Monday, 20 August 2018
Barker Electorate: Mount Gambier Airport
In this place we should always be focused on cost-of-living pressures. What I want to do tonight is update the House on how I was able to take a $3.5 million investment by the federal government into a regional airport in Mount Gambier and parlay that into very real and immediate cost-of-living savings for people in Mount Gambier and the wider Limestone Coast. It's a long story, a little complicated, so you might need to bear with me.
You would be aware of the Building Better Regions Fund. The most recent round was a $272 million competitive grant application process. Into that grant, with my encouragement and support—and, I will say, some guidance—the District Council of Grant, who are the owners and operators of the Mount Gambier Airport, made application for $3.5 million. They were seeking to leverage a similar sum, if not a bit more, from the state government, and some of their own funds to a development which would upgrade the Mount Gambier Airport.
Now, in the process of doing so, they sought the support of Regional Express. Regional Express operate the regular passenger transport service, the RPT, into and out of Mount Gambier from two ports, Melbourne and Adelaide. I'm sad to say that for a very long time—it predates even my time in local government in the south-east—there had been a strained relationship between Regional Express as the RPT provider into Mount Gambier and the District Council of Grant who own the airport. The reason for that had to do with the head tax. Some years ago the District Council of Grant took the decision to increase the head tax, against the advice of Regional Express. Regional Express were disinclined to support the application because the experience they had had in other places around this nation was that, whenever the federal or state governments made a contribution to capital at airports, they would quickly see thereafter an increase in head tax, which would eat into their profits, bearing in mind that Regional Express moved nearly a million people last year in terms of passenger movements, and made only $3 million before tax.
Well, we secured the $3.5 million. And, immediately thereafter, I encouraged the District Council of Grant to attend a meeting which I convened in my electorate office in Mount Gambier, together with representatives of Regional Express. That included someone known to this place, the honourable John Sharp, who is chairman of Regional Express. At that meeting, Regional Express put a proposal to enter into a partnership for the betterment of the Mount Gambier community, to offer what has been called 'community fares'. I had no idea this might happen. In fact, it has been offered in communities—Orange, Albany and other places—and I had done some research with other colleagues in this place and I was told that it was a great experience, that it saw fares reduced in terms of cost and a significant upswing in terms of passenger numbers. In any event, this proposal for community fares was put to the District Council of Grant, and I'm pleased to say that, some weeks later, after careful consideration, the District Council of Grant accepted the offer. But what does it mean for cost-of-living pressures? Well, it means this: the cheapest flight you could get from Melbourne to Mount Gambier, or Mount Gambier to Adelaide, was $177 one way.
Now, in return for reducing the head tax by $2, Regional Express said they would match that $2 reduction, but, much more than that, they would take fares—community fares, if you like—from $177 down to $129, a saving on a return fare of $98. But it was more than that. They also indicated that, not only would they allow these fares to be purchased up to 30 days before departure; they would also open up every single ticket on the plane within 24 hours—cheaper flights, last-minute flights at cheap prices, savings for the community, a direct product of investment that the coalition made in the airport in Mount Gambier.