With new figures showing the tourism industry in freefall, a recent review of Queensland government bodies recommended that Tourism Queensland, the state's leading marketing and policy advisory body on our second-most important industry, be abolished and its functions transferred to the relevant government department.
In just 2 1/2 pages the review disposed of a $50 million-plus autonomous statutory body that has set Queensland apart from other states in developing successful marketing campaigns, providing whole-of-government policy advice and ensuring co-ordinated research for an increasingly complex industry.
Located outside of the day-to-day interference of government, not relegated to a junior status role as the Tourism portfolio has often been during the past couple of decades, and not caught up in the endless rounds of bureau-shuffling that are a feature of modern government, TQ has been able to ensure consistency in policy advice based on industry experience and sustained research.
The federal Hutchison review of tourism of the late 1990s noted that because the “tourism industry is not well understood” and because of its great diversity, tourism “necessitates a co-ordinated approach” in developing policy across government and across the sprawling tourism industry itself.
With TQ, this state has responded to these views and showed what can be done. Indeed, Tourism Queensland is one of few real autonomous policy advisory bodies operating in Queensland government.
Having an external body such as TQ has also allowed the recruitment of specialists from industry who can be paid at market rates rather than trying to meet outdated public service classifications. It has also allowed more flexible work practices.
TQ has been able to provide a much better link with industry in general, but importantly given the decentralised nature of Queensland, with regional tourism operators through its board and regional network.
The review of Queensland government bodies and its predecessor, the Service Delivery and Performance Commission, complained that TQ has not understood its relationship as a statutory body, with the minister necessitating several reviews.
The problem in Queensland is the reverse. Ministers from both sides of politics have not understood the need for their arm's length involvement in the operations of an independent statutory body.
Rather than abolition, recommendations from the review to reinforce TQ's independence in relation to its board and CEO appointments so that its integrity could be retained and enhanced would have been more useful.
Abolition of TQ and absorbing its functions into the state bureaucracy is a backward step.
It is a backward step for those wanting consistent independent quality policy advice less tainted by the need to meet short-term political whims.
It is a backward step for the tourism industry, which because of its diverse nature covering many different sectors, needs a single strong representative that can have its views heard loud and clear inside and outside of government.
It is a backward step for government that needs, in these hard economic times, to have a direct bridge to the tourism industry and its key players unfettered by public service filters.
The tourism industry is under considerable pressure. What it needs is a stronger and more independent voice, not one muffled by the deadening multiple layers of Queensland's growing bureaucracy or compromised by exigencies of a short-term agenda.
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