Alpine Resorts Legislation Amendment Bill 2022
Thursday, 24th February 2022
Mr McCURDY (Ovens Valley) (10:46):
I am delighted to rise to make a contribution on the Alpine Resorts Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. As we know, this bill before the house is intended to establish Alpine Resorts Victoria as the entity responsible for managing Victoria’s six alpine resorts, being Falls Creek, Mount Hotham, Mount Buller, Mount Stirling, Lake Mountain and Mount Baw Baw. In the wonderful Ovens Valley electorate we already are home to the Mount Hotham resort, and with the boundary changes happening later this year the resort of Falls Creek will also fall into the Ovens Valley electorate. I thank the member for Benambra for his great work in that region over many years, and I look forward to being able to take that over that mantle and continue his good work in Mount Beauty and up through Falls Creek.
It also begs the question why this government for Melbourne continues to make decisions from Melbourne that are simply not in tune with regional expectations or their needs or their wants. Not once had the government consulted with me regarding the changes in and the implications of this bill until the bill briefing, which is basically after the horse has bolted and the legislation is making its final landing preparations. This is why the government is not respected beyond the tram tracks of Melbourne, because they just do not consult with key stakeholders in our regions.
The bill abolishes the four existing resort management boards—Falls, Hotham, Buller and Stirling, and Southern—as well as the Alpine Resorts Coordinating Council, at which time all the assets and the liabilities will be transferred to the secretary. The bill also makes amendments to the Emergency Management Act 2013, the Forests Act 1958 and the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Act 2021 to address the establishment of the new entity. Although the bill does not change the intent of these acts, as it largely mirrors the existing legislation, adopts Alpine Resorts Victoria and replaces references to the existing management structures, it does take the decision-making power away from the local boards—that is a concern we have, and you have heard the member for Eildon speak about those concerns—who are the key stakeholders who understand each resort intimately, and hand it to a centralised Melbourne-based board which invariably will be stacked by Andrews government appointees. We have seen that this week with the CEO of V/Line. He is a failed Labor candidate and ended up becoming the CEO of V/Line. That is where we get our concerns from. It is this type of behaviour that we have come to expect, and another four years of this will certainly ruin Victoria’s reputation and finances for decades.
But the bill has got a couple of inclusions. Some are a bit of a smokescreen to try and demonstrate significant changes, including recognition and incorporation of traditional owners; a focus on climate change, with mountains to be year-round destinations; the unique characteristics of each alpine resort must be considered; the appointment of stakeholder consultative committees at each resort; and of course a skills-based board. In a skills-based board appointed by the Andrews government I suspect one of the skills you would need to get a guernsey on that skills base is to be a Labor Party operative. Anyway, the establishment of the single authority is aimed at improving coordination, cost efficiencies and the overarching strategic leadership of the sector, but we all know, on both sides of this chamber, that cost efficiencies is not a term that goes well with this government. We are told that all existing staff—around about 200 permanent staff—will transfer to the single entity. I cannot say we did not see it coming. In December 2015 the boards of Baw Baw and Lake Mountain were merged, and that became effective in March 2018. Now, the boards were altered to include four board members common across each mountain, so the resort boards could then start to feel what was happening and that somebody else was starting to take control of the mountains. As I say, we could see that coming from afar.
Victoria’s alpine resorts contribute $1.1 billion to the economy each year, attracting more than 1 million visitors and sustaining around about 10 000 jobs when the season is on, which is why we have still got many concerns about the new and improved model by the government for Melbourne. We have still got questions and concerns around the lack of clarity around the resort funding model, concerns about how the larger resorts may be required to prop up the smaller resorts and the anticipated savings through this process. It usually means a lack of state funding and a higher tax threshold for alpine users will be imposed somewhere along the line. Even the department could not quantify the funding model and stated it was unlikely to be realised for a number of years. Most importantly there is no clarity to us—although I am sure the government is clear—around the lack of acknowledgement of private enterprise and its critical role in the investment in and operations of the alpine resorts. As the member for Eildon said, a very high percentage of those who own real estate in the alpine resorts are private investors. Private investment is the key. They are fairly high risk investments in that they run on a shoestring budget and they need to roll with what Mother Nature presents to them each year, whether it is a great snow season—it varies from a great snow season to a very poor snow season—bushfires, rain or wind-affected conditions. They are all the risks that they take in privately investing in our alpine regions. So the lack of a consultation with the private sector again demonstrates the attitude of the government—that it knows it all.
We have also got some concerns around the timing, the commencement and the board composition. Now, it may very well be that all board members could live in Melbourne and just have an association with the mountain, or not even an association with the mountain. The minimum number of board members is three. Again, it is hardly good governance in my eyes. I asked a question at the briefing about the remuneration of board members. It is yet to be determined, so time will tell.
Local councils, like the Alpine shire, who rely heavily on the mountains are often lumbered with the associated costs and infrastructure required to support the surrounding regions, and I am concerned that Alpine Resorts Victoria will not be obliged to consult with them into the future. They may, but they will not be obliged to. A typical example of this is where vehicles travel along the Great Alpine Road. If you want to travel from Bright to Bairnsdale, for example, you can pass through Hotham for no cost; you do not have to pay a fee. We could do with some changes, and we have certainly discussed some changes. If somebody stops for lunch or a coffee or something at Mount Hotham, they then have to pay the resort management fee for staying on the mountain, which is quite impractical because sometimes it might be just poor weather that has held them up or slowed them down. If the consultation continues, well, then we can resolve a few of those issues. As was mentioned by our lead speaker, the member for Eildon, we are not opposing the bill, but as always we expect to be back here soon making amendments to tidy up the mess that sometimes gets made.