SA outdoor education operators plead for clarity on return to school camps

South Australia’s outdoor education operators say extended restrictions on school camps and a lack of financial assistance has left them in crisis, with no end in sight.

An initial four-week ban from the start of term one was extended over the whole term, with the exception of overnight tent camping – something most operators could not provide – and SACE-related camps.

Outdoors SA chair Andrew Govan said operators were frustrated by a lack of communication from the state government.

“There’s been no communication about anything happening for term two, so people are losing bookings in term two now,” Mr Govan said.

“They need to meet with us to go through a new set of rules if they’re going to have restrictions, or just communicate out to everyone that we’re doing camps again, no restrictions.”

Mr Govan said the first four weeks off had “crippled the industry”, and millions of dollars were lost over the entire term.

“So [there’s] 11 weeks of this term that most of those organizations haven’t been operating … and now we’re going into term two, same sort of thing.”

Aside from financial assistance, Mr Govan said the sector would need help to “rebrand” itself in schools.

“Teachers are caught up in this rubbish about camp being more dangerous, therefore being expendable, so to achieve that goal of more wellbeing it’s basically having to invest in reconvincing people to do it,” he said.

“COVID numbers are not changing because of what we’re doing – it’s safer to be on camp.”

‘We are on our knees’

Open Camps chief executive Adam Hooper said his organization – which runs camps for disadvantaged and autistic children, funded by school camp bookings – faced closure if immediate support did not materialise.

Open Camps has not been able to trade since November 2021, with only $9,000 of aid in that time through the Hospitality Business Hardship Grant.

Mr Hooper said it costs more than $10,000 a week to mothball the operation.

Open Camps’ GLOW camp is designed to support disadvantaged children to develop skills, build self-esteem and form relationships.(Supplied: Open Camps)

“As a small charity, we have now lost over $400,000 of revenue and 50 percent of our term two bookings have canceled as they feel the lack of clarity by the Department for Education is too great a risk,” he said.

“We are on our knees.

Mr Hooper said if a decision was not made in the next week, he felt it would be too late.

“All our staff, and I mean all, have left our organization for safer jobs,” he said.

“Even if some miracle is given to us, we have to rebuild from the ground up.

“I can’t understand why any government would accept this, all other states have provided support specific to the sector. We have not.”

Consultations continue, departments say

In a statement to the ABC, the Department for Education would not provide a date for when the restrictions would ease.

“Given the amount of community transmission, the advice on risk from SA Health and the disruption to our system, we communicated to everyone prior to week nine that we would be keeping our settings the same on all areas of operation including camps,” a spokesperson said.

“We’ve continued to consult with the sector and are working with them to identify potential opportunities for financial support.

Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said the Department of Treasury and Finance had been contacted “by industry representatives” and would meet with them to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector.

“Until we hear what they have to say, and we can get some further advice on the matter, we are not in a position to say what might come out of these discussions,” he said.

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