Thursday 7 May 2009

It's been one Hull of a month

The first birthday came and went. Not hardly a whisper. There was no cake with a lineup of candles to celebrate the achievements, though there are some to shout about.

The last four weeks of this brand spanking new Cairns Regional Council, have been severely tarnished by political factions and a series of undermining behaviours, designed to discredit and destablise Councillors Leu, Lesina, Forsyth, Pyne, and primarily the Mayor, Val Schier.

In particular, the last month has been very destructive, and the grand plan to 'expose' a financial deal with Radio 4CA with the supposed knowledge of the Mayor, went sour when emails I released showed the source of the leak, and their intended purpose and target.

In the middle of all this is a pawn in the name of Kerie Hull, Council's Corporate Communications Manager. An important PR arm for the Mayor. Hull came to the Council in September last year, however served a few months prior as a media writer. She last a history in senior communications roles, having run her own PR consultancy in Cairns, and worked for the ABC in Bundaberg and also produced Pat Morish's morning show on ABC radio in Cairns.

Hull is a skilled operator, but with a bent on power and climbing to the top.

However, the trust between Hull and the Mayor has come into question from many within the media, and around the Council office. It's no secret that the Mayor has lost faith in her media manager. Hull cites bullying from the Mayor, yet openly questions her politics with other Councillors and staff.

Currently the external investigation into the Cash for Comment mess, headed by a local QC, is costing at least $3,500 a day.

The tit-for-tat two weeks ago from 4CA Radio host John Mackenzie, and his station manager Steve Hirst, that a financial arrangement was nothing new, and that there was a deal in place previously, was debunked by both former Mayor Kevin Byrne and then Council Communications Manager, Gary Schofield, who served under three mayors. Of course, amid the looming media and advertising authority investigation, they were covering their arse in order to say this practise was the norm. So, does 4CA have a habit of not publicly declaring when a politician is speaking on their radio, is in fact a paid segment? Surely they know the rules when something is advertising and when it's community service.

The crux of the entire story appears to be that the Mayor was never properly informed of the full arrangement to get her back on radio just over a month ago.

Hull, and Cairns Regional Council's Chief Executive Officer Noel Briggs, have been working so closely together that many believe the professional relationship is bordering on the unprofessional. Whilst there's an operational line of responsibility, many around the Spence Street Council office have questions over the perceived influence the CEO has. The media manager, and her staff, are there to support the communication of Council decisions.

"I know they have many closed-door meetings, and these often can go on for hours, and well after 6pm," a 3rd floor staffer said.

The environment of non-transparent decision making is at the heart of the present dilemma for the Regional Council. It's a platform that Val Schier campaigned and following 8 years of many closed Council meetings and a culture that many staff felt intimidated and bullied. Needless to say, not a lot has changed in a year.

It's an environment under the leadership of Noel Briggs, that has allowed Kerie Hull to create well-known animosity against the Mayor and the left faction of politics, with conservatives holding the majority around the Council table.

Val extended an olive branch by supporting long-term Councillor Margaret Cochrane as her Deputy, a move that was widely questioned in the weeks leading up to the vote, by her Cairns 1st supporters. However that has backfired, and the Councilors, known as the Gang of Four, Gregory, Blake, Bonneau, Cochrane, have regularly blocked voting in opposition to the Mayor's will. However, that's politics. You need to build alliances and lobby to move agendas forward, otherwise you may as well pack up and go home.

The more serious matters though, extend to an orchestrated undermining of the Mayor and her supportive local Councillors. There has been no clearer example of this than the 'Cash for Comments' fiasco, as it was oddly dubbed by the Cairns Post.

The awful irony in all this faction-fighting is that their efforts have damaged the entire Council's already tenuous reputation, and in the mind of the general public, it is at a new low. The focus of these disruptive Councillors and those senior staff that following like sheep, was to embarrass and set traps for the first-term Mayor, whom they regard as a novice and whose politics they despise.

