Mayor who wants to banish tourists
THE Lord Mayor of an Australian capital city has embarked on an extraordinary series of outbursts, lambasting an industry that attracts more than a million people to his state, contributes $3 billion to the economy and supports 100,000 jobs.
Hobart Lord Mayor Ron Christie is at war with the Museum of New and Old Art (Mona) which is widely credited with being responsible for a huge boost to the tourism island, particularly during winter when visitors had avoided the chilly state.
In scathing comments, Mr Christie has said "tourism will kill our city" and that Dark Mofo, a wildly successful winter festival, was "weird" and chastised it for "getting people thinking".
Exasperated tourist chiefs have said Mr Christie's comments are "simply embarrassing" and have demanded he resign. While critics have claimed he is using his position to try and stifle free speech in a festival which is often controversial.
But Mr Christie is unrepentant. He claimed he has received support for his call to return the now buzzing city to quieter times, or "Slowbart" as he has called it.
He has even flagged the city council could stop funding the festival.
Tasmania has always been a getaway break for the likes of history buffs and hikers.
But in recent years, the state has seen a surge in tourism. Visitors now pump $3 billion into Tasmania's economy annually contributing 10.4 per cent to its gross state product. In no other state is tourism such a large part of the economy.
A report by economist Saul Eslake for the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) found visitor numbers had soared 48 per cent in the five years to 2017, while trips by international visitor had gone up by 80 per cent.
This has created 122,000 more jobs in tourism and associated industries.
There were a number of reasons for the tourism surge, Mr Eslake found, including the island's reputation for good food and drink. But two reasons stood out: the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping's in 2014 and the opening of the cutting edge and privately owned Mona gallery in 2011.
"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 said.
Mona's spin off festivals, Mona Mofo and Dark Mofo, are art, music and food spectacles and take the museum into central Hobart. But Mona is often controversial with eyebrows raised the year when an artist was voluntarily buried under a road and upturned neon crosses appeared on the city's waterfront.
In a comment piece this week in the local newspaper The Mercury, Mr Christie said many Hobart locals were fed up with the festivals and the crowds they brought.
"Mass tourism is going to kill our city. It has started, quickly eating into our idyllic and healthy lifestyle.
"It's time to slow down, put the brakes on and assess," he wrote warning Hobart was in danger of becoming a southern hemisphere equivalent of European cultural hotspot Barcelona.
"Now don't get me wrong," he continued. "We welcome tourists and their wallets, especially those who appreciate and respect our history, heritage buildings and envy our lifestyle."
Beijing and art were to blame, he said.
"Mona came along with its questionable arts and weird festivals getting people thinking and reacting.
"China's president arrived in 2014 and that visit went viral, resulting in 35,000 international visitors last year."
The visitor boom, he said, had led to people subsequently moving to Tasmania, putting pressure on house prices and infrastructure.
"If we continue to move at this rate the heart of our city and community will be destroyed. Guaranteed 100 per cent.
"Let's put some perspective on this - less than 12 years ago we were a quiet little backwater, smallest capital in Australia, Slowbart."
Tourist chiefs, flabbergasted the Lord Mayor could question the goose that laid a $3bn golden egg, have said he is the one who should go.
"His continued campaign, misusing his role as the Lord Mayor, is simply embarrassing … clearly contrary to the view of the majority of alderman (councillors) … (and) potentially damaging to the Tasmanian tourism industry," Michael Bailey, Chief Executive of the TCCI told The Australian.
But Mr Christie isn't having a bar of it. On Tuesday, he said he had no intention of resigning.
"I have not backed down or stepped away from the personal comments I have made about the Dark Mofo festival or the future of our city.
He said "hundreds of people" had offered him support following his comments.
"Like me, they love this city, they love Tasmania. They want to preserve its unique history and beauty."
David Walsh, Mona's founder, said if the organisation's events and collection became "tame" the council's financial contribution wouldn't matter as tourists would simply stop visiting with a few years.
"It's deeply concerning when community leaders attempt to censor art with cheap threats to cut funds," he was reported as saying on the ABC.
"We can assure our Dark Mofo audiences that we will not accept any festival funding if there are artistic limitations attached."