40 hoteliers’ anger over police 3-day cancellation

The major protest in northern NSW over the Bentley CSG project may have been non-violent but it has left accommodation providers pretty bruised.

The NSW government had planned on deploying up to 800 police to the Northern Rivers to break up the protest camp. The blitz to clean-out an anticipated 7000 anti-gas protesters from the north coast property could have cost taxpayers $8 million and involve police using helicopters and water cannon.

The camp which has been in place since February, set up by Lock The Gate and Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, has been deemed illegal by the Richmond Valley Council after it breached its camping approval for 200 protesters. At times it housed 600.
Despite concern from senior police about the logistics and safety of the large scale operation, NSW police minister Stuart Ayres said, “If protesters breach the law they should expect police to act.”

Days before it was expected that police officers would surround the drill site last week [15 May] while drilling equipment was moved in, the licence was suspended after an Office of Coal Seam Gas audit found the drilling company, Metgasco, had not fulfilled conditions of its exploration licence, namely to undertake proper consultation with the community.

Immediately NSW police confirmed the operation planned for the Bentley mine site was cancelled.

However since just after Easter, more than 40 accommodation providers stretching from Casino to the Tweed were booked out by the NSW police for a period of 20 nights commencing 18 May to accommodate the officers coming up for the CSG blockade.

AN63-3-news-Bentley protest site2 Photo- Jason OBrien 300x224Rohan Wijeyekoon, managing director of Nirvana Resorts P/L, expressed the concern of many accommodation providers in a letter to Mr Ayres that said, “As a result, we like all the other accommodation providers declined numerous potential bookings during this period, and at a rough guess in our case approximately $10,000 worth of direct bookings. Our average lead time for forward bookings via Internet distributors which make up 80 per cent of our bookings is 21 days, thus for all forward bookings that would have originated via Internet distributors, we showed nil availability for this period. Since the cancellation by NSW police on 15 May, we now have a three-week period where our property is practically empty, and likely to remain so.

“As a result of the cancellation, we alone have effectively lost approximately $50,000 in revenue (deducting the deposit), with very little hope of selling our rooms during this period as we have now missed out on all forward bookings. In most cases this not only impacts financially on the business but also on the investor owners that the business represents and as the representing agent is held responsible.

“The damage to the hospitality industry in the Northern Rivers and beyond as a result of this will be substantial, and under the current ‘bleak’ economic times is a major blow to our businesses, and no offer of any form of compensation has been made. As far as we are concerned, a department under your control made these bookings, and being a government department and having dealings with the NSW police in the past, in good faith we took these bookings without applying our standard policy of full payment for bulk block bookings.

“Now, due to the actions of the minister for energy, these bookings have been cancelled three day[s] prior, and left all the accommodation providers in dire straits. Not to mention the ‘knock-on’ effect to other sectors of the hospitality industry.

“Immaterial of the political pros and cons of the CSG debate, simply on a business perspective we as an accommodation provider involved has been substantially affected and require adequate compensation, as such attach our invoice for payment at the earliest.

“We are extremely grateful for the excellent manner in which the staff from Richmond Local Area Command handled this unfortunate situation. However, we do not believe that a morning tea at Lismore Police Station is adequate compensation.”

Mr Ayres was asked to comment but no response was received in time for this report.

Images courtesy of Jason O Brien

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