An option for a “hub and spoke” model of air service delivery that would see bigger planes linked to international airports delivering passengers to the Longreach airport, for distribution throughout western Queensland by smaller planes, was explored at the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport hearing at Longreach on Tuesday.
As presented by Longreach Regional Council mayor, Ed Warren, councillor Tony Martin, and Economic Development and Tourism manager, Russell Lowry, the option, which Mr Lowry stressed had yet to be fully explored and hadn’t been taken to the Remote Area Planning and Development Board for discussion as a whole of region tourism strategy, was seen by the council as a way of increasing links to larger centres that would benefit the west as a whole.
Under that scenario, Cr Warren anticipated flights to Longreach would be unregulated in order to encourage competition.
Mr Lowry, who also gave evidence during the Queensland Airports Limited and Longreach Regional Enterprise deputations, said that at a minimum under the option, a guarantee that all western towns would keep the same service levels they have now, if not more, would be essential.
Cr Martin, who is also the CEO of the Qantas Founders Museum, said Chinese interests had indicated that the outback was their next big tourism experience.
“If we can’t meet their price points, we are going to be disadvantaged,” he said, addressing the issue of the cost of flights to and from the west.
The senators expressed surprise when told that none of the local governments in the west had been given the opportunity for formal input to the negotiations on regulated and subsidised routes to their areas, when negotiations took place four years ago between airlines and the state government.
“That is a good point you make, that we don’t have input to the decisions made about us,” Cr Warren said. “When it comes to the tender process, it’s not transparent.”
NXT senator, Rex Patrick, asked if it was the case that tourism operators were trying to negotiate package deals in a regulated environment that gave airlines little incentive to change their current delivery options.