures and the repeated failure of the Andrews Labor government’s hotel quarantine system and contact tracing.
He said that in many places, such as smaller tourism and boutique producer enterprises across areas such as Loddon Shire, the damage has been flying under the radar because these people aren’t big enough to justify headlines in Melbourne – “but the damage is just as real”.
“If there is any good news for industry to come out of this crisis it will be the recommendations this inquiry is going to make – if, of course, the government decides to accept and implement them,” Mr Walsh said.
“But it must get the facts right – and the only place to do that is to come here and meet the people who were the hardest hit, to hear the stories and see their damage,” he added.
“While tourism has shown signs of a strong rebound; nothing but government support will make up for the massive losses caused by confusion and mass cancellations in peak seasons.
“And many of these businesses had not qualified for any of the government supports due to the criteria being too narrow and as a result have received nothing at this stage.” support.
Mr Walsh said it was something The Nationals have repeatedly raised in Parliament; so he is calling on Martin Pakula, the Minister for Tourism and Major Events, to “very strongly” push for the committee to travel to his electorate and across regional Victoria for hearings.
He said since COVID started he has been contacted regularly by business people who are “seeing their investments, their years of hard work; their very livelihoods, disappearing before their eyes”.
“Government supports are announced but so many in my electorate are exasperated to find they do not qualify,” Mr Walsh added.
“If we are really going to have a serious look at the impacts of COVID-19 on our tourism sector, places such as Echuca and Swan Hill should be at the very top of the list, so people from nearby areas, including Loddon Shire, can appear,” he said.
“If this government is really keen to get the answers, we should be the first port of call as it is the only way to understand what we have been through.
“I have a number of business people who would be prepared to front the inquiry and explain their experiences and hardships, I simply await news a hearing will be held locally.”
Mr Walsh said his Party has also written to committee chair, Enver Erdogan, a Labor MP, to suggest regional hearings.
Inquiry details can be found at parliament.vic.gov.au/eic-lc/inquiries/inquiry/1010