Planning should begin now to re-open Western Queensland to self-drive tourists from southern states, according to the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar MP.

“With a vaccine 12 months to two years away, it is clear we have to learn to live with COVID19. Tourism is vital to western Queensland. Not having a plan is not an option.

“While we can’t open the border tomorrow, we need a COVID19 management plan if we still want to have a multi-million dollar, outback tourism industry in 2021,” he said.

Mr Millar’s electorate of Gregory covers one quarter of Queensland but has not had a single COVID19 case during the entire corona virus emergency.

“There have been no cases in either western Queensland or the Central Highlands, but our people have gladly made the financial and personal sacrifices to get the good outcomes we are seeing today,” said Mr Millar.

“Given that we have been in drought for eight years, and are still in drought, the biggest sacrifice was the cancellation of our winter tourism season at a moment’s notice,” he said.

“It is just financial blow after financial blow. As other restrictions are being lifted, the Queensland government should be planning now so that tourism operators know they have a future and visitors know they can return to enjoy our winter warmth in safety.

“The first snows are forecast down south this week. People are tired of being locked down. An outback driving holiday would be the choice of many as soon as the state border reopens.

“The outback economy is still in drought and certainly needs the jobs self-drive tourists bring. We should be putting in place a COVID19 management plan for drive tourists now.

“If we got serious, we could even plan for a shorter, smaller season this year. Then next year we will be ready for a fully-managed season. If that requires stronger rural health services, that should be in the plan for next year too,” he said.

Mr Millar suggests that caravan and motorhome owners could be asked to complete a 14-day COVID19 quarantine at a Queensland caravan park close to where they have crossed the border. They could then proceed with their holiday on the condition that they stay in commercial caravan parks rather than free-camping in the bush or country towns.

“Clearly, COVID19 means we can’t have large numbers of people moving through anonymously, so free-camping will remain out of the question until we have a vaccine. But if visitors are registered as guests at a caravan park they can be readily traced, if necessary. The availability of the COVIDsafe app will also assist with traceability,” said Mr Millar.

“While it will be too late in 2020 for many of our outstanding festivals like the Big Red Bash, even a scaled down season will really help our accommodation and hospitality sectors, our small business and our large tourism attractions. Most importantly, planning now means that everyone will have certainty for 2021.

“I want to ensure we have our tourism industry when we get to the other side of corona virus.”

Gregory is home to the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, the QANTAS Founders Museum, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, the Waltzing Matilda Centre, the Workers Heritage Centre, the Blackall Wool Scour and Tambo Teddies as well as many iconic landscapes and natural attractions.

The Queensland Outback drew over a million visitors last year generating $724 million and employing 3,700 people.