Friday 27 August 2010

Cairns community radio corruption continues as secret AGM planned for Monday

Hot on the heels of three Australian Communications and Media Authority rulings that demanded more transparent management and open membership policies, the $300,000 Government-funded Cairns Community Radio station is sneaking through a raft of unconstitutional changes at their AGM on Monday.

Changes include removing membership appeals, and paying committee members.

Over the last year, CairnsBlog has been tireless in investigating and exposing the corruption and lack of openess at the community-run radio station. It appears that the 2010 annual meeting will continue a secret and closed management style, alarming Cairns Regional Councillors, Diane Forsyth and Linda Cooper.

An annual general meeting of a community organisation, is a time to report back to members, the the community it serves. However, the embattled president of Cairns Community Radio, Rod Coutts, who took over the reins at last year's AGM on September 28th, has attracted severe criticism; landed three ACMA investigations; refused to accept any new members, and has supplied no financial reports.

The annual meeting to be held on Monday night at Brothers League's Club, will be a lock-up affair, and any non-members will be barred, including media, according to Coutts. It is expected security will man the door, and check for valid memberships.

However the annual membership renewal process, was handled in such a way that few were eligible to renew at the end of July. During the last 12 months, all attempts for new applications have been flatly refused, with enquiries being referred to the station's lawyer, Thomas Stevens for reply. Estimates are as high as $30,000 in legal fees over the last year, writing to distraught and terminated members.

Monday's meeting is occurring a month early, to circumnavigate the need for a management committee meeting, that is required to action membership applications in advance of a general membership meeting, so voting can be controlled.

A list of things have occurred over the last year to ensure this annual meeting is carefully planned to restrict scrutiny. President Rod Coutts, who was elected for one year under the station's constitution, and treasurer Mimelle Alvero, also Coutts' girlfriend, have assumed another term in their roles, and will not go before any election process on Monday night.

As required under the rules of Incorporated Association, the membership should be advised in writing of a meeting in writing, with any proposed rule changes. This has not occurred, and the same trick was attempted and exposed earlier in the year.

A January meeting of the membership, was called off after a large number of the community were refused access. A subsequent meeting, the only one heard in the last 11 months, attempted to push through constitutional changes without any due process being followed. Cairns Regional Councilor Linda Cooper attended, however was shunned and her attempt to raise a point of order was refused when she highlighted that the process was illegal. During the charade, Rod Coutts' daughter verbally attacked Linda.

The call for nominations for the committee and advice of the AGM, has not been conveyed to the membership in writing, as required by law, and was only posted on the station's website around two weeks ago. Such notice, does not constitute the required notification to membership.

No notification was posted to members, instead a simple statement appeared on the website after the required notification period expired:


    The following financial members of Cairns FM89.1 have been nominated to the following positions:
    1. Vice-President John Fielder
    2. Secretary Julian Serong
    3. Committee members Diane Jensen, Pieter Blaauw, Gary Montagner, and Peter Ricketts.

No mention is made of President, nor Treasurer.

Monday's meeting is expected to be a tightly-controlled affair, and Rod Coutts has yet again said the meeting is "for members only."

Agenda items include proposed changes to the Constitution, however these have not been supplied in advance in writing to the membership, therefore any motions passed, with be invalid. If the station's secretary signs a statutory declaration with the AGM return to the Office of Fair Trading, they will be committing fraud, let alone an offence under the rules of Association.

President Rob Coutts [right] has also advised that "no other business will be discussed" at the AGM. This is yet another breach.

Due to the way in which the annual meeting has come about, it's likely many will be unaware.

Past AGMs have failed to either present financial accounts, or they have had scant detail. If the financial statement and audit report are not signed and available to members on Monday night, the meeting is not valid and will have to be held again.

It is unusual to have the meeting in August. In the past, they have failed to provide signed audited accounts during September, arguing that the auditor had not signed the accounts.

Nominations for committee
There was no call for nominations for the committee. The form for nominations went on the station’s website on the same date as a list of nominations, making the call a farce.
It was posted on the website after 16th June - the last date for receipt of nominations under their constitution.

Cairns Community Radio's constitution currently has two contradictory clauses.

One provides for annual election of all members, the other provides for two-year term. The current committee was elected under these rules and should stand down annually until a decision is made by the membership on the preferred approach. In spite of this, President Rod Coutts and Treasurer Mimielle Alvero have apparently unilaterally decided that they will have a two-year term and are not standing down for re-election.

Substantial changes to the Constitution
The website includes a document called ‘Rules of Cairns Community Broadcasters Inc.’. This is not a copy of the current constitution, but a re-drafted one containing a number of changes. There are in fact hundreds of changes, many in wording and meaning, that have been altered. Every change, has to be presented to the membership for approval.

By failing to circulate written advice to all members, any changes to the constitution, including the terms of the proposed resolution as required by law, and 14 days in advance of the meeting, any changes voted on on Monday night, will not be legal.

