Revived push for flights to Busselton Margaret River Airport

Busselton Margaret River Airport.
Busselton Margaret River Airport.

South West MLC Adele Farina has called on the region’s MLA’s to stop “sniping” about the Busselton Margaret River Airport project which has resulted in negative media.

Ms Farina said Vasse MLA Libby Mettam and Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman should put the interests of the region first and work with the City of Busselton and state government to secure the Qantas pilot academy and interstate flights.

“The expansion of the airport is a transformation project which has the potential to be a significant economic driver for the region, providing a boost for tourism, regional development and the local economy,” she said. 

“The South West region has the fastest growing regional population in WA and is internationally renowned for its coastal beauty, pristine beaches, magnificent forests, great wines and delicious local produce.

“As far as tourism destinations go, the region has everything going for it and by making it more accessible to tourists with direct flights and creating an air freight hub for transporting our fine produce to the world, the region has a strong economic future.”

The state government are withholding funds to construct a terminal at the airport until the City of Busselton sign an agreement with an airline.

In response to questions tabled in parliament last week by South West MLC Steve Thomas, regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan said an end of year milestone was set.

Part of the funding for the airport expansion was granted by the previous coalition government’s Royalty for Regions program.

The state Labor government have been reluctant to fund the terminal component until an airline was secured.

The state want confirmation an airline has committed to a Busselton route or that Qantas decide to use the airport as a base for one of its pilot training schools – a decision expected at the end of the year.

In documents obtained by Vasse MLA Libby Mettam, it was revealed, six weeks after Labor came into government the regional development minister had been trying to find ways to “unpick the project.”

Emails dated in May 2017 between the South West Development Commission and Ms MacTiernan tell the minister the project would be difficult to stop because works had already commenced.

She also questioned the SWDC whether the city could terminate contracts on the terminal even if a termination payment had to be made.

Ms MacTiernan said when they came to government, they were faced with more than $40 billion of debt left by the Liberals and Nationals.

“We commenced a review of all Royalties for Regions projects, to identify where savings could be made,” she said.

“That included the Busselton Margaret River Airport project. In the lead up to the budget we needed to understand what was possible.

“The clear evidence of our commitment to giving the project every chance to succeed is that we have kept the allocation for the terminal in the budget at a time when we have had to make some very tough decisions.”

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said it was a bit rich for the minister to claim the McGowan Labor government was pushing hard for the project to succeed .

She said it was evident they tried to scale back and alter the project before a value optimisation review was conducted by the state government.

“It therefore beggars belief that despite this knowledge the minister only advised the city to terminate the [terminal] contract two days after it was signed,” she said.

“She should explain to the taxpayers who are footing the bill how this occurred.”

Ms Mettam said at a time when tourism numbers were down, the government should be doing all it could to increase international and interstate visitor numbers and spend.

“The expansion of the airport presents an exciting and unprecedented opportunity for further growth in tourism and visitor numbers to the South West region,” she said.

“The airport has the unequivocal support of the tourism industry, local businesses and the federal government.

“The airport project just makes sense and it is time for the McGowan Government to realise the potential of this game-changing project.

“Stop blatantly ignoring projects in Liberal held regional seats and support the South West region.”

Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman said Ms Farina needed to show some leadership and start fighting for the South West.

Mr Redman said when he first announced the Royalties for Regions funding for the Busselton Margaret River Airport three years ago, Ms Farina was an apparent advocate for the project.

“Now she seems to have drunk the cool-aid and fallen into line uttering the same rhetoric as her ministers,” he said.

“A quick look through media statements shows it wasn’t the opposition who threw uncertainty into the mix, but the McGowan Labor government when they refused to fund the new terminal building. 

“This is a project Ms Farina should be fighting for.”

Mr Redman said to add insult to injury, the minister tightened her purse strings after the contract was signed to construct the building, thereby adding a cancellation cost to the project’s finances.

“I will continue to advocate for the completed airport, including the new terminal, to provide an attractive regional base for tourist travel as well as freight of fresh produce to export markets,” he said.

South West MLC Steve Thomas said the announcement of the second Qantas training school location was imminent, and he asked the question in parliament if it does not come to Busselton, where does it leave the project?

“I am concerned the airport project will stall if we don’t have an airline committed and signed up to the route in the very near future,” he said.