Liberal Party leader Libby Mettam has called on the State Government to commit to keeping next year’s major culinary event focused within the Capes region only. Responding to last month’s Times report confirming a replacement for the axed Gourmet Escape was slated for November next year, the Vasse MLA said the venture needed solid State Government support. In the last days of the Escape, then-Tourism Minister Paul Papalia extended the agreement with operators IMG Culinary to include Rottnest Island and Perth’s Swan Valley in a move widely disparaged by Margaret River producers. “It was disappointing that WA Labor diluted the event and I urge the new Minister to support funding to reinstate this significant regional event,” Ms Mettam said. “There is an expectation that a festival similar to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape will be funded again in the future. “This popular event promoted our State as an attractive interstate and international tourism destination and promoted the region as a premier food and wine destination that generated millions of dollars for our local economy.” Tourism WA declined to comment on the pledge request, reiterating previous comments to the Times backing the festival and with more details to be released later this year. Newly-minted Tourism Minister Rita Saffioti also did not respond. Sharing the same date window as the now-defunct Gourmet Escape, the new offering was proposed last year in the wake of the State Government dropping support for the internationally-backed festival after COVID-19 disruption. The Escape came in for repeated criticism by some for its cost to taxpayers, control by an overseas events company, and a perceived failure to incorporate sufficient local producers and suppliers. Local exhibitors told the Times the rejigged event had to retain its focus on Margaret River instead of “mixing the message” by “spreading it too thin”. Margaret River gourmand, former broadcaster and Tasting Australia festival creator Ian Parmenter said people who lived in the region should be running the festival. Mr Parmenter was tired of successive State Governments failing to understand tourism despite its multi-billion dollar contributions to WA’s economy. “Tourism is always tacked on to the end of a string of other portfolios,” he said. Mr Parmenter cited the deputy Premier’s elevation to Tourism Minister alongside her Transport and Treasury roles as a case in point. “As one who has been in the business of directing international food and tourism events for the past 30 years, I can state with absolute certainty that our amazing South West does not need what will be another waste of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “(And yet) out of nowhere comes another grand plan for a major ‘world-class culinary event’ destined to be a replacement for the dreadful, internationally-owned Gourmet Escape. “My experience has long been that Tourism WA is one of the nation’s most inefficient bodies, and I’ve worked with them all.” Mr Parmenter said it was time for local operators and tourism leaders to be in charge of major events. Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association chief executive Sharna Kearney told the Times the Escape had played an instrumental role in putting the region on the world stage, with knock-on benefits for producers and talented local workers.