THE Murdoch family is a step closer to securing an extra 20 years running the Fremantle Markets after Fremantle councillors followed a spirited debate by voting to advertise a business plan giving them a new lease.
The public gallery was packed for the meeting, which also discussed the future of the city’s CAT bus service, with around 25 current stallholders wearing love Freo Markets t-shirts in the public gallery to show their support for the current operators.
Phil Dawson, a trader with 40 years of experience in the markets, expressed “strong support” for Fremantle Markets Pty Ltd and highlighted the market’s success.
“The Fremantle Markets today in 2023 are better than ever,” Mr Dawson said.
“Just think; every weekend there are 40 to over 50,000 people visiting the Fremantle Markets.
“That’s more than some crowds at Optus Stadium, as many visitors [as] on the busiest days of the Perth Royal Show; it’s like having a festival every weekend in the city of Fremantle.”
Fellow markets stallholder Stacey Motyer urged the council to make a swift decision as she needed to move to the east coast for family reasons and sell her business. She expressed frustration, saying she had “lost two potential buyers” because of the lack of a long-term lease.”
Markets CEO Natasha Atkinson asked the t-shirted traders to stand and show their support. She also presented 79 letters of support to emphasise the positive impact of the current management.
But not all want the Murdoch’s to retain control of the markets, with stallholder Warren Thomas calling on the council to conduct a performance review on the current operating strategy and an independent survey of all stallholders.
Mr Thomas has proposed a non-profit organisation be created to run the markets.
“I refuse to be labelled a disgruntled stallholder; my colleagues know how much I love the markets. I just want a more transparent process,” he said.
“A status quo can bring up complacency; sometimes a fresh start is what is needed to bring your mojo back.”
Business adviser Tom Cockle from Venture Analytics tried to get a stallholders association up and running back in 2019 while helping a stallholder who’d been given an eviction notice after questioning ever-rising rents, and put the kybosh on suggestions the Murdochs could move the markets elsewhere if they didn’t get the lease.
“The City owns the name,” Mr Cockle said.
“The current lease states if FMPL lose their lease they must remove the words Fremantle Markets from their name and transfer back to the council any business name which is associated with the Fremantle Markets.
“There is no risk in going to a new tender.”
Tim Foster, representing GTL Investments, made a significant offer to run the markets, saying he was prepared to pay $650,000 base rent per annum, which is $100,000 more than what’s in the business plan, as well as double the spending on renovations than being proposed by the Murdochs.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson urged the council to scrap the business plan so it could consider Mr Foster’s offer.
Mr Dowson said he couldn’t understand why mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge had spoken about trying to increase the City’s returns on its investments, yet was considering a business plan in which the Murdoch’s rent would be the same as it was in 2008.
Cr Rachel Pemberton praised the current operations of FMPL, highlighting its service to the community and its popularity among tourists.
“It’s bustling every time I go in, and there are interesting businesses and lots of good vibes,” Cr Pemberton said.
Cr Marija Vujcic sought a 90-day deferral, reading out legal advice she’d received that GTL Investments’ offer should have been disclosed to councillors during the decision-making process. She got a seconder
in councillor Fedele Camarda, but apart from limited support from Hilton warder Ben Lawver who said he wouldn’t mind an extra 30 days for officers to explore other offers, her procedural motion didn’t get up.
A council officers’ report acknowledged FMPL’s achievements, including its status as an iconic tourist destination and its contribution to the local economy. The report highlighted the market’s positive reputation, numerous businesses operating within it, and significant visitor numbers.
The business plan will now be put out for a 42-day consultation period.
by STEVE GRANT