Theme park futures in doubt after major funding blow
THE future of Queensland's iconic theme parks have been plunged into uncertainty after the sudden collapse of a deal which would have delivered millions of dollars in funding support from the Federal government.
Just days ahead of Sea World's planned reopening following a three-month coronavirus shutdown, The Courier-Mail can reveal that eight-figure loans earmarked for Village Roadshow and Ardent Leisure's Dreamworld have been taken off the table.
The blow comes with theme parks bleeding millions of dollars a month during the forced closures.
Theme park bosses yesterday expressed their shock and disappointment at the decision, which Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones described as a 'kick in the guts'.
However, Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham rejected suggestions the Morrison government had turned its back on Gold Coast theme parks, pointing to the millions of dollars in JobKeeper payments to help employees during the enforced closures.
He also took a swipe at the Queensland government's ongoing border blockades.
Theme park officials had been in talks for several months with Export Finance Australia about securing loans to help battle through the coronavirus crisis and as recently as last week were under the impression the money would be forthcoming.
However, those talks have now collapsed, leaving theme parks, among the Queensland tourism industry's biggest employers, without access to millions of dollars.
Village Roadshow CEO Clark Kirby said the decision had blindsided the park.
"For months we've been negotiating with Export Finance Australia to contribute funding to Village's reopening plans (and) without warning, we were told last week that those negotiations were over," he said.
"It's disappointing to say the least.
"But the State Government has been great.
"We continue to make positive progress with the State Government regarding their funding support to help us get back to business."
His comments were echoed by Dreamworld CEO John Osborne.
"We were extremely disappointed," he said.
"We had been working with them for three months and had every indication it was going to be successful."
He would not be drawn on the impact of the decision on Dreamworld's future but would continue to seek other forms of assistance throughout the most difficult period in the park's 38-year history.
"We're grateful that our staff are receiving JobKeeper and we're still working with the Queensland government on various funding options," he said.
Ms Jones said the decision made a mockery of the months-long negotiations, but Mr Birmingham defended the Federal government's support of the theme park industry.
"The Federal Government is providing these two companies with more than $80 million in support via JobKeeper and other programs," he said.
"With these attractions starting to re-open, the best way to support them would be to see some interstate visitors flowing through their gates."
He also said the Federal government's $1 billion recovery fund to help industries 'disproportionably affected' by the coronavirus pandemic had directly helped Queensland tourism businesses.
Sea World and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary will reopen to the public on Friday, with Movie World and Wet'n'Wild to follow next month.
Sea World's polar bear Mishka will enjoy the return of visitors after literally spending months in isolation.
Dreamworld is expected to announce a return date in the coming weeks.
Originally published as Theme park futures in doubt after major funding blow