CairnsBlog contributing writer Sid Walker takes his ute off to the Mareeba Shire Council meeting and asks some questions...
Today, 29th January, I attended the mysterious ‘Special Meeting’ of Mareeba Shire Council, described in the minutes of the previous Council meeting as a meeting “commencing at 8am to consider planning issues and other urgent matters.”
The word was that Council was about to consider the notorious new Myola Plan. But I was half-expecting to find I’d been fooled. After all, Council hadn’t even looked at the voluminous submissions about the Plan at its previous meeting. Surely it wasn’t about to pull a cheap stunt, coming in under the radar when no-one was watching?
Arriving at the Council buildings a little late at ten past eight, I was told the meeting had yet to begin. I had a pleasant coffee on Mareeba High Street and arrived back at Council offices at 8.35am. The meeting had begun. Not an open meeting, I was told – although guests might be allowed in, after the “discussion part”.
And so it was. At around 10.30am, I was able to listen to that part of today’s Council deliberations deemed appropriate for the ears of the great unwashed - aka you and me, the public.
Of which, more later. I’ll stick to a chronological account of the day for now…
Around 9am, having browsed all the News Ltd reading matter provided free of charge to visitors on the day, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I had time to kill – and something I’d been meaning to do for a while. That was to ask to see the register of Councilor’s interests. I understand that under Queensland’s Local Government Act, Councils must maintain a register of their members pecuniary interests, and keep it available for public scrutiny.
My request caused quite a stir.
After consultations behind the desk, a polite staff member informed me that such a request must be made in writing. Illiterate citizens of the Shire, presumably, may not apply.
I requested a piece of paper, produced my own ballpoint pen and wrote a brief request for the register. That didn’t seem to do the trick either. By 10.30, still no register… and then I forgot all about it in the excitement of having the chance to observe our elected Councilors in session. Oh well, another day, perhaps?
I entered the Council chamber. An interesting layout. The Mayor, surrounded by senior council staff, sat in the middle of the high table, rather like a senior Viking warrior. Facing this table were regular councilors and behind them, the hoi polloi. It was hardly a packed gallery. Actually, there were two of us
The mayor read the pre-concocted motion to assembled Councilors and asked if there was dissent. There wasn’t. The motion passed unanimously. Whoever said Council meetings drag on and on?
What exactly was the motion? I can’t be sure at the time of writing, because Council has yet to provide me with a copy. That’s ten hours later and counting, despite reminder emails.
No matter – the guts of its decision was clear. Council approved a plan to site a suburb of 10,000+ new residents in one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse valleys in the country – a semi-forested area, adjacent to World Heritage, known to contain several endangered species.
I chatted with the Chief Planner afterwards and asked for a copy of the analysis of submissions on the Myola Plan. The Planner, an affable man, said he would see what he could do. I have no reason to doubt I’ll receive them sometime.
A week ago, after chasing the planning department by phone, I managed to obtain a copy of Council’s analysis of the survey of Myola residents’ views. It had conducted this absurd survey before Christmas, funded presumably via our rates. It offered residents a choice between the frying pan (the existing plan for Myola) and the fire (the new Plan). Most residents, given no other option, chose the frying pan.
It’s clear why these documents are not publicized by Council. They show Council took its ‘decision’ in the face of strong community opposition. A significant majority of residents surveyed rejected the new plan. I understand the same is true of the 200+ submissions made to Council on the new plan. The planner admitted as much. My friend, a diplomat by instinct, suggested kindly that people rarely make submissions on plans they agree with. The planner chuckled in agreement. I expressed the heretical view that it might be different if the public ever saw plans we actually want.
So it goes, in Mareeba Shire Council’s dying days. Decisions made in secrecy, community opinion disregarded, information shielded from public view… a Council not willing or able to justify an outdated agenda for which it has no mandate – but arrogant enough to push it through anyway, as far from public scrutiny as possible.
There was no media presence at the Council meeting. This merits comment. It takes two to put democracy to sleep. Deadheads on Mareeba Shire Council have done their bit. The mainstream media, to date, has been a perfect complement. Whatever happened to the crusading Murdoch media?
If not for a handful of conservation activists and independent media such as CairnsBlog, no-one at all would know about this story until ‘they’ decide to tell us.
I called Steve Wettenhall’s office mid-afternoon. Steve is the State MP for Barron River. He has a well-known interest in the Myola issue. According to his staff, he hadn’t heard that Council were to discuss the Myola Plan today and hadn’t been informed of the outcome.
Council’s furtive decision-making is not only an insult to the community. It seems the Bligh Government is also given the mushroom treatment.
Fortunately, the Queensland Government DOES have the last word on the appalling new Myola plan. When it reaches the Minister’s desk, I trust it goes directly into the NO tray. Likewise, when FNQ 2025 draft plan is published in April, Myola must NOT be in the designated ‘urban footprint’.
The Kuranda area is a world-class environment on the boundary of World Heritage listed rainforests. We deserve and demand the very best in governance, consultation and planning.
As a whole, the Kuranda community, black and white, young and old, rich and poor, male and female - cares deeply about our very special environment.
We expect better of local government than to be kept in the dark and fed occasional dollops of manure.