This is the peak season for events in the southwest of Western Australia, and 2015 has been a great year for the best part of Australia. Last weekend, for instance, Margaret River hosted the annual spectacular Gourmet Escape. It is a festival of food and wine. It ran for two days over Saturday and Sunday, but the opening was on Thursday. Visitors were able to spend time at the central events, such as the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate, or be part of 50 satellite and fringe events. It was extraordinary. The Margaret River Gourmet Escape brings food and wine experts from around the world and showcases the best of the south-west and Margaret River and shows exactly what they have to offer.
This year’s guests included chefs Adriano Zumba, George Calombaris, Guillaume Brahimi, Rick and Jack Stein, Marco Pierre White, Mat Moran and Mark Best. These great talents joined chefs and critics from around the world to present the best food and dining this nation has to offer. There will be plenty of activity as well throughout the south-west, but before I get onto that I want to acknowledge and thank everyone who worked so hard on the wonderful Margaret River Gourmet Escape. It is an extraordinary event and I would encourage anyone who is in part of my world to consider attending whenever they can.
We have other events in the south-west this weekend. In Bunbury, the Dolphin Discovery Centre will be an absolute hub of activity this weekend when the Dolphin City Festival takes place. These are family fun days, and it will include a brews, blues and barbecue evening on Saturday. It sounds fantastic. Also there is the Donnybrook Food and Wine Fest on Saturday, so you can just imagine the amount of wonderful food and produce from the south-west that is available. Producers will showcase their wines and their foods in a very family-friendly environment on the banks of the Preston River in Donnybrook.
There is always something happening in the south-west and it is the tourism capital of the West. However, we do have more work to do. Yesterday the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its quarterly Survey of tourist accommodation. Australia’s south-west had an average bed occupancy rate across all accommodation types of 32 per cent and an average room occupancy of 49 per cent from April to June 2015. In real terms this means that for those three months, of the 320,000 room nights available, only 157,000 room nights were occupied. In simpler terms, of the roughly 3½ thousand rooms available for rent in the south-west on average, only 1,700 had someone staying in them on any particular night. That is a lot of empty rooms and empty beds. That is why we have more to do.
The region has potential to expand, but we need to do this through numerous ways. One of the most important deciding factors that people use in choosing a holiday or tourist destination is ease of access. The south-west does not have its own interstate or international airport to allow visitors direct access, but we are working on this. To go to the region requires the travellers to fly to Perth and to arrange transport to get three hours south to see the greatest destinations than Western Australia has to offer. We are all working to fix this. A regional airport with the capacity to take interstate and ultimately overseas aeroplanes and tourists is essential to the economic stability of the region and for its long-term sustainability, and also to get the produce from the region out, as we know most of the freight goes in the bellies of passenger aircraft. That is exactly what I want to see happening in the south-west.
This simple fact of access has been recognised by the Western Australian state government, which has put significant funds into developing the Busselton Regional Airport. Of course, if those beds are to be filled in my part of the world in the south-west, we need to make it easy for people to access them, and that is part of the national and international efforts to upgrade the Busselton Regional Airport.
I want to go back to where I started: the Margaret River Gourmet Escape. I know there has been much coverage of it in Australia and overseas. When people come to our wonderful south-west—the Margaret River region— as in so many parts of this country, they are amazed at what they can see and at what they can do. We talk a lot about dining, and as a farmer, who is particularly proud of what we do, I can tell you that we produce some of the world’s best food and produce in my part the world. If anyone gets the chance, come and try it. Come to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape and a range of other wonderful events.