Politics

William and Kate are expected to visit bushfire-ravaged towns, but at what cost?

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George depart Canberra on a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft during their April 2014 visit to Australia. Source: PA Wire

Critics suggest the possible visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is little more than 'dark tourism,' but others believe the official visit represents a morale booster and a much-needed injection into devastated local economies.

Locals on the bushfire-ravaged NSW South Coast hope a potential royal visit by Prince William and his wife, Catherine, will help the region rebuild.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to issue a formal invitation to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge later this week after being in discussions with Kensington Palace about the bushfire tour.

Bega Valley Shire Council mayor Kristy McBain says the visit would be positive because it would keep the devastated community in the forefront of everyone's mind.

"The spotlight that follows the royals would transfer to the area," the mayor told AAP on Tuesday.

Farmer Farren Terlich is seen on his burnt-out property in Verona, New South Wales.
Farmer Farren Terlich is seen on his burnt-out property in Verona, New South Wales.
AAP

"It's really nice they get how important it is to use their presence and their stature to highlight how important it is to rebuild and assist small Australian communities."

But as with previous royal tours to Australia, taxpayers are likely to foot the bill for the high-profile guests.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's 2014 jaunt to Australia, along with an advance visit by Kensington Palace officials, cost taxpayers more than $474,000 dollars.

Britain's Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, meets well-wishers during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.
Britain's Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, meets well-wishers during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.
AAP Pool

Transportation proved the most expensive aspect of the trip, accounting for $251,000.

That visit saw William, Kate and Prince George tour the country for 10 days, visiting sites include the Sydney Opera House and Uluru.

The figures were released under Freedom of Information laws but did not include the cost of security or GST.

An October 2018 royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex cost more than $468,000 -  with VIP flights alone amounting to a bill worth $58,000.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex meet with a local surfing community group at Sydney's Bondi Beach.
Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex meet with a local surfing community group at Sydney's Bondi Beach.
PA POOL

Figures surrounding Harry and Meghan's visit emerged as part of a cost breakdown provided by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Queen's 2011 visit to Australia reportedly cost taxpayers $1.74 million, but that bill also included the charter of a plane for long-haul travel.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, and her husband Prince Philip, board a plane flying to Perth from Melbourne airport, October 2011.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, and her husband Prince Philip, board a plane flying to Perth from Melbourne airport, October 2011.
AP

It is customary for nations to pay for the cost of such trips should the Queen be their head of state.

However, critics suggest that the federal government should rethink whether taxpayers foot the bill for any future royal visits.

“The Royals seem to be engaging in dark tourism,” Australian Republic Movement National Director Sandy Biar told SBS News.

“At a time when bushfire victims and communities affected by fire and flood are hurting the most, it seems millions of dollars of Australian taxpayer funds will be diverted to fund photo opportunities for members of the Royal Family.

A burnt-out car is seen on a property in Verona, New South Wales, after bushfires tore through the region on New Years Eve 2019.
A burnt-out car is seen on a property in Verona, New South Wales, after bushfires tore through the region on New Years Eve 2019.
AAP

“Those millions could be better spent directly helping communities affected by the bushfires.

But those in Bega Valley Shire believe a visit by the British royals would boost tourism to the area after bushfires drove many businesses to the brink.

"Any additional visitors to our area would be a benefit to a number of our small businesses," Ms McBain said.

Mogo Wildlife Park director Chad Staples has echoed that sentiment, saying any publicity for the region will reap benefits.

The wildlife park was forced to temporarily close while staff worked to protect animals from fires over summer.

"It's nice we're at least on the radar," he told AAP on Tuesday.

"Even if it gives one person a positive moment it's good."

Mr Staples hopes a visit by William and Kate will encourage others to return to the "beautiful" part of Australia.

The trip would be William's fifth visit to Australia and the couple's first since 2014.

No dates or locations for the potential bushfire tour have been settled as yet.

The prime minister is expected to propose a program in his official letter to the palace.

SBS News has contacted the Office of the Prime Minister and the Australian Monarchist League for comment.

With additional reporting from AAP

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