Tourism the key to unlock Bunbury

Headshot of Kim Macdonald
Kim MacdonaldThe West Australian
VideoIt's not just that place on the way to Busselton and Margaret River.

The pre-election banter around barber shops in Bunbury is all about tourism, and how to get more of it.

Vanessa Schefe, owner of Sweeney Todd barbershop, said that with the town’s friendly dolphins, trendy shops and restaurants and the foreshore upgrade, Bunbury was ready for visitors.

“We're sick of being known as the place you drive through to get to Busselton,” she said.

Both parties are fighting for votes with promises of extensive upgrades, including Labor's policy to build a new berth for cruise ships, commit $425 million to boost tourism across the regions and complete the waterfront redevelopment.

The Liberals, who have held the seat for 12 years, kickstarted the Koombana Bay foreshore redevelopment, having already started stage one, worth $25 million, and committing $20 million for stage two from the Royalties for Region fund.

Leanne Gibbs at the Shoestring Cafe.
Camera IconLeanne Gibbs at the Shoestring Cafe. Credit: The West Australian

Ms Schefe, who has not yet decided on how to vote, welcomed the policies. She said the potential for cruise ship trade was enormous, after a ship that docked at a navy berth last year created an influx of visitors.

On the other side of town, kiosk operator Malcolm White said the Liberals were probably better placed to boost tourism, given the State Government’s Royalties for Region program was already in place and delivering money.

Leanne Gibbs, general manager of outreach program run through the local Shoestring Cafe, said social issues were more pressing than tourism.

The town has a well-publicised drug problem, with testing of the sewage showing it is the State’s drug capital. A workshop organised by the Withers Advisory Committee found children as young as eight were using drugs. Both major parties have announced harsher penalties for drugs. The Liberals have promised mandatory prison terms, including a minimum of 15 years for anyone caught with 200g of ice, as well as 20 new involuntary rehabilitation beds in the South West.

Labor said it would increase the maximum sentence available to the courts for drug trafficking to life in prison. It has also promised a specialised drug rehab centre in the Bunbury and Collie region.

Ms Gibbs said poverty was fuelling the addiction problem, as many people turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress of their daily lives. She said growing numbers of homeless and working poor families relied on free and cheap meals at the outreach centre. For the first time, she was starting to see double-income families seeking help.

Vanessa Schefe at her Sweeney Todd shop.
Camera IconVanessa Schefe at her Sweeney Todd shop. Credit: The West Australian

“When I started nine years ago, people had one or two issues, like housing and drug or alcohol problems,” she explained.

“Now they have multiple issues, like housing and drug or alcohol and mental health issues and a physical disability. “Things are tougher now. The cost of living has risen beyond inflation. These problems are ricocheting off each other and people are getting deeper and deeper in trouble.

Ms Gibbs said both parties were missing the most important solution to social problems — affordable housing. She said problems in the area starting growing exponentially when housing prices skyrocketed in the boom.

“If people have basic housing can build from that,” she said. “They can build to participate in community events and workshops and do things that give them a purpose within themselves that encourages them to avoid drugs and alcohol.

“Affordable housing a huge start in helping people recover from any addiction and mental illness.

“If people feel safe in their own place, there is a better chance of getting them back to being productive in the community.”

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