Posting the proposed draft constitution on the website, without any qualifications, would only be valid if all changes were clearly identified, and all members had internet access and had been notified at least 14 days in advance of the meeting about the proposed changes. Of course this is not the case.

Neither of these conditions were met. An attempt in March failed for exactly the same reason, and it appears the incompetence of Rod Coutts is repeating itself.

At the March meeting, Rod Coutts tried to justify the then proposed changes to the Consitution by saying that the ACMA had asked for them. However, only one of the constitutional changes - the removal of the need for a proposer and a seconder - is at ACMA's request. The rest are attempts to give more power to the committee at the expense of the rights of members.


There are hundreds of word and meaning changes to the constitution, many not specified nor advised. Others are more overt that are aimed at closing down participation and transparency, something in direct contravention to the last three ACMA rulings the radio station have received.

Some of the dramatic changes include:

  • Removal of the right of members at general meetings to consider appeals against expulsions and refusals of membership. The committee proposes that it alone will decide on these matters, and it alone will consider appeals against its own decisions. This is in conflict with regulations under Queensland law and ‘natural justice' provisions of the law.
  • Changes to the membership term of the committee. In spite of the fact that these changes have yet to be endorsed, the committee is already applying them.
  • Removal of the right of members at general meetings to decide on membership fees. This is proposed to be handed to the committee, which has already sought to increase fees to $25 a year.
  • Provisions to pay members of the committee. Members who were present at the 2009 AGM will remember that the President advised that all committee positions would be voluntary. In spite of that, at least two members are understood to be already receiving a salary or benefits in-kind. This has never been disclosed to members in spite of the promise of ‘openness’ at the AGM.

As a journalist, I attended the 2009 AGM, which was was open to public, however this year, it is closed.

Since January, at least 16 new applications for membership have been refused, following a violent confrontation where membership forms and monies were thrown out the door as Cairns Regional Councilors Linda Cooper and Di Forsyth attempted to attend a January meeting. Pieter Blaauw, who was at the centre of an assault allegation against Councillor Di Forsyth that evening, remains on the committee.

Since then, many existing members have tried without success to obtain receipts for their membership payments. One was told that it was ‘in the mail’ but has not received it a week later. This has been an overt and deliberate method to exclude paid-up members from the AGM, as they will have no proof of membership.

Membership renewals and new applications over the last year, have continually been refused, ignored, denied or referred to the station's lawyer.

There is no evidence of one new member during the last 12 months, but only an active and sustained programme to exclude and discriminate. The AGM was bought forward to avoid considering any new memberships.

A secret CairnsBlog commissioned hidden-video, exposed Rod Coutts and Pieter Blaauw refusing membership. This was the leverage that ACMA used to launch an investigation in late January.

Business at AGM
The agenda for Monday's meeting states that ‘no other business will be discussed’ a statement in opposition to the openness promised at last year's annual meeting by Rod Coutts. More seriously, CairnsBlog has been provided with a legal opinion that any member can raise any issue at the AGM, whether or not notice is given.

Solicitor Aaron Finn of the Townsville Community Legal Service said that members are entitled to place a resolution on the agenda, or even raise the matter as 'any other business' from the floor.

"We consider that this is relatively serious, and if ordinary membership processes cannot resolve the matter, it could be referred to the Office of Fair Trading," Aaron Finn said. "Resolutions raised by members were substantial... relating to financial control.. ought to be considered."

Compliance with Agreed Measures

In December 2009, the Australian Communications and Media Authority directed the station undertake a series of Agreed Measures, following complaints upheld. Nine months later, most of these measures, including simple directives like putting management committee minutes on the website, have been ignored. Although they have until December to fully comply, it is clearly delaying as much as possible for as long as possible.

There are still many ongoing disputes within the station. Over a dozen presenters and the majority of the committee left the Cairns Community Radio in the months following the 2009 AGM. This was in disgust of Coutts' management. The situation has not improved. Another four have also departed or had their program suspended. In no instance has the dispute procedure required under the Codes of Practice been offered.

It's a shocking and sad state of affairs. On top of all this, the on air programming is extremely substandard, and fails to meet the fundamental obligations of a community broadcaster. Both Cairns councillors Cooper and Forsyth are still demanding opening and accountability, and have expressed no faith in the current management.

It's likely that any further complaints lodged with the ACMA will result in a licence suspension or termination. New Leichhardt MP, Warren Entsch, is being asked to mount a Federal investigation into the ongoing affairs and discriminatory membership practices of Cairns Community Radio.


Toorak Radio Watcher said...

What local incorporated body uses a Web page to announce an AGM and disseminate a revolutionary new constitution, without the decency of notifying its long suffering members directly,thus totally ignoring its own rules?

Watch this space for an answer
next Tuesday if you have not worked it out for yourself.

Graham Solider, Clifton said...

So you all were right - it IS a Private club.... and it's ALL about MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How much are they talking in payments / salaries????

Community radio for Cairns said...

What a bloody pathetic joke of an organisation and what a waste of community resources. The sooner ACMA takes the license off them and calls for a community group that can run a community radio station according to the regulations and requirements the better.