Minister dodges questions as Bunbury’s Dolphin Discovery Centre flounders

Regional Development Minister Don Punch needs to come clean and explain how Bunbury’s Dolphin Discovery Centre has been allowed to fail under his watch.

South West MLC and Shadow Tourism Minister Louise Kingston said Mr Punch refused to answer questions in Parliament last week about the demise of the iconic tourist attraction or provide assurances to the people in his own electorate of Bunbury that he would intervene to save it, after it went into voluntary administration on February 26.

Mrs Kingston has criticised Mr Punch for claiming the attraction was still open, when Administrators had ordered major functions to be cancelled and the café to stop serving breakfasts and lunches, replacing it with a small, skeleton menu.

Mr Punch was Chief Executive Officer at the South West Development Commission when the former Nationals/Liberal Government funded the construction of the centre in May 2016 and became the Member for Bunbury in 2017 when the build started.

“While the dolphin tours and the interpretive centre are still operating, the future hangs in the balance with Administrators not ruling out closure of the entire attraction,” Mrs Kingston said.

“Mr Punch owes the people of Bunbury and the South West an explanation about how the region’s premier tourist attraction was allowed to fail under his watch and how long he’s known about this financial mess.

“Dolphin experiences are seasonal, so this facility relied on generating income with its function centre and interactive visitor’s centre, however Mr Punch failed to ensure that it was adequately funded and properly promoted like other prominent WA tourist attractions.

“He is ducking for cover claiming in Parliament that it is managed by an independent body and saying ‘my door is always open to the centre to discuss their needs’.

“Mr Punch needs to answer questions we are putting to him on behalf of his constituents about how long he has known about the financial difficulties and whether he has been approached for financial assistance.

“As Regional Development Minister, Mr Punch controls $1 billion a year in regional funding allocations, much of which is being cost-shifted to pay for Perth projects. He needs to stop dodging questions and explain why the Dolphin Discovery Centre was allowed to fail under his watch and why he will not intervene to secure its future.”