Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan sneered at suggestions on local radio for the state government to offer a subsidy to airlines using Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport in order to get the project back on track.
Ms MacTiernan described the situation as a ‘joke’, and said it would be irresponsible to spend more taxpayer money without confirmation of an airline.
”The project is $70 million, the vast majority of that coming from the state government, included in that project is around $3.5 million to attract an airline,” she said.
“That money has been there, now I really do think that the Busselton council has really got to bring this matter to a head to make a determination whether or not it is in fact going to be possible.”
Ms MacTiernan insisted she wanted to see an airline commit to service the region.
“I’ve seen the letters of correspondence that have come in and of course people are going to say very nice things. ‘Yes we’ll look at coming, maybe we would come, maybe one day we would, we’re be happy to work with you’ – that is not anything that approaches a offer,” she said.
“I’ve not seen anything that I would describe as a letter of intent to fly into Busselton, I’ve certainly seen nice polite letters from airlines and Perth Airport saying we want to work with Busselton and we are happy to do that.
“That’s good, but this project has been underway for a number of years and we still have not got a single airline that has said yes we will offer a service.
“I mean seriously, this is taxpayers money and to ask us to agree to spend another $15 million or so on the basis of some nice polite correspondence from airlines- I don’t think is responsible.
“And we need to see that that is an actual proper offer, not just a vague statement of we would love to come over to Gourmet Escape and explore the opportunities.”
Ms MacTiernan said she understood the City had been in talks with Jetstar for more than a year, and hoped a conclusion was in sight.
“Hopefully, they will get Jetstar across the line,” she said.
“They (the City of Busselton) need to work out from their activation fund that’s included in the package and how much they are prepared to offer Jetstar and how sustainable that offer is.”
City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said the original funding agreement with the state government didn't require the City to have an airline signed up prior to construction of the terminal.
“This has been a new development in the last 12 months,” he said.
“I guess the timeline of us negotiating with airlines would have been advancing around the same time as we finished the terminal.
“Now we were asked to defer the construction stage of the terminal pending that agreement from airline. We received supportive letters and I asked the minister if that met her requirements and she has obviously in no uncertain terms said that it doesn’t.”
He said the City would continue to negotiate with airlines to get a Busselton-East Coast service up and running by the end of 2018.
“We understand where the minister is coming from but there are a heck of a lot of projects that proceed to very near completion,” he said.
“Something like the stadium in Perth didn't have the AFL on board when it was well under construction, there are many state projects that don’t have these requirements pushed upon them.
“We will continue those negotiations and we are confident of positive outcome in the very near future.”