ABOUT 45 French Island residents met with Hastings MP Neale Burgess on Sunday 1 July to air their concerns about a lack of information over redevelopment plans for the former McLeod prison farm.
The meeting, at the community hall, was organised by members of the French Island Community Association who are concerned the Chinese buyers of the prison farm, Wufu Investments, of Shanghai, are keeping them in the dark.
The islanders say they have tried four times to contact company CEO Xu Ziyun via email and letter but have not heard back.
This lack of information is causing unease – as did online reports that Madam Xu met privately with state tourism minister John Eren last July to discuss her company’s plans for the prison farm, with the islanders not consulted before or after the meeting.
Madam Xu later stated on her company’s website: “The [Victorian government] representatives suggested that we could make great efforts to develop tourism on the island of France (sic) and make her the second Phillip Island (the most popular tourist attraction in the area).” (“Islanders oppose prison farm ‘vision’” The News, 26/6/18).
Madam Xu stated the government had intimated it would “fully cooperate with” Wufu and “hoped to take the French island into a key strategy” with Phillip Island – despite there being no communication with the islanders themselves.
Mr Burgess said after Sunday’s meeting: “French Island residents are very reasonable people; all they are asking for is to be treated with respect and to be consulted about projects impacting them.”
He said it was “disrespectful for (the premier) Daniel Andrews and his Labor ministers to pose in photos with foreign developers, promoting projects that have not even been discussed with residents [who] will be heavily impacted”.
Mr Burgess said he had requested an “urgent briefing from both Wufu and Mr Eren and state planning minister Richard Wynne”. He said he would “keep the community informed of those discussions”.
The Wufu group is a primary service provider in China of elderly care, tourism, and the “cultural travelling industry”.
Its stated plans for the island include turning the jail into a tourist centre and museum, and building a string of one-storey flats as a hostel, a business centre where “tourists can work at the same time as holidaying”, a Chinese herb farm, and, contentiously, establishing health facilities, such as hot springs, to “cure our body and mind”.