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The Mary Valley Heritage Railway is in such a dire financial situation, it cannot be turned around by residents using the service as the MVHR Management Committee would have people believe.
Only the immediate receipt of huge grants — in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars — can save the region’s best-loved icon in the short-term.
In the long-term, unless the MVHR Management Committee immediately adopts the recommendations of a 2010 State Government-commissioned report, there will be no permanent resurrection from the financial depths to which the organisation has sunk.
As stated on page 1, the Mary Valley Heritage Railway is in dire financial straits. Current figures for March show that the organisation suffered a loss of nearly $5,000. This figure, however, is incorrect.
A recent MVHR newsletter states that March was a 3-pay month; however only two pays are listed (totalling about $35,500 plus $3,100 for superannuation).
There are currently 11 employees jointly being paid, on average, $17,000 per fortnight. The wages that should be listed on March’s Profit & Loss statement should therefore be about $51,000. The total income for March was listed as only $49,850.
Unfortunately, these figures have been consistent throughout the past few years and, if not for the many thousands of dollars in grants the association has received, it would have folded long ago. (Taxpayers have contributed just under a million dollars in the last five years.)
In January of 2010, the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development & Innovation (DEEDI) commissioned Grant Thornton Australia Limited to 'undertake a comprehensive review of the MVHR'. This review was completed in March last year and its findings were damning.
Here are some quotes from that report:
“MVHR began operation in 1998 and currently operates steam train and rail motor tours through the scenic Mary Valley. It has been reliant on grant support for many years and has recently experienced deteriorating results.”
“MVHR is unable to sustain itself on an operating basis at current passenger levels and must rely on grant income. Without grant income, the business loses approximately $150k each year.”
“The business has been reliant on grants to compensate for large operating losses.”
“Without further external support, operating losses or one-off events will eventually lead to the financial failure of the organisation.”
“With severely depleted resources, MVHR has a high risk of failure unless it develops a clear path to self sustainability. This requires an increased focus on business development and improving customer service.”
“MVHR’s existing agents network is largely unsupported and ineffective. Not only does the network need to be re-focused and expanded geographically but MVHR needs to adapt its systems to make it easier for agents to book.”
“It is important for MVHR to secure the involvement of representatives from bodies such as Tourism Queensland or other regional tourist organisations on its management committee so that the business accesses these skills and remains connected with issues and opportunities in the broader tourist market.”
What is concerning about the Report’s recommendations is that the MVHR Management Committee has not fully implemented any of them. Most it has ignored. Those recommendations the Committee has tried to address have been half-hearted attempts at best... and ineffective.
To quote more figures: • In December, January and February, the MVHR’s total income was $127,795. Employment costs alone were $108,442 or 85% of all income. • As of the last day in February, MVHR Cash Assets were $37,386 and, at the last day in December, they were $130,043. This leaves a loss of $92,657 within only two months of operations.
Recent reports in other media state that members of the MVHR Management Committee have been ‘cleared’ of any wrongdoing; however, it took multiple court orders to force the MVHR Management Committee to allow members representing the Gympie & District Historical Society to see the Association’s membership register and financial reports. The question must be asked: If the Management Committee is operating in a transparent and efficient way, why did it take a court order for members to be allowed to view these documents? It was found from these documents that some liabilities had been counted as assets.
The MVHR Management Committee had also applied to Change the Rules of the Association; however a further court order caused this to be withdrawn because it was found there had been no quorum at the Special General Meeting that was called to have the changes implemented.
Furthermore, there are three issues still outstanding in the Supreme Court since the presiding judge could not immediately make a decision and so deferred these to a later date.
Current promotional material produced by members of the MVHR Management Committee state “our operational activity is entirely staffed by volunteers”. While this may be true of the trains’ actual operation, no train could operate without office and ticketing personnel, track or train maintenance, or the fulfilment of the many other tasks that are required to ensure the safe travel of passengers on board.
It will be a truly sad day when (if?) the Rattler and the Tozer Street Station close their doors for the last time. Unless substantial financial assistance is received NOW (followed by full implementation of the Grant Thornton reforms), we can start waving our home-grown icon goodbye.
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