Belltower losses not so bad as Labor said

Opposition suspects
mismanagement to
play down success

THE State Government [Labor] has admitted that Perth's controversial belltower is not losing as much money as previously claimed.

  But the [Liberal-National] Opposition says that the project is being mismanaged.

  The Government said on June 15 that the belltower had lost $1000 a day since entrance fees were introduced on April 10.

"Belltower losses not so bad as Labor said"
   By Ben Ruse
              and Eloise Dortch

  A spokeswoman for Arts Minister Sheila McHale said yesterday that figure was based on projections. The real loss was about $600 a day.

  The Opposition has cast doubts over the Government's running of the belltower after questions in Parliament last week revealed its staffing costs over a two-month period amounted to $78,000 -- more than $1000 a day.

  During those nine weeks the tower was staffed by six people, including a duty manager, cashier, supervisor and attendants, for a maximum of 11 hours a day.

  Weekly attendances at the tower were between 1200 and 1700 people.

  Former tourism minister Norman Moore said he could not understand why such a big sum had been spent on staff in two months.

  He would seek more details on costs in Parliament this week.

  It was possible some creative accounting was being used by the Government to play down the success of the belltower, he said.

  While in Opposition, Labor condemned the belltower as an expensive vanity project. Once in power, it has abandoned the $24 million second stage of the Barrack Square redevelopment.

  The Government is considering the future of the tower, which was originally to be handed over to the Swan Bells Foundation in April.

  Members of the foundation, including Perth City councillor Tess Stroud, have said they could run the belltower at a profit and attract money from private enterprise which could see its long-term potential as a tourist attraction.

  The Government has not ruled out privatising the belltower.

  Ms McHale said she was pleased the operating costs were proving less than the predicted expenditure.

  Although the belltower may be losing money, attendances were expected to rise during spring and summer.

  Opposition arts spokesman Mike Board said the Government should give the belltower at least a year before making a final decision on whether to sell it.

  Business in Barrack Square have also urged the Government to get behind the belltower and have offered to share some of the costs of landscaping and security. -- © BEN RUSE and ELOISE DORTCH, The West Australian, Tuesday June 26 2001, p. 9.

Clouded: Running costs put the belltower's future in doubt. [Caption under picture of the belltower, taken from ground level.]

User-pays bell tolls for them

WELL, well. Just like the Labor Party's defence of its white-elephant bus station built right off the beaten track a few hundred metres along the riverfront, the Liberals' Mike Board wants more and more money poured into the foolish belltower venture.

  But where are the economic rationalists and conservative politicians who preach that governments must never, never indulge in economic ventures? Don't they want everything privatised, and everything put on the user-pays principle? Is tourism a sacred cow that must be placated with white elephants?

  Will the Liberal and National MPs (and those who were defeated at the elections earlier this year) now decide to pay their share of the cost and losses of the belltower? I'd like to see that!

  That would be user pays and responsible economic management all the way!

  Thanks to a list given to me in December 1998, I opposed the luxurious wasteful spending by the Coalition while hospitals were turning away dying people. The list included the belltower near the Barrack Street Jetty, often deceitfully named part of a "redevelopment" plan by the Liberal-National Coalition.

  Perhaps the so-called conservative parties ought to look at the Church organisations that manage with nowhere near operational costs of $1000 a week ["a DAY" ought to have been written] per belltower! -- JOHN MASSAM, Greenwood, "User-pays bell tolls for them", in The West Australian, Tuesday June 19 2001, page 15

Our illustrious belltower . .
OUR illustrious belltower is losing money -- surprise, surprise. So now there's talk of privatising it. If this is true, can we please, please offer it to Richard Court? He would surely love it and wouldn't it be poetic justice? -- D. M. THOMAS, Mahogany Creek, in The West Australian, Tuesday June 19 2001, p. 15

. . pool their payouts . .
RICHARD COURT informed the paying public that the belltower would be a great financial asset, paying an annual dividend to the State.
  Mr Court and his ministers, having the inside knowledge and foresight of how to run the asset at a profit, should pool their payouts and buy the belltower. They could then all retire comfortably on the forecasted annual dividends they will receive. I, for one, am prepared to forgo the annual dividends. -- ILSE ENSTON, Churchlands, in The West Australian, Tuesday June 19 2001, p. 14

. . superannuation . .
WHAT to do with the belltower? Easy. Make it part of Richard Court's superannuation package. -- DAVE RICHARDS, Mullalyup, in The West Australian, Wednesday June 20 2001, p. 14

Belltower sale option as it loses $1000 a day
THE State Government has not ruled out selling the controversial belltower if it continues to lose money. The troubled tourism site has been losing $1000 a day since an entrance fee of $6 for adults and $3 for children and seniors was imposed on April 10.

  The [Labor] Government expects the low attendance numbers will result in an operational deficit of $84,000 between April 10 and June 30.

  Culture and the Arts Minister Sheila McHale said the Government would appoint a commercial manager so the venue did not become a white elephant. Ms McHale said the Government had not examined privatisation of the belltower but she would consider all options.

  More than 250,000 people visited the tower when entry was free between December 11 and April 10 but attendances were just 15,573 between April 10 and May 27.

  Ms McHale said current weekly attendances of between 1200 and 1700 fell well short of the minimum 4200 required to break even. She was worried the belltower was a drain on the public purse. At worst, it could cost taxpayers $1 million a year.

  "WA taxpayers have already paid $535,000 to supplement the belltower's operational budget during the free access period from December 11 to April 10," she said. "It has to be seen as part of the tourism journey through Perth -- I am hopeful that the queues will start again but the indicators are not good."

  Opposition [Coalition] culture and the arts spokesman Mike Board said it was premature and unnecessary to talk of privatising a public asset. He said the Government had to give the belltower a year to 18 months before assessing its success.

  The [Labor] Government's decision to scrap the $24.5 million second stage of the project, which involved upgrading the Barrack Square area, would affect the belltower's success. -- © MELISSA STEVENS, The West Australian, Friday June 15 2001, p. 5.

Call for bells control

LOCAL businesses have renewed calls for control of Perth's lossmaking belltower to be handed to the Swan Bells Foundation.

  Arts Minister Sheila McHale [Labor] is considering options for the future management of the belltower which range from keeping it within the Arts Ministry to selling off the project.

  The previous government had arranged to hand the belltower to the Swan Bells Foundation in April, but the new government postponed the handover to consider its options.

  Tess Stroud, a Perth City councillor and foundation member, said she was confident the foundation could run the belltower at a profit.

  She said the belltower's $1000 a day losses were mainly seasonal and that tourist interest would pick up during summer.

  Bill Edgar, a representative of Barrack Square businesses, said the best option would be for the foundation to run the project with help from local businesses, who could share some of the security and cleaning costs.

  The Government cancelled the second stage of the Barrack Square development in April, saying it had not been budgeted for by the previous [Liberal-National] government. -- © BEN RUSE, The West Australian, Wednesday June 20 2001, p. 42.

[A picture of Cr Stroud accompanied the newsitem.]

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