Friday 1 February 2008

Stop feeding us crap

After the CairnsBlog expose on Tuesday about Mareeba Shire's Myola decision, WIN TV and Channel 7, along with Pat Morrish at ABC Far North, clambered over the story.

They high-tailed it up the range, cameras in hand and interviewed Sid, the folk from Save Myola Group, and even the developer showed up. A right kurfuffle was unfolding. It took another day before Mareeba Mayor Borzi surfaced.

It was all about the questionable antics at last week's Mareeba Shire Council where, in the dying days of the local Council, a substantial decision was taken, behind a closed session and in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

Sid Walker's story on CairnsBlog set the media bushfire in motion. This incident, and more importantly the reaction, highlights the role that independent media can have in keeping elected public officials and their decisions, open and transparent. It also shows us that mainstream media are often falling asleep on the job in not picking up of such events.

You'd have to have your head in the sand to not realise that, with Councils now heading towards their own demise prior to amalgamation, much is being rushed through with questionable process. This is being done with little or no consultation with constituents.

You know the old saying, Don't ask the public because they might tell you want you don't want to hear. The truth hurts. Or is that love?

Prior to the Mareeba Shire meeting last week, members of the public asked to see the Councillors' Register of Interests. This is a relatively new requirement for all elected officials to provide. Brisbane City Council have, like good corporate and public citizens, provided this comprehensively on their website.

Kudos to Cairns Councillors Gregory, Lindsay, Pezzutti, Freebody, Gill, Ford, Blake, Bonneau, and Sheppard for declaring theirs on the Council website.

Beside Councillor Cochrane, noticeably and glaringly absent is the Mayor's and his Deputy's Declaration of interests. Nothing whatsoever is listed. Zilch. Not even a free pasta from Villa Romana. Weeks prior to an election this type of information should be readily available to the public. If you want to obtain Byrne's and James Register of Interest, you'll need to apply. There's a form for that. Chances are, it will conveniently take more that 41 days.

We at CairnsBlog put out a challange to you Mr Mayor and Mr Deputy Mayor:

If your Unity Party, the ones with the non-political political billboards, want our vote come mid-March, please declare us your affiliations. Want companies do you hold an interest and connection in? Please put these details up on the Council website, like others. We'll keep a watch on Kev's page, and also Terry's. Don't let us down fellas.

And another thing, if you talk to anyone in the planning department at your local Council presently - and you may have to sleep with them to get this information first - you'll learn that the workload over the last 6 months is out of control. Developers and land owners are pushing as much through as they can muster. Why? Well they are all concerned with what will happen after March 15th. What if they loose their good developer-friendly mates around the Council table?

Additionally, up till early January, four months after the Council amalgamations were announced, nearly $600 million worth of Council contracts and projects has been approved across the State. Merged Councils wanting to spend more than $150,000, required the Minister's approval.

From today, all Councils go into "Caretaker" mode, prior to the March 15th Council election, and all major decisions on spending and recruitment will need State Government approval.

So you can see why there is a huge push at last week's Mareeba and Cairns Council meetings to push through major project approvals.

Cairns City Council wanted to sign off of the draft plan for the new Beaches Town Centre, with no public input. There was defiant opposistion from Councillors Sheppard and Cochrane. Bless their souls. But the other five independants voted it through, without much of a by your leave. The clever dicks think we don't know what they're up to. But we aren't that stupid.

Meanwhile in Mareeba, councillors wanted to give the tick to the disastrous Myola development, without any notification to the public that this was being discussed or voted on. Certainly, Barron River MP Steve Wettenhall wasn't aware, and was alarmed by the decision.

Here's Wettenhall's full statement that was sparked by the CairnsBlog story on Tuesday:

Barron River MP Steve Wettenhall today [Jan 30th] urged Deputy Premier and Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Hon Paul Lucas to reject amendments to the Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme that would allow an urban settlement at Myola west of Kuranda of up to 11,000 residents.

The scheme amendments were approved at a meeting of the Mareeba Shire Council yesterday . The proposed urban “node” at Myola was originally
conceived as part of FNQ 2010, far north Queensland’s first regional plan but
will soon be replaced by FNQ 2025 – the first statutory regional plan outside
the south east corner.

“One of the key outcomes of FNQ 2025 will be the establishment of a regional urban footprint that will determine where residential development can and cannot occur. It would not make sense for the Planning Minister to approve the Myola scheme whilst the most appropriate land use of the area is being considered under the 2025 planning process” said Mr.Wettenhall.

Kuranda Envirocare spokesperson John Beasley will soon be presenting Mr.Wettenhall with a petition, collected by concerned residents and members of Save Myola group, containing the signatures of over 750 residents who are opposed to the urbanization of Myola.

“Locals have a range of concerns about the future of Myola but we have no doubt they want the unique environmental values of the area protected and the quality of the rural residential lifestyle preserved” said Mr Beasley. “We agree with Mr.Wettenhall that approving the Myola Plan now would be pre-emptive and that decisions affecting the future of the area should be reviewed under FNQ 2025.

Mr.Wettenhall questioned whether Myola was the best place for a town of 11,000 people. “There’s no infrastructure, the area is a long way from major
employment centres at Cairns or Mareeba, and residents would be forced to depend on cars for most travel. Also, the Myola area contains many threatened plant and animal species and vital flora and fauna corridors linking the ecologically
distinct north and south sections of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

Since Myola was identified as a preferred urban node in the late 1990’s, fuel prices have skyrocketed, climate change is a reality and future population growth is expected to be concentrated in Cairns where rapid public transport options will become feasible utilizing the city’s cane rail corridors. “It is exactly for these reasons that we needed FNQ 2025 in the first place. That is why I want the Minister to make sure that the future of Myola is not considered in isolation, but in the context of the preferred settlement pattern of the region as a whole” said Mr Wettenhall.

The draft FNQ 2025 plan is expected to be released for public comment in April 2008.

Oh, the influence of free and independent media. We should take stock from small mercies, even if it is to question and hopefully overturn inept or poor decision-making.

The Cairns Post yesterday reported on this whole debacle as well. There was that infamous quote, that we've heard I don't know how many times. It's the threat quote. They trump it out everytime that someone objects or questions a DA. Deputy Mayor and Cairns Councillor Terry James has used it.

This is where the Council suggests that a landholder with a Development Approval could sue, if the decision is over-tuned or refused, hinting that to defend such an action would expose the Council to un-questionable amounts of money.

This defense was used in the McDonalds application to site their new fast food store in the so-called 'Martyn Street character precinct".

"Landholders have rights too," Mareeba Shire Mayor Mick Borzi told the Cairns Post.

It's high time that Councillors represented the people. The residents. Majority rule should apply and open and transparent debate should be allowed to take it's course in local government.

There's more to tell on this story, so don't go changing the channel.

This election is the time to change your local representatives for the better. It's over time.

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