Hobart’s Lord Mayor has launched a scathing attack on Tasmania’s rampant tourism growth, saying it will “kill” the city.
In a series of controversial comments, Ron Christie has criticised the industry that attracts more than a million people to Tasmania each year, contributes $3 billion to the economy and supports some 100,000 jobs.
Mr Christie objects to elements of the spin off festivals associated with the world-renowned Museum of New and Old Art (Mona), one of Tasmania’s most innovative tourist attractions.
Speaking about Hobart, Mr Christie has argued in recent days that “tourism will kill our city” and that the Dark Mofo winter festival is “weird” and responsible for “getting people thinking”.
Mona Mofo and Dark Mofo are art, music and food festivals which, like Mona, involve material which can prove provocative.
As part of Dark Mofo this year, an artist was voluntarily buried under a road for three days in a tribute to the victims of 20th century totalitarian violence, while upturned neon crosses erected on the city’s waterfront caused offence to a number of Christians.
Tourism chiefs have described Mr Christie’s comments as “embarrassing”, while fellow councillors have demanded his gagging or resignation.
But Mr Christie remains defiant, advocating a return to quieter times for the bustling city, or “Slowbart” as he has called it.
Tasmania has experienced an unprecedented tourism surge in recent years, with visitors now contributing 10.4 per cent to the gross state product – the highest of any Australian state.A report by economist Saul Eslake for the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry found visitor numbers had soared 48 per cent in the five years to 2017, while trips by international visitor had risen by 80 per cent.
While Eslake identified Tasmania’s reputation for quality food and drink among the reasons for the Apple Isle’s increased popularity, he found the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014 and the opening of Mona in 2011 to be the biggest spurs for tourism growth.
“The epicentre of the Tasmanian tourism boom has been in Hobart, reflecting (among other things) the appeal of Mona and the growing number of cultural events in Tasmania’s capital city,” the report says.
Christie claims uncontrolled tourism will kill the city, pointing to traffic congestion and homelessness as side effects of Hobart’s success.
“We want a city that connects with us, the community,” he told ABC Hobart.
“Everything is happening so quickly, we just need to slow down and reassess what is happening and how we can handle this in such a way that our community will benefit from it.”
Fellow alderman Marti Zucco said it was the third time the Lord Mayor had made controversial statements to the media without consulting the council first and has called for the Lord Mayor to step aside.
But other colleagues disagree.
Alderman Damon Thomas described the mayor’s comments about tourism as “unfortunate” but said: “We don’t hang people in this town, we give people a chance to explain their actions.”
The mayor denies media reports of him threatening a withdrawal of funding for Dark Mofo, saying he welcomes the opportunity to review future sponsorship arrangements with a number of successful Tasmanian events.
But he has acknowledged the need to clarify when his comments are made as an individual, rather than as a representative of the council.
A petition protesting against Christie’s criticism of Dark Mofo has gained more than 8,500 signatures. A petition lobbying against Mofo’s unturned crosses during the festival gained some 18,000 signatures.