A freight subsidy for Kimberley businesses was on the top of the agenda when Regional Development Minister Don Punch visited Kununurra to find out how the region was coping since being cut off by sealed road from the rest of the state due to the floods. The East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EKCCI) handed Mr Punch a survey of 50 businesses which revealed they would soon have to increase their prices or lay-off staff because of the 75 per cent increase on the cost of freight. The Great Northern Highway has been closed since January 1 after ex-tropical cyclone Ellie passed into the Kimberley causing a one-in-a-100-year flood around Fitzroy Crossing that inundated homes, killed thousands of cattle and destroyed the Fitzroy River bridge. Since then trucking operators have been transporting freight from Perth to the East Kimberley via South Australia and the Northern Territory adding an extra 2000km to a one-way trip. Speaking to the Kimberley Echo on Thursday, Mr Punch said he would take the business community’s concerns back to his cabinet colleagues whom he will meet with on Friday and again on Monday and Tuesday. “I was really impressed by the resilience people are showing. Kununurra has been through a lot, my job up there yesterday was to hear and understand the freight issues,” he said. “I know that Kununurra has been through some incredibly tough times, it is a great community, it’s a resilient community, but I know people are tired. We will do our best to understand the needs of the area and respond appropriately.” At the meeting was The Cambridge Hotel general manager Narelle Brook, Melanie Gray from Ceres Farms, Kununurra Home, Timber and Hardware owner Kerry Robertson, Bothkamp Australia Farm’s Christian Bloecker, DE Carpenters owner Darren Fulcher and EKCCI CEO Claire Smith. Besides freight increases, businesses also shared their concerns that if the Great Northern Highway was not made operable soon transport operators would stop delivering freight to the East Kimberley because it was too far and costly for them to go via SA and NT. They also expressed concern that if the Great Northern Highway was not reconnected soon they would lose the backpacker labour market that they usually see in the dry as young travellers journey between Broome, Kununurra and Darwin. Mr Punch said it was also made clear that companies throughout WA would be impacted as East Kimberley businesses sought new suppliers from other states rather than sourcing goods locally. The minister also met with Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley deputy president Tony Chafer and CEO Vernon Lawrence who discussed the possibility of getting shipping companies ANL and Swire — that operate out of the Pilbara into Asia to transport freight into the Port of Wyndham. Cr Chafer said the other issue was to tell tourists who had been planning to drive through the Kimberley this dry season that the road would be open for business. “We really want the government to put out a strong message to people now saying this will be fixed very, very quickly, so don’t put off your travel,” he said. The State Government has previously announced it will spend $6 million on discounted flights, holiday voucher incentives and a national advertising campaign to encourage people to visit the Kimberley this dry season.