Even though Councillors Blake and Cochrane, and former Councillor Annette Shepherd, had very public fights with former Mayor Kevin Byrne, they largely got the agenda they wanted, nevertheless, they detested the Mayor of the day, and tried unsuccessfully to undermine Byrne, but KB's style and robust exterior didn't accommodate much disention. Bonneau, Blake and Cochrane, hardly rocked the boat during the last few years as the Good Ship Byrne went down.

However, CEO Briggs was a loyal soldier of Kevin Bryne. Together they were resolute in created an environment that was far from open Government. Defamation threats were thick and fast from the Mayor's office, Byrne's nasty tongue was aimed at those he despised. One year he made a appalling reference around the Council table to hearing-impaired Councillor Shepherd. "Are you deaf?" Byrne shouted, when Annette questioned a motion procedure. It took over a year for Byrne to formally apologise, after many letter and demands to retract his offensive statement. Briggs, a former chartered accountant, has been around the traps for some time, and is no stranger to local politics.

He was CEO of the old Cairns City Council prior to the 1995 merger with Mulgrave Shire, then CEO of Mareeba Shire Council before returning to Cairns as CEO again in 2007, replacing David Farmer. Briggs' appointment was challenged unsuccessfully, by the incoming Mayor and some of the newly elected Councillors, but he was re-appointed following the merger of Cairns City and Douglas Shire Councils on 24 April last year.

“The aim of any good local government manager is to aim to deliver good local governance, and ensure value for money for every ratepayer dollar spent," Noel Briggs says.

This statement is laughable, given the climate that has perpetuated to allow so many serious complaints to come across his desk.

As one of the main players, Council media manager, Kerie Hull, has now been subpoenaed by the 'Cash for Comments' QC that is investigating the relationship between Radio 4CA and Council. It's expected to present its findings next week.

Hull has a lot to answer for. With the support of Councillors Bonneau. Cochrane and Blake, she was asked to load the gun, and Sno fired the bullet at last month's Council meeting. Kerie could not put her hand on her heart and say she is loyal to the Mayor. The closeness of this senior manager with Councillors is of serious conncern to the separation of authority between elected Councillors and staff. Her friendships with both the CEO and Councillor Blake is something that is talked about in back rooms and whispered between staff.

A street survey in Redlynch, Smithfield and Edmonton yesterday afternoon, showed that the community is clearly unhappy and despondent with it’s Council. Of those questioned, nearly 80% were angry at the current Council, it’s reputation and they way in which the affairs appear to be managed.

“I’m disgusted about all this money and the waste, they are meant to be looking after our community,” Jane, who live on the Intake Road, Redlynch said. “All these investigations are costing lots of money of my rates, when they should be getting on with their job.”

“These are all distracting from the real business of our local Council, “David Anderson said, who runs a delivery business in Edmonton. “When we see the scandals in the paper, about who did a deal and why know one seems to know, it makes a mockery of the entire bunch. If I had to investigate a contract or an arrangement in my business, it would be done within the day. Why Council’s waste substantial public money of these affairs is not only irresponsible, but boarding on corruption.”

There’s little question that the damage unleashed by Councillors Blake and Bonneau, with the support of Kerie Hull, have had an effect of discrediting the Mayor, as their target. However, they have also put the entire Council into a vunerable and precarious position. The public now appear to not trust their local government authority.

This sadly upsets and colours the good work that hundreds of Cairns Regional Council employees do, every day, from Miriwini to Mossman. Every action from a Councillor, filters through to their representatives on the ground, the employees.

The destructive behaviour of a small minority, has severely tarnished an entire local Government. Those responsible will be taken down as the covers are revealed, however their aim was ill-conceived in their bid for power, as they will only receive disrespect from their peers and the community that expects much better from such senior community leaders.


nocturnal congress said...

