THE rationale for a Cowes Stony Point car ferry is to connect the Great Ocean Road to Phillip Island via the proposed ferry service, which will provide a supposed increase in tourism benefit to Phillip Island.
However, no evidence is offered in the business case to demonstrate that a sustainable Phillip Island needs more tourism. The Island is already one of Australia’s most visited tourist destinations because of its natural beauty and its unique location and accessibility.
There is growing evidence globally that tourism is a parasitic industry that has the capacity to seriously harm communities that are consumed by it, and that tourism is subject to environmental and economic disruptions meaning that overdependence on its economic benefits is risky.
Phillip Island is, and always has been, a highly attractive destination. A car ferry is not needed to “improve” this; rather, it will change for the worse the unique access and sense of place which is fundamental to the Island’s identity and appeal.
Alternative “bench marking” business case options are required to investigate how strategic investment can best contribute to the well-being of a sustainable community on Phillip Island, counterbalancing the dependency and impact of its ongoing tourism industry.
It may well be that significantly less expenditure than that anticipated for the car ferry will generate greater and more sustainable inter-generational benefits. As it stands, the community is being offered the “benefits” of the car ferry without any means of evaluating them against other possibilities. For example, what sort of jobs will be created, measured against those jobs which will have enduring benefit to the community, and to what extent will they be the victim of the seasonality of the Island’s tourism industry?
In 1975 the former Western Port Regional Planning Authority commissioned the Centre for Environmental Studies (University of Melbourne) to prepare a report named “Phillip Island: Capability, Conflict and Compromise”. It identified a number of strategies that were recommended as being critical to the future viability of the Phillip Island community. There were 10 major objectives:
- Maintain a healthy local community, with a diverse range of employment.
- Maintain much of the land in agricultural land use.
- Make better provision for day trippers.
- Ration access to the Island during periods of peak day tripper demand, and to sites which are vulnerable to over-use.
- Spread tourist use more evenly around the year.
- Accept that a major recreational value of the land is in environmental education.
- Restrict the growth of holiday homes to presently subdivided land.
- Landscape planning should be a part of land use planning, both on a broad scale and in detailed site planning.
- Provide for alternative forms of traffic circulation to meet the needs and demands of motor vehicles, cycles, horses and pedestrians
- Safeguard the unique importance of the coastal resources by making detailed management plans to protect them.
Notably, there is no mention of the need to increase the means of access to the Island.
Forty three years later, these objectives are just as vital. Today we could add the provision of a future for our children, possibly through investment in secondary and tertiary education which celebrates the region, and through the protection of a livelihood gained from sustainable eco-tourism.
The business case for the Cowes Stony Point car ferry should be broadened in scope to consider a range of economic and social proposals aimed at shaping a healthy future for Phillip Island.
The car ferry issue is a catalyst for the Bass Coast Council and its broad community to consider how Phillip Island can play a part in the ongoing sustainability of the municipality. It most certainly focuses the mind on the relationship between tourism and community, and makes us all question what needs to be done to ensure a sustainable future for the generations ahead.
The two most precious attributes of Phillip Island are its farm land and its coastal beauty. If every effort is made to care for these, the Island will have a sustainable attraction in perpetuity.
Rather than spend time, money and community goodwill on a car ferry proposal, the attention would be better spent on developing ways to make the farmland economically viable, and ways to ensure that the Island’s natural beauty and resources are protected such that it will continue to be a unique haven in an urbanised world.
This is an edited version of Tim and Jill Shannon’s submission on the Cowes Stony Point car ferry business case.