The South Burnett Regional Council’s support for the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival – an event held in neighbouring Gympie Council’s region – sparked angry exchanges at Wednesday’s council meeting in Kingaroy.
Division 6 councillor Ros Heit, whose area covers many of the rural ratepayers currently protesting against rate rises, asked a question on notice about how much South Burnett ratepayers’ money had been used to promote the Goomeri event.
She said it was a great festival which had been running successfully for many years, and she conceded the South Burnett drew some benefit from it.
“But I have an issue that we do have limited funds, and when we’re spending $60,000 on destination marketing, of which $25,000 is allocated to the ‘Let’s Go’ magazine and which promotes six (events), one of those is the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival,” Cr Heit said.
“I think if we can only promote six events, they should be six events that are in the South Burnett where we get all the benefit, because the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival primarily promotes Goomeri and that region.
“I think this magazine was an ideal opportunity to promote events – possibly the new ones coming up in the next month or so, like the Murgon Rail Trail Festival, or the Wondai Garden Expo.
“Then people can be coming to the region for these events, which is what we want.
“They’re new events, particularly the Murgon rail trail events, they’re new events that we should be promoting.
“I don’t think – and I’ve spoken to a number of people about this – that we should be promoting an event where the primary beneficiaries are outside our region.
“We should be growing and developing our own events in this region.”
Cr Heit’s statement drew an immediate response from Cr Gavin Jones, who accused her of providing misleading information.
Cr Jones said on a quick calculation, he estimated the Pumpkin Festival’s half-page in the “Let’s Go” magazine had cost about $887.
“The flow-on effect to Murgon, Nanango and the rest of our region would be far outweighing a small outlay of $890,” Cr Jones said.
“I just can’t see why we would not support something … Goomeri’s virtually on our boundary, and I consider Goomeri – whether you like it or not, it’s in Gympie Shire – if you’ve got 14,000 people knocking on your door, why the hell wouldn’t you spend $1000?” Cr Jones asked.
Cr Terry Fleischfresser said he found it “utterly disgusting” that Cr Heit had queried how much South Burnett ratepayers’ money had been spent.
He said it was an “an absolute disgrace” and “an embarrassment” that a South Burnett councillor would question it.
“We do share a rail trail (with Gympie) and this is nothing more than double standard politics coming from that councillor,” Cr Fleischfresser said.
“Here on the one hand you are sharing a rail trail infrastructure, promoting tourism, and on the other hand you are questioning an event that’s been going on for a long, long time.
“Gympie and South Burnett Regional Council have – well, did have – a very strong, working relationship.
“But let me tell you, I think that’s been slightly tarnished because of this question … I find this an absolute disgrace, I find it an embarrassment, to come from a councillor of the South Burnett to question this for a start.
“Mr Mayor, I’m thoroughly embarrassed over this and I would ask that you, Mr Mayor, write a letter of apology and apologise on behalf of the councillors who even raised this question.”
Cr Heit said she wanted to clarify that she was a great believer in having good relationships with neighbouring councils, and didn’t have any problem working together with them on things such as the rail trail.
“But if we’re going to promote six events, I think the six events … we should be promoting events within our region,” Cr Heit said.
“I do also take exception to Cr Jones saying I’m giving misleading information, which I think is a serious allegation.
“So I would like to follow that up because I don’t think that’s an appropriate thing to say.”
Mayor Keith Campbell said he fully supported backing the Goomeri event.
“This is not a discussion about whether or not we continue to support the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival, this is a response to Cr Heit’s question,” the Mayor said.
“I think from the level of speakers that have chosen to speak thus far there’s resounding support for the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival.
“Why would we slam the door on Goomeri Pumpkin Festival? That is certainly not something I would support.”
Cr Fleischfresser asked a second time if the Mayor intended to write a letter of apology to Gympie Regional Council.
Mayor Campbell said he would take CEO Mark Pitt’s advice on the matter.
“Councillor, I would say no,” Mr Pitt replied.
“Our relationship with Gympie is very strong. Our cross-border relationship with Gympie is very strong.
“The published material in the agenda is a legitimate response to facts in the public domain and it was a legitimate question to be asked.
“So the actual report itself causes, in my opinion, no offence nor an issue.”
Editor’s note: Goomeri Pumpkin Festival and four South Burnett-located events – BaconFest, Blackbutt Avocado Festival, Burrandowan Races, Nanango Show Society (Country Muster / Waterhole Rocks) – were invited by Council’s Economic Development Unit late last year to take part in a skills development and marketing project run by rEvents Academy, a Toowoomba-based company. Each of the five festivals contributed $1500 to the cost. The balance of course costs – believed to be $30,000 – was picked up by the South Burnett Regional Council. The Pumpkin Festival was also included in Council’s recent $25,360 “Let’s Go” tourism magazine, was promoted on Council’s stand at Regional Flavours in Brisbane, and is featured in the window of the Economic Development Unit’s office in Glendon Street, Kingaroy.