Well said Mike. Personalities aside, the work culture of the CRC needs closer examination. Basically when organisations corporatise, certain features appear. The organisation becomes more hierarchical, factions are created, a culture of bullying and abuse develops, morale drops, staff turnover increases, client service standards drop, and transparency is compromised. Seniority no longer counts for promotion, so strangers are parachuted into the organisation without proper checks into their backgrounds. As sociologists are discovering the world over, the corporate culture is made for sociopaths.
CRC isn't the only organisation to start experiencing all of this. Look at Queensland Health for example. Another organisation which corporatised back in the 1990s to the detriment of its vulnerable client base is Centrelink which has been accused by one of its leading managers of "fudging" its performance indicators and covering up staff error rates.
Lastly, we all know what corporations have done to cause the current world global financial crisis.

Worried Listener said...

Interesting to see that Mr Mackenzie is fully aware of the regulations regarding Cash For Comment. He was investigated last year and found innocent of any allegations. But now we must ask ourselves how many of his so called interviews are in fact real interviews and how many are “ad views” without a disclaimer.

The report on the ACMA web site is interetsing reading.

Cairns Resident said...

Yes, well said Mike and "nocturnal" above. The actions of a few have tarnished the reputation of CRC as a whole. We expect PROFESSIONAL behaviour from our well paid CRC executive staff and we expect integrity, honesty, transparency and ethical judgement.
Val Schier was elected on a platform of bringing transparency into Council. This "Cash for Comment" debacle is proof that clandestine behaviour still operates within the CRC.

Noj Nedlaw said...

Hi Worried Listener

Is this this the link to the report that you mention?


Alison Alloway said...

"Currently the external investigation into the Cash for Comment mess, headed by a local QC, is costing at least $3,500 a day." Is this figure correct, Mike?

Melvyn Byrtlemere said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Noj Nedlaw said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael P Moore said...

Actually Alison, I have heard that this is a conservative estimate.

Great use of Ratepayer's dosh, eh?

Anonymous said...


A great Post and a mammoth piece of journalism!


Syd Walker said...

If the QC needs someone to check his spelling and syntax, I am available at the very modest sum of $1,000 per day.

That's cheap at the price really, because this will be one of the most scrutinized reports in FNQ's history.

It would be horrible to see the quality of the QC's magnum opus ruined by bad grammar.

(I hope you don't mind me posting classified ads on your blog, Mike - and no offense to lawyers as a profession. Some of them barely need a spell-checker.)

Thornton's Peak said...

Once again the impecable reputation of Alan Blake has been dragged through the mire of this sordid affair for no good reason.
Surely Kerie and Alan should be allowed to get on with their lives without the unreasonable probing eye of amatuer bloggers spoiling all the fun?

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Mike. I wish this could appear on the front page of the Cairns Post so that people could read the truth.

KitchenSlut said...

Worried listener,

I made a complaint to ABC a few years ago about an 'advertorial' interview on their local program with Kevin Young from 'The Investors Club' which isn't a club at all but a property spruiking outfit with hefty commissions from developers.

The complaint was upheld and acknowledged by ABC corporate affairs. What was interesting on the 'Club' website were references to other media which had fallen for the promotional con.

There were not many, but if my memory is correct one was John MacKenzie.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Thornton's comment.
A match made in Heaven for Alan and Kerry. It can take a life time to find the perfect partner and they should know. You need to find a person you admire, are attracted to and have great fun with to have a solid relationship. Leave them alone everyone It's not about council issues. It's a modern day story of friendship,Joy and Commitment to a cause.
I wish Alan and Kerry a happy life with lots of babies to cherish and love together as true soul mates.
What ever comes of this situation their legacy will remain. Love and power conquer all.

Quickie said...

This blog administrator has still got the 'shits' with ...

1. Kevin Byrne ... because he shut Mike Moore up (for a while), with legal action.
2. Noel Briggs ... because K.B. appointed him.
3. Noel Briggs ... because Mike wasn't given Robyn Holme's job, (he thought he deserved it after Val won)
4. Noel Briggs ... because he wouldn't give this failed, can't get a real job, ex journalist, immediate access to Council press releases.
5. Kerrie Hull ... for the same reasons above.
6. Sno, Margaret and Alan + Nancy, Linda and sometimes Rob, for voting against the Val party line.
7. All senior staff in Council who see Mike Moore as nothing more than a vexatious trouble maker with a "payback vendetta" psychic.

