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CSG vs tourism in the Hunter to deliver best returns for government

12 September, 2012

A new government-commissioned report says key tourism precincts need protection from inappropriate development if visitor expenditure targets are to be met.

In a new and final report released by the Visitor Economy Taskforce established by the NSW government in June 2011, tactics such as protecting key tourism precincts from encroaching development – especially those with the potential to deliver strong returns from food and wine – have been highlighted as strategic imperatives if the government is to achieve its ambitious target of doubling overnight visitor expenditure to NSW by 2020.

Despite the findings, which highlight the need to safeguard high yielding wine and tourism precincts such as the Hunter Valley from inappropriate development to ensure continued prosperity, Stewart Ewen from the Hunter Valley Protection Alliance (HVPA) said other government policies – including the current draft Strategic Agricultural Land Use Plan and Gateway concept to review and grant coal seam gas (CSG) mining licences - are at direct odds with these recommendations.
 
"On one hand the government is seeking ways to grow state revenue from tourism, yet with the other it is doing next to nothing to protect the very regions that can best deliver these returns. It is this 'lack of consistency in policy and processes...and conflicting priorities' referenced in the Taskforce's report that must be addressed if visitor expenditure targets have any hope of being achieved."
 
As referenced in the report, tourism in NSW contributes $11.1 billion to the state's Gross State Product. As a region, The Hunter Valley is NSW's second most popular tourism destination behind Sydney, is the country's most popular wine tourism district overall, and attracts over 3 million visitors each year.
 
The Hunter Valley also delivers a strong food and wine offering – a sector particularly highlighted by the Taskforce as one with the greatest potential to deliver the strongest returns for government in terms of overall expenditure.
 
"Food and wine tourism is expected to play an essential role in assisting NSW to achieve its 2020 tourism target, and the Hunter Valley could be core to achieving this – if its future was  protected and assured," added Ewen.
 
"However this is a very unlikely scenario if the mining companies have their way, and picturesque vineyards, quaint restaurants, historic cellar doors and boutique accommodation are located adjacent to a checkerboard of unsightly coal seam gas wells, waste dumps and high machinery yards."
 
The HVPA's fears over the impact of CSG mining in the Hunter Valley were further compounded by a recent visitor survey which revealed 30 per cent would seek wine and food experiences elsewhere if CSG mining commences in the region – a bitter pill to swallow given tourism is a sustainable industry that can exist virtually forever – while CSG mines have a life span of only 10 to 15 years.
 
"NSW is lagging behind other states in engaging a whole of government approach to ensure the sustainability and protection of its tourism assets. The governments' of  South Australia and Western Australia have  introduced a 'ring fencing' policy to protect their high yielding wine tourism districts and the NSW government needs to do the same or it risks jeopardising the future viability of the region," warned Ewen.
 
"The Taskforce's report delivers a clear to message to government - renew and revitalise destinations, protect them from inappropriate development and improve the visitor experience. Allowing CSG in the Hunter Valley is totally contrary to these imperatives."
Source: Hunter Valley Protection Alliance