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Four recent events, all seemingly unconnected. The residents of Howden are having to come to terms with a multi-million-dollar expansion of the opulent Moorish Villa Howden accommodation and function centre in Tasmania’s south. This has just been approved by the state’s planning authority, over-ruling an appeal by residents. Chinese investor William Wei, who owns the ‘Australian Travel and Culture Group’, purchased Villa Howden near the township of Howden in 2017 for $2.6 million. Mr Wei’s plan to extend the building from 10 rooms to 52 and add a new dining area and bar was approved by the Kingborough Council in February, against the advice of its own officers. Local residents Robert and Robyn Pearshouse and Katherine Butorac lodged an appeal against the approval in the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal and lost. The development will cater for Chinese travellers. It will be for the exclusive use of private guests and not open to the public. It will have a stand-alone sewerage disposal system draining into Coffee Creek, which runs into the shallow-water bird sanctuary and fish nursery of North-West Bay. Chinese interests are intent on developing a 3,000-hectare enclave near Swansea on the state’s East Coast. A popular Bruny Island facility finds it difficult to convince visiting Chinese tourists of the boundary between its public and private spaces. A private Coningham boatshed was occupied by a group of Chinese visitors wanting to know where the power points were so they might recharge their mobile phones.
The trade journal Business Insider, July 24, reports that the total number of overseas tourists to Australia has grown by 6% this year with over half of that coming from Chinese visitors. Growth was strongest in Australia’s eastern states, especially in Tasmania. The strong increase saw total spend also growing by 6% to $42.3 billion, driven by enormous growth from China. ‘China continues to drive growth in visitation... Tassie’s secret is now undoubtedly out, contributing to stronger economic conditions and recent strength in home prices’. Given current trends, that number looks set to get a whole lot larger in both numeric and percentage terms in the years ahead, especially with the ranks of middle class in Asia continuing to swell. In 2017 Tasmania appears to have had over 300,000 vistors spending around $559 million. The Tasmanian tourist industry is cock-a-hoop, and the government too is crowing about Tasmania’s economic miracle, and taking credit for a windfall to the unforeseen economic and social consequences of which it has not given a thought, much less briefing Tasmanians on what to expect, or how best to react. Asian tourism is a policy-free zone while the Cradle Mountain Resort is being worn down by visitors’ feet as its car parks fill with tourist buses.
All of this is occurring with no attempt to brief or prepare Tasmanians for the consequences, and there is at the very least a potential for serious culture clashes. The interpersonal
mores of Chinese people may be quite different, even totally opposite to ours, and the notion of personal property foreign to those living under a totalitatarian, Communist, system of government. Our government shows no awareness of this, being focussed exclusively on the monetary advantages of this invasion. We, as individuals, are left to deal with the circumstances as best we can. There is a policy vacuum which leaves us in the dark. It will be said that mine is a racist view, but it is primarily a cultural, not a racial difference which presents itself. I visited China when bicycles were king and enjoyed its many cultural levels in the street and in government. But they are definitely not taught to understand our ways of doing things or to approve the Western model. It does not result in malice on either hand, but it is simply different. In China, strangers would lift the book you were reading out of your hand and stare at it in vocal puzzlement; they would taste your coffee. And they were scrupulously honest and polite in small matters. It is also more evidently class-based than we are: levels of appointment especially in official positions, are much more closely observed. Rank is openly pulled, and those in positions with small but tangible differences in power make the noisy most of it, freely abusing those inferior in rank. It is Fawlty Towers with a difference. In short, if only to avoid embarrassment, we need to be better informed and made more aware about our Chinese visitors, how they behave and what they expect. We need to have a conversation.
The question of what some commentators are calling the ‘silent invasion’ of Australia and the significance of China’s investment in what it calls its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative here is a more serious question, yet to be examined.
John Fleming II
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