Face the truth Mike, your false beat up of all this something nothing is costing the ratepayer, (and I hope you are one), big bucks for nothing.

There is no conspiracy against the Mayor ... only in your dreams, (probably being fed by your delusional imagination).

PS. Publish the letter (that you banned) from the good priest ... it make perfect sense of you, if you dare.

KitchenSlut said...

Mike Moore has a "payback vendetta" psychic? How much do they charge by the hour Mike? Are they more accurate than the Medusa stars in the Weekend Oz?

Oh, hang on! Maybe Quickie meant a psyche? In which case we wont even begin to enter the labyrinth that is his own psyche, especially after too many viino rosso freebies with KB down at Villa!

Quickie said...

Slut ...

Psychic ... refers to a proposed ability to perceive information hidden from the normal senses

Psyche ... which etymologically means "breath of life", animating from the body.

I stand by my original text.

KitchenSlut said...

Well at least we now know for certain Quickie that you are in fact Dennis. And what a spiteful human you are!


et·y·mol·o·gy (t-ml-j)
n. pl. et·y·mol·o·gies
1. The origin and historical development of a linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its ancestral form where possible.

So what? Trust me Quickie any 'breath of life' emanating from any orifice of yours is not something pleasant!

psy·chic (skk)
1. A person apparently responsive to psychic forces.
2. See medium.
adj. also psy·chi·cal (-k-kl)
1. Of, relating to, affecting, or influenced by the human mind or psyche; mental: psychic trauma; psychic energy.
a. Capable of extraordinary mental processes, such as extrasensory perception and mental telepathy.
b. Of or relating to such mental processes.

Hmmm .... hardly derogatory Quickie and at least a properly literate person rather than just a dumb cypher should be able to perceive that a psyche and a psychic are entirely different?

Constance Lloyd said...


If you are going to just give online definitions of the terms you use, would you please quote them in full and credit the source?

I just thought that I would cut and paste your definitions into Google for a giggle. So obvious not your own work. But no credit given. Bad boy!

The word psychic (pronounced /ˈsaɪkɨk/; from the Greek psychikos—"of the soul, mental") refers to a proposed ability to perceive information hidden from the normal senses through what is described as extrasensory perceptionSourced by Quickie from Yahoo Answers

Psyche is a word of Greek origin, which etymologically means "breath of life", animating the body. Aristotle spoke of psyché as bios (life).Sourced by Quickie from Wikipedia

Quickie, a bit naughty to change the definition of psyche ! As you have added the additional word ‘from’ , which is not used in any of the online definitions, your definition as it stands is grammatically and definitionally incorrect.

In this case, your comments ARE the weakest link.


Bryan Law said...

Great story, with the subterranean vibes present without being intrusive.

Quickies quirky ramblings tell me that what you are writing is having an impact.

Quickie knows that an attack on you personally may distract from the issues you are writing about. Ditto with the references to party politics, and the false dichotomy between Val Schier and Kevin Byrne, when the real issue is corporate governance, and the failures of CRC staff AND Councillors to manage that governance properly.

The solution? Keep reporting on what’s going and hold the CRC up to the light of enquiry.

Alison Alloway said...

PROFESSOR MARGARET THORNTON of the ANU College of Law has researched and published material on corporate cultures. One research paper, "Corrosive Leadership" (available on the internet) examines the current culture of universities, however her findings can be applied across the wider corporate culture. It's just a thought therefore, would the brief of the QC investigating this "Cash for Comment" incident, involve his/her analysis of the work practices and culture of the CRC?
Or is that beyond the purpose of this investigation? (I don't know).

nocturnal congress said...

mark, the rate rise is only a recommendation. It isn't a fait accomplait. The "Cash for Comment" investigation isn't a waste of ratepayers money either.