Thursday 18 June 2009
SPECIAL INTEREST MATTER
TAMAR RIVER HOVERCRAFT
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I would not have been doing my job in representing the people of the western bank of the Tamar River if members of this House are not by now well aware of the area's incredible scenic beauty and other assets.
My side of the Tamar Valley is one of northern Tasmania's great tourism draw cards. The Tamar generally has always been the focal point of the region but its potential has really only been scratched at. However, I am pleased to report a totally new development. An order has just been placed for a new 25-seat hovercraft which will allow access to all areas of the Tamar River, even places that are too shallow for conventional craft. The hovercraft, I might add, is Australian built at a cost of $1.5 million, will be the most environmentally-friendly, commercial vessel ever seen on the Tamar. It does not produce any wake at touring speeds, with only minor underwater disturbance. Its engine emissions are transferred to the air rather than to the water.
This vessel will introduce new river touring opportunities for both visitors and local people. Future touring plans will include visits to vineyards, and even the possibility, and I am sure the member for Windermere will be interested in this, of a high-speed ferry link between Launceston and George Town. Because of the capabilities of the hovercraft there will be new levels of access including silt plain accessibility, which might be called upon quite regularly. This will allow interpretative commentaries on heritage, environment and wildlife. It will complement also a very popular boardwalk to Tamar Island with the opportunity to view river life from the water. We have been talking about the development of that area, member for Windermere, about the bikeway, the walkway that is there now, and the extension of that even beyond up to Legana.
This new tourism venture will of course have spin-offs for other parts of the tourism industry. For example, it will help attract conferences and conventions to the region by offering a high-profile activity and will lift the tourism potential of the Tamar Valley. The hovercraft development is just one of several ways which will increase the Tamar's potential. The Penny Royal Gunpowder Mills quarry at the head of the Tamar and also the entrance to the Cataract George, which I am sure most people here would have visited at some time over previous years, has been vacant for a number of years and that is expected to reopen its gates later this year. The development will be revitalised. It will include a restaurant and dining facilities for families and larger corporate groups, for weddings, for coach tour groups. An outdoor theatre is planned in the old quarry and there is also going to be a deck over the present water feature.
Another initiative is a 250-berth marina at Gravelly Beach, which could incorporate a dry-dock crane and facilities to maintain and service boats. The Gravelly Beach area, which is actually a turn-off from the West Tamar Highway, has wonderful wetlands. There is a fabulous creek there, too, which runs into where the marina is going to be and that is one of the most picturesque places on the magnificent Tamar Estuary.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Is that where we visited on your electorate tour?
Mr FINCH - I believe we went around that way but I do not think we stopped at Gravelly Beach.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - We should have done.
Mr FINCH- We should have done because they have a magnificent Mediterranean-style restaurant there called Kouklas, which has proven to be a real winner. It is a great success story in the Tamar Valley. The Tamar Valley visitor numbers seem to be holding their own, Madam President, despite the recession and in fact some figures compiled by the West Tamar Council indicate a slight increase. According to statistics released through Tourism Tasmania's web reporter with data gathered through the Tamar Visitor Survey, the total number of visitors in the Launceston and Tamar Valley region went from 439 100 in April 2007 to March 2008 to 465 200 in the period April 2008 to March 2009, so without you having to do the maths yourselves, it is a 6 per cent increase and that figure is comparable to total visitor numbers to Tasmania over the same period with an increase of 7 per cent.
Madam President, the direct economic benefit of tourism to the entire Launceston Tamar Valley region rose to $220 million this year compared to $171 million in the year to March 2008 so there is reason for optimism and confidence in tourism in the Tamar Valley. We may be missing out on some of the high-spending international visitors but I would argue that we are making up for that in other areas of the industry, particularly with our food and wine image and that is still able to attract people to come to our region to savour those delights. We are building on all the small things that combine to attract visitors.