Sunday 24 January 2010

Arona's community radio cash cow exposed in Sunday Mail

Love or loathe Gavin King (I'm not in either camp), but you have to thank him for exposing to a State-wide print audience, the corruption of Arona and the influence they had on Cairns community radio over the last decade.
Last week the Sunday Mail entered the debate about the besieged community radio drama that I've been pursuing since September, and focused on the the Arona-controlled committee, that dominated and manipulated access to a valuable community asset.
In part 1 of my expose I showed the connection between the Kuranda rainforest commune with our local community radio station.
Today in the Sunday Mail, Gavin continues the story, largely about what I wrote in Part 2, published on January 2nd, where I outlined the money train that weaved its way up the hill to Arona - thousands upon thousands was not being used for the community where it was intended. It's hard to determine just how much, but could be in excess on $70,000 per year - potentially over a half a million dollars.
I also disclosed that the then ‘Administration Officer’ Niels Briët of Arona, was taking an hourly rate for book-keeping, even though there was already an appointed treasurer, and another hourly rate for computer work, on top of another 10% from every grant application. There is also anomalies for other payments to Briët, one for a cheque of over $8,000 in July last year. As King writes in today Mail, Gillian McKenzie was getting around $20,000 as secretary, and if you get your hands on any of the minutes and see how vague they are, you're see the value for money we were getting. Briët was also recipient of $20,000, however this was coded in the accounts to 'repairs and maintenance.'
I also find it rather odd, that the current president of the station, Rodney Coutts, who closes more meetings than he opens, changed his story from a week ago. Last Sunday when interviewed by the Sunday Mail, Coutts told that newspaper "the Arona-dominated committee left the station in disarray, and he [Coutts] was not aware of the existence of any minutes of meetings or financial records for the 10-year period the Arona sect ran the station."
That's rather odd.
Today Rod Coutts, in discussions with Gavin King, talks about the minutes and financial records that exist from the last ten years. He says that undertaking a forensic audit would "solve the mystery of assets and financial data."
Coutts must be extremely nervous with all this attention and scrutiny. Just three weeks ago, he co-opted John Fielder onto his dysfunctional committee. Fielder is the immediate past president of the Arona-dominated committee that will be investigated, thanks to the pressure being kept up from the mainstream media, and Leichhardt MP Jim Turnour.
Coutts appointing Fielder to the new committee, would be like Val Schier, after being elected in March 2008, asking Kevin Byrne to be her personal assistant. Not that I'm suggesting that Kevin runs around naked in the rainforest, hugs trees and runs dodgy committees, but you get the general idea.
Coutts has deliberately ignored two vital things following the AGM in September late last year. The committee agreed to advertise for a station manager, reputed to be as much as $55,000 annual salary, but he refused to carry out the wishes of that October 5th committee meeting, as he wanted the paid-job for himself, as well as retaining his volunteer committee role.
In discussion with radio member Michael Hyams just before Christmas, Coutts, and his violent side-kick Pieter Blaauw, refused to honor the committee's decision.
"Is the manager’s position being advertised, as it was agreed?" Hyams asked. "No. Why should it be?" Blaauw said.
"No you listen for a change. There was never a manager here, and there is not a manager here now. There will not be a manager. Why should there be? Tell me that Michael. What have these other people be telling you? Are you being advised by other people?," Blaauw said with the support of Coutts.
The committee also agreed to pursue the forensic audit together, gather quotations etc for approval. Coutts ignored that also, and then told the Sunday Mail last week that he knew of no records that existed of the last ten years.
When Cairns Regional Councillor Linda Cooper was in the office with Rodney Coutts just two weeks ago, Coutts showed her boxes of records over that period.
Prior to my November 23, 2009 story, if you did a search on "Arona", or "Arona + Cairns" you wouldn't have found anything. Zilch. Zip. Now a Google search catches numerous CairnsBlog mentions and also Gavin King's writing.
Nice to see the can of dirty worms exposed and hopefully some action happening. Sad to see that the latest issue of the free community newspaper Cairns Bulletin that is out today, has no mention of this important evolving story.
As a side note, I'm in discussions with ABC's Media Watch, who are keen to expose the corruption and the numerous breaches following two ACMA investigations, including the wonderful secret videos from last week. I bet the folk at the boring regulatory ACMA office dropped their Latte when those vids arrived in their inbox last Tuesday morning.
One day soon we may even retrieve all the CDs and no doubt other equipment purchased for Cairns Community Radio, put it on the back of a truck from a Kuranda hideaway and return it to the people of Cairns.

No comments: