Saturday 27 November 2010

WIN TV, very mobile on the job

Thanks to Graham of Clifton Beach, who snapped this just before 3pm today, on the Captain Cook Highway. He assured me he was a passenger when he took the photo, as his mate was driving.

"The driver was on his bloody mobile from the Barron River bridge to just South of the Caravonica roundabout for heaven's sake!" Graham said. "That's an 80 and 100k stretch of road."

It must have been a gripping story WIN was en-route to, with just one hand doing the steering. Don't WIN News provide hands-free mobile kits for their staff? This incident is up there with Heli Charters who were caught out last August doing the same stupid thing.

There's a compelling advert on New Zealand television at the moment, showing a woman talking to her partner, who says "I'm on my way home right now." She then asks him to pick up some milk on the way etc. Moments later the phone call goes dead. The salient message being, when you hear a friend say something that indicates they're driving, you should terminate the call immediately. It's often obvious on a telephone call if someone is driving by the background noise.

I wonder if WIN can track down the caller at 2:56pm today on their company phone? Or maybe it was the office. Doesn't have a nice ring to it.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Earthquakes, mine disaster, a mother, two brothers and a funeral

It's been a crazy, if not surreal, few weeks over here in New Zealand.

Returning home for anyone is often emotional. I hadn't seen mother since mid-2008, and now heading towards 88 years of age, she's slowing down in a dramatic way since I last saw her.

We all get wrapped up in the "now", in our own lives, what we think is important, and what we believe is more pressing because it's right in front of our eyes: local issues, politics, disputes and even saving the environment. All valuable and laudable pursuits.

However there is nothing more grounding than taking stock and smelling the roses, as we often tell others who are running around at light speed, righting the wrongs and making the world a better place. All speed to them.

I won't make this a long piece as in the last 48 hours, my aunt, Dad's sister, passed away at the ripe age of 94. She was born in November 1916. I have been asked to put together a memorial presentation from images and recollections of her long life. It will be presented with Terry Oldfield's A Celtic Blessing, the same haunting and uplifting musice I used for dad's service back in 1997.  I finished putting it all together at 2:15am this morning, as mother slept in the adjoining room. The service for Margaret Moore, or Mardy as she was known to us, will take place just after lunch today in Christchurch.

When I arrived here just on three weeks ago, I was confronted with my mother's dramatic change. There's no doubt I am experiencing in her, signs of forgetfulness, fear and, I suspect, some traits of dementia. Nevertheless, accepting where she's at and how well she's not coping, is all part of life's odd and rich journey.

In the last 12 months, mother's world was turned upside down.  She moved from our family home where I was born 46 years ago, as a direct result of being hospitalised when she became emotionally and physically distraught after Claire, her last surviving sister, passed within weeks of being diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. It triggered a series of events that put her into a spiral. She now resides in a tiny apartment in a care facility, and refuses to believe or understand that the family home has been sold. Fiercely independent after losing Maurice 13 years ago, she's breaking off contact and resisting connections from those that just want to share time and just say hello from her circle of friends.

It's hard to fathom why anyone would, but there's pride deep inside mum that I believe she doesn't want others to see that she and her 'home' has been reduced to this meager existence. Yet she's surrounded bysimilar people who hold onto life and celebrate what they have.  Possessions mean little at this end of life.

I've struggled, but persisted, over the last few weeks, to engage and trek her to notable places from our mutual past. We went to the quaint and remote country St Brigids Church at Loburn in North Canterbury.  She was narried there.  I'll share a moving and dramatic revelation that occurred as we were at the graveside of her mother and father, Greta and Alec. It was nothing short of heart-stopping but delivered in a matter or fact way, as if it was just that right time to share, after all these years.

Such experiences puts life into dramatic perspective.
I think back to the defamation action that Councillor Blake is taking against me, and in the scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. Sure it's important and needs resolving, and I hope that he will assist in a mutual conclusion on my return, but that pails into little meaning when you touch life's rich and special moments. I know Alan is close to his family as well and will relate to what is important in the bigger picture. He'd be inhuman to think otherwise.

I've also felt a number of the aftershocks from Canterbury's amazing earthquake in early September. The 4.9 one on Sunday evening, although nothing like the original 7.1, was still frightening. I've seen the dramatic damage to buildings and the land and met with some of the geo nuts at Canterbury University, including computer programmer Paul Nicholas, who created the live quake map. Also did coffee with local councillors and the boss of Christchurch Tourism, who gave me time to chat and compare Cairns with this region. I'll share those video interviews later.

Since last Friday, like you no doubt, I've been following the excruciating developments with the 29 miners deep in the heart of the South Island's West Coast. As I was leaving the funeral home around 4pm yesterday with mother after seeing Mardy resting, National Radio blurted the news that there was a second explosion, that meant with little doubt, the lads had most definitely perished. Dad was born in Hokitika on the Coast, so I know that area well as we had many a family visit there in out youth.

Whilst here, I've stayed with my brother Chris and his partner Jane, and their two amazing kids, Courteney and Oliver, and also crashed a few nights at mother's small apartment rest home as we spent the smallhours together before bedtime. I've also had the support and help of some amazing people back in Cairns, who helped make my trip possible. I will return soon and continue to share the stories.

So right now, I wear my Pounamu with pride as I head off to send off Auntie Mard, who will rest alongside dad at the Ruru cemetery.

Back to school for at least one Cairns business

Wednesday 24 November 2010

MP dobs in dugong and turtles poachers to police

The names and contact details of poachers illegally catching dugong and turtles in Far North Queensland have been provided to the police and other authorities by Opposition MP Glen Elmes.

Today in State Parliament Elmes will show his frustration after months of what he calls inaction by Minister Kate Jones, and will provide information about the identity of illegal poachers.

"For nearly two years, I have been a part of a campaign aided by my Federal colleagues, Greg Hunt and Warren Entsch as well as Colin Riddell and Bob Irwin, to stop the cruelty to these animals and to halt the illegal trade in their meat products," Glen Elmes says. "At every step, the four Labor Members for Cairns, Barron River, Cook and Mulgrave have ignored or belittled this campaign."

"It is only very recently that the Minister responsible went to Cairns and held a secret meeting. Nothing has been heard from her since. Overwhelmingly, everyone, indigenous and non-indigenous, wants a total moratorium on the taking of dugong and turtles until the surviving numbers are known and a sustainable take for indigenous people by traditional means for traditional purposes can be reinstated."

“Today, I have written to ministers Jones and Mulherin, the commissioners of the Queensland and Federal Police and the Chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and provided them with the names and addresses of two individuals who are responsible for part of the illegal poaching of dugong,” Glen Elmes said. “A small band of campaigners have been able to do what Queensland Fisheries and the 5,500 staff members of the Department of Environment and Resource Management have been unable or unwilling to do."Check Spelling

“Despite being provided with photographs, videos and the discovery of illegal dugong nets Minister Jones has continually denied the existence of the problem and has constantly demanded someone provide her with proof."

“Well Kate Jones, here are the names, here are the addresses — stop trying to sweep this under the carpet and prosecute this matter.”

Elmes said there was enormous support from indigenous and non-indigenous residents for a moratorium on hunting dugong and turtles until numbers of the species can be determined.

“The cruel and inhumane slaughter of these animals must be stopped, but once a moratorium is in place and we have established how many dugong and turtle are left, a sustainable take must be reintroduced for traditional indigenous hunting by traditional means for traditional purposes," Glen Elmes says. “However, the black market for dugong and turtle meat must be shut down. I have given the Minister and the police the means, now I expect action."

“I have asked for an urgent investigation. If that is not forthcoming, I will use the opportunity at the next Sitting of this Parliament in February to name the individuals," Elmes says.

Elmes has been motivated by a long-running campaign by Cairns-based activist Colin Riddell.

'Council is play roulette, could kill cultural precinct' - Cr Pyne

Cairns Regional Councillor Robert Pyne has hit out at those opposing the cultural precinct project are playing nasty politics. He says they're playing roulette that could kill the project.

“I simply cannot believe a majority of councillors will vote to stop this project and return millions of dollars to Brisbane and Canberra," Councillor Robert Pyne said this morning. "This money could be spent here creating jobs here, to build something that would fill a great need into the future.”

"Yes, it does seem silly to play ‘Russian Roulette’ with this project. Then again, we did hear recently that ‘5 out of 6 people enjoy Russian Roulette’. Lets hope there are no bullets in the chamber for the Mossman meeting today."

AT today's Council meeting that will be held in Mossman, the Cultural Precinct will again be discussed. Pyne says the sting is in the tail of the report, which says...
  • "The Action Plan proposes ways of resolving issues raised by Councillors in order for the project to progress.

    Not adopting the Action Plan will prevent the project from proceeding.

    This report specifically addresses the issues raised by Councillors at the Cairns Cultural Precinct Committee meeting of 17 November 2010. These issues will be addressed until resolved through the actions summarised in the Plan.

    Council’s acknowledgement of the issues raised by Councillors and adoption of the proposed actions as outlined for the resolution of those issues is now sought.

Vigil planned for ANZAC Day that has become a lie

In memory of all the casualties of war, an ANZAC Eve vigil in April next year will be held the Cairns Cenotaph on the Esplanade. It will be part of a national action on ANZAC Day.

Local Peace by Peace organiser Bryan Law says the theatre of pro-war spin and ANZAC Day, is wholly captured by government with recent announcements about the revised Australian/US Alliance is timed to coincide with remembrance day that will see a further eulogising of Australian commitment to war in Afghanistan.

Bryan Law says ANZAC Day has become a lie.

The US Alliance

In 2010 Australia is a compliant military servant to the United States of America. More than ever before, we are a reliable component of US global military machinery.

We have been at war in Afghanistan since October 7 2001 - more than nine years. We are part of a US led “Operation Enduring Freedom”. We expect to stay at war in Afghanistan for at least one more decade. Looks more like Operation Enduring Futility. Have we achieved a state of permanent war?

In 2010 the Australian Defence Force is armed, organised, and trained to fight as junior partners with the US in wars of aggression around the world. The USA now has “access” to all ADF bases and facilities. Australia provides rest and recreation, storage, and logistics support for the US Navy, Air Force, and Marines operating around the Indian and south west Pacific Oceans.

Australia gives unqualified political support for US military aggression in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and potentially Iran. The US has exceeded the limits of its economic and military power, but Australia is a loyal servant.

ANZAC Day 2011

ANZAC Day has become an expression of nationalist military pride. The ANZAC story has been revised to suit the US empire. “Our boys” died for “Freedom”. “Our boys” are dying today for “Freedom”. The Afghan men, women and children are dying in their thousands – apparently also for “Freedom”. ANZAC Day has become a lie.

100 years ago, Australia and New Zealand were rustic outposts of the British Empire. We celebrated a common heritage and culture, and we shared a colonial experience. We enjoyed parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. When our young men were called to assist in the military defence of Empire over in Europe they experienced together the murderous folly of industrial warfare – with among other things the first use of chemical weapons and aerial intelligence. It was hell.

It was also a wake-up call exposing the myth of empire. It was a foundation of emerging self-reliance.

The surviving ANZACS returned from Gallipoli and France with a warning to avoid war. One purpose of the original ANZAC Day was to remember the soldiers who’d been put through hell, and to dedicate our country to ways of peace. No more war!

Today, our cousins in New Zealand have very nearly abolished their military defence forces, won’t allow nuclear warship visits, and fight in far fewer US imperial wars around the world.

In contrast Australia has never been so heavily armed, or so aggressive. Australia must now be counted as a militarist state, but it is no longer ANZAC. The ANZAC liturgy is a corruption of Christian teaching...

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. - John 15:13

Every ANZAC Day, war is given Christian legitimacy through the use of John 15:13 When a soldier “lays down his life” for the sake of his comrades on a field of battle, he is said to have made a sacrifice equivalent to that of Christ at Calvary. That is a perversion of Jesus’ revelation.

Which is not to say that soldiers can’t exemplify the graces of courage and comradeship on the field of battle, sacrificing one’s own life for that of friends, family, or innocents. Simpson and his donkey ambulance comes to mind.

But the full message of redemption through sacrifice can’t be understood from a single line of scripture stripped of all context.

John 15:12-14 expands on the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice...

“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you”.

Love one another, even as I have loved you.

The whole purpose of Jesus’ crucifixion is the redemption of humanity. Jesus sacrifices not to punish the sinners, but to channel God’s forgiveness and redeem them. To love them, at the cost of his own life. Jesus exhorts us to do the same. To love one another, to love our enemies.

If nation is warring against nation then Jesus’ commandment has already been refused, and we are guilty of idolatry, worshipping military technology. The personal grace and courage of the soldiers does not justify the evil of their political leaders.

Reclaim ANZAC tradition with a candle-lit vigil

Times change. While the ANZAC legend was being formed there was an active peace constituency in Australia. The Suffragettes, the Catholic church, and the Labor party organised to refuse conscription for WW1. ANZAC Day was as much a popular outpouring of grief, pride and resolve to honour the sacrifice of young Australian men who died, as it was a government initiative.

Today we have instead the theatre of pro-war spin, and an ANZAC Day wholly captured by government. The recent announcements about the revised Australian/US Alliance was timed to coincide with remembrance Day. ANZAC Day 2011 will see a further eulogising of our commitment to our war in Afghanistan. Times change.

The state used to need our participation in war. Then they needed our consent. Today, in the age of media spin and drone bombardment, all they require is our silence.

We need to reclaim ANZAC Day, and turn it back to the memory of the ANZACS.

Starting in 2011 there will be a new citizen initiated component of ANZAC day. An ANZAC Eve vigil will run from sunset to dawn on ANZAC Eve at the cenotaph or the ANZAC memorial in each city and regional centre which participates. There will be a vigil at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Peace by Peace will be organising a vigil at the Cenotaph in Cairns.

Vigils will be candle-lit with lanterns designed by Graham Dunstan. There will be some liturgy and contemplation of John 15, and consideration of what it means to love one’s enemies. All the casualties of war will be remembered – the men, women and children, the social and environmental health, of all the parties.

Participants will have the opportunity to deepen their resolve in the third Millennium after Christ: No more war!
    Monday 25 April 2011
    Cenotaph, Cairns Esplanade
    5pm till dawn

Amnesty film night Thursday

With more than 2,200 political prisoners behind bars in Burma, Amnesty International Australia is presenting an award-winning film this Thursday in Cairns.

Burmese reporters face death when they expose human rights violations in their country. Tracey Foley from Amnesty will also talk about their campaigns and action you can take in Cairns.
  • Cairns City Library (meeting room 1). corner Aplin and Abbott Streets.
    6pm - Thursday 25th November (doors open 5.30pm)
    Refreshments provided.
    Voluntary gold coin donation on entry towards Amnesty International Australia.
    More info: Jai on 0425 278 408

Cairns Chamber embraces new media with new president

It's great to see incoming Cairns Chamber of Commerce president, Anthony Mirotsos, starting video blogging.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Cairns vet starts blogging

Cairns Veterinary Clinic, that runs a surgery at Manoora, Aeroglen and Gordonvale, have set up a blog.

It also lists photos of animals looking for a home from the RSPCA shelter.

I've added them to the Cairns BlogRoll, that you can find in the sidebar.

Monday 22 November 2010

Use condoms, says the Pope

I thought the best contraception was simply walking through a supermarket at 6pm and hearing constant screaming nauseating young children and babies.

Apparently not. According to the big Pope guy, Benedict has said that condoms are not a moral solution, but in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility," Pope Benedict said.

Who would have thought. If only some parents of our Councillors wore protection all those years ago...

Pike River Mine disaster grips New Zealand

Those following the Pike River mine disaster on New Zealand rugged South Island West Coast, will have learn't little, as there has been no progress at all on the situation in three days for the 29 trapped.

This morning's Press in Christchurch, where I still am, shows a grimed-faced Tony Kokshoorn, Greymouth's mayor, saying things are not looking good.

"There is a realisation that with every day that ticks by, things become even worse," Kokshoorn said.

Sadly, he's right. This mine accident is not comparably to the Chilean rescue, in that the Pike mine has dangerous and volatile gas, and it appears not be dissipating.

NZPA reported this morning...
  • Prime Minister John Key says he is praying that the 29 men trapped at Pike River are safe.

    “I just pray to God that they are alive,” he said. "Obviously we need to begin a rescue as soon as we practically can, and we just pray that they have managed to secure an oxygen source.”
Pray to god? A commenter on KiwiBlog said that some local primary schools just banned Christmas, and questioned if teachers would find it appropriate for the Prime Minister to offend the Muslims, Buddhists and other religions like this? The tragedy aside, it's an interesting question, even as a lapsed Catholic. No where's my halo...

However, I suspect many Kiwis will be praying for a good outcome, but the delay of any rescue commencing, is not promising a positive outcome.

Here's what Russell Smith said, one of the two escaping survivors said, following the blast...
  • “Because I wasn’t as far up … the explosion wasn’t as bad for me. It just bowled me over and knocked me unconscious and someone dragged me about 300 metres, brought me around and then two of us held each other to get out of the mine.”

    Mr Smith described the explosion as quick and without heat or smell.

    “I just remember seeing a flash of something in front of me and then the concussion hit me. It wasn’t just a bang. It just kept coming, kept coming, kept coming.
    So I crouched down as low as I could in the seat to try to get behind this metal door [on the loader he was driving] to stop being pelted with all this debris … I just couldn’t breathe and that’s the last I could remember and then someone found me about 15 minutes or so later.”

    Mr Smith said the next thing he remembers is looking out of the ambulance as it was driving into Greymouth.
As is now the case with most traditional media, they jump off to social networking sites to fill in the news. Ben Rockhouse, the younger brother of Daniel who escaped and rescued Russell Smith, who was thrown is one on the trapped 29 miners. Ben and Daniel's father is the mine's safety and training manager. On his Facebook page last Thursday, the day before he entered River River Mine for his shift, he scribed the following prolific message...
  • I'm sick and tired of being so fucking accident prone. Can't go a day without hurting myself or a month without almost dieing -.-
It has also emerged that a West Coast geologist warned in a report three years ago about the threat of a gas explosion at Pike River...
  • "A pit bottom with deep, highly gassy coals and the associated risk of "outburst", or gas or water-pressure- forced explosions, outwards at the coalface. The presence of an active fault that needed to be crossed underground with a zone of considerable and sustained ground stresses.
    A degree of uncertainty about the difficulties in accessing the resource due to geological structure, plus the risk of environmental damage from subsidence and "acid mine drainage".
No rescue attempt has commenced as yet.

In 1995, 14 school children and teachers died when a scenic viewing platform collapsed into a 30-metre chasm in Paparoa National Park, not far from Pike River. The Minister of Conservation resigned over claims of negligence.

Meanwhile, 28 miners are trapped in a underground flood yesterday, in southwestern China, in the latest accident involving the country's disaster-prone mines, considered the deadliest in the world.

Saturday 20 November 2010

What Kevin Byrne said to John Mackenzie

Former Cairns Mayor Kevin Byrne was on John Mackenzie's radio show on Thursday, putting in his two cents worth about the planned cultural precinct, planned for the waterfront.

Byrne says he's been following the debate from PNG, where is is working, and says it is good the project could be scaled down. Hillbilly Watch covered the antics, saying that Byrne has, by speaking out, tipped the balance in favour of the cultural precinct supporters and Mayor Schier.

In June, Kevin wrote to the Cairns Post editor, in a private letter I published.

Looks like this is all part of Kevin's re-election campaign for 2012.

Here's the conversation.

JOHN MACKENZIE: Well this is interesting, you might remember yesterday, somebody or other on the talk show raised a name from the past, former mayor, Kevin Byrne, I've just looked up at the screen, and there's his name there, calling in from PNG. Kevin, good morning.

KEVIN BYRNE: Good morning, John.

JOHN MACKENZIE: Thanks for calling. This is interesting. Are you going to comment at all on the Cultural Precinct? I'm wondering how much information might have filtered up there over the last 24 hours?

KEVIN BYRNE: Oh look, John, a lot, yes I do, that's why I'm ringing in, one of the great things about living in the modern age, apart from mobile phones and you know, computers and so on, is the fact that, God bless them, I can get the Cairns Post on line…


KEVIN BYRNE: …I've subscribed on line, and I read the paper every day, and you know, it's wonderful, so yeah, I get in and read the paper every day, and you know, you can read letters to the editor, and I've been following this out of interest, because I noticed the other day, there was an article where the mayor was refuting some assertions made, and thankfully they're around, the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the president there, who's trying to keep the debate honest, and on an even keel, and in that article she made reference to the fact that, you know, I had four studies into a civic theatre, well, I didn't.

Anyway, I wrote a letter to the editor, I hope they print it, in relation to getting back to the truth about that.

But yes, I have been following it, and I was very pleased to see in the paper today that commonsense may be rearing its wonderful head, because we're scaling back on what was really quite an outrageous plan…

JOHN MACKENZIE: I'd like your views, as a former mayor, on the selection of that site on the waterfront, behind Wharves Four, Five and Six, it's become quite controversial.
Now it wasn't the most important issue earlier on, it took about a month, I think, to emerge as a prominent issue, originally it was the cost that horrified people most, but the site now has become quite an important issue in the light of proposals put forward first by Warren Entsch, and later by Alan Blake, for an alternative actually interfacing with the existing Convention Centre, what's your view on the selection of that waterfront site?

KEVIN BYRNE: Look, I - the waterfront site is a wonderful site, but there are other, in my opinion, other priority uses for that waterfront land. When the council that I was privileged to lead, was embarking on the process to - and I'll talk about the timing for this, because if we had have stayed, we probably would have been opening the door to a new civic theatre now, when we did the site analysis study, we went to the Cairns Port Authority and said, what have you got to throw into the mix?

The site where they want to propose it now, that the State Government is virtually blackmailing the council to accept, was not in the mix, it was required for future port uses. The site where their current offices are, was not in the mix, because it was too early, and they hadn't decided what they were going to do, and in fact said that if they were going to do anything, they would put it out to tender for a convention hotel site, which makes sense, given its location to the convention centre.

So we eventually went out and we had a study done on a number of sites, I think there were four or five in all, and it came back to the site that we subsequently purchased, and that was the one adjacent to the Cairns Convention Centre, next to stage one and two of the William McCormack State Government buildings in that precinct there.

We were quite happy with that, because what people need to understand is that you can't retrofit a civic theatre, because it takes two years, and you can't retrofit it without closing it down, and we realised that we couldn't close down a civic theatre in a city like Cairns for two years, I mean there'd be uproar, and a legitimate outcry, so you're really forced into a new green fields site.

So we were quite happy with the site we purchased, and in fact my current feeling is that we should be redeveloping and putting a new civic - sorry, not redeveloping, but putting a new civic theatre on the site that we had originally purchased.

JOHN MACKENZIE: Yes, which is still in the ownership of the council, I understand?

KEVIN BYRNE: Yes, it is, but I understand that they want to sell it, and I guess, you know, they're talking about pooling money to build a car park, I mean we were going to get two bangs with the same buck there, because we were going to build a civic theatre, and also provide 600 car spaces that could be used, or would be used by day, for inner city workers, so it was a dual outcome, if you like. But…

JOHN MACKENZIE: You're not keen on the alternative put forward, well, similar alternatives by different plans admittedly by Entsch and Blake, they both favour the site of the current Port Authority building, which was a temporary construction anyway, which actually would interface with the Convention Centre?

KEVIN BYRNE: Either/or, John, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other, one's one side, and the other's the other side. No, I don't think that's an issue, you know, as long as that site is big enough for a suitably proportioned civic theatre.

See, what people need to understand is that the previous council had planned to build a Civic Theatre, we went to the election in 2008 with that as a policy, the Opposition's policy, the mayor's policy and her team, was they were going to retrofit and develop on site the current Civic Theatre, this represents a huge departure from that position that they went to the council - went to the election on.

Our proposal was essentially that we would build a facility that had an 1100 seat auditorium, wonderful break-out facilities, adjacent to the Convention Centre, so you can go either way, I'm not too fussed about which side, but it provided that car parking alternative that the inner city needs, and was affordable.

The State and the Federal Government - it's not really a Federal Government issue funding this sort of infrastructure, but the State weren't too keen on putting any money into it, but we had enough as a council to go it alone, provided that it was held at around about $80 to $85 million.
And they're basically the plans that we had drawn, and the idea was we'd have the election, then immediately after the election we'd get some final designs done, and call tenders, and start towards the end of 2008, which meant that we would be opening the doors of a Civic Theatre now, the construction would have taken place during that dreadful period with the economic crisis, or the peak of that, and we'd have a theatre that was affordable, but at the same time, the State and Federal Government, who have come up and said that, you know, they're going to put some money in it, would have assisted in the payment of it, so we would have had a far better outcome.

The issue now we have is just - this issue has divided the community…

JOHN MACKENZIE: Well quite clearly, let me ask you, if you had been mayor, how would you have done it differently? One of the - there's three major points we're talking about here, people don't like the cost, people don't like the site - well four, actually, people don't like the sort of loose designs that have been put forward, they don't like the site, they don't like the cost, they above all, Kevin, do not like the process.

Now people who were critical of you and your council use the term arrogance. I'm hearing today this replacement council, if you like, the successive council, has turned arrogance into an art form, compared with the reputation of your council, how differently would you have approached this whole issue?

KEVIN BYRNE: Well, yeah, I mean that's an interesting comment, John, and one that I accept. We were perceived to be arrogant because we actually made decisions, and got things done, and got on with trying to produce a good community.

Yes, no council is perfect, but the reality is in this particular instance, this has been just thrust on the community, I mean the volcano concept came out of the blue, it was an announcement made completely out of the blue, without reference to council, nothing, I think Desley Boyle, Val Schier, Clive Skarrot and maybe a minister, could have been Paul Lucas, had this great photo op, all the stuff was done behind closed doors, and suddenly it was a fait-accompli.

Now you've got the State Government saying listen, kids, if you don't accept this block of land, you accept nothing. I'll tell you why - what hasn't been told yet is the State Government has got no money to put into this, it's all about, we'll give you some land, and everybody's jumped behind this, and I must say there's been a hell of a lot of whip-up by the Cairns Post and others about, isn't this wonderful, this grand $250 million vision?

Nobody ever sat down and said, where's the money going to come from, and how are we going to afford to pay it?

I mean I've been around - I was around Local Government for 11 years, and involved in budget processes and so on, I can tell you, any person that says we're going to borrow $50 million, and $80 million, or whatever the figure happens to be, and it's not going to affect the budget bottom - it's not going to affect your rates, is talking through their hat.


KEVIN BYRNE: It is just so far from reality, it's not funny. The other thing that we also need to understand is the easy part is to build these things, the council has to maintain it. You just have a look at the tennis courts up the end of the street on the way to the airport, up the end of Sheridan Street, a wonderful facility, I was there a week ago, I had a week's break a couple of weeks ago out of PNG, and I drove past it on a dozen occasions, and I don't think I saw one person playing tennis, by day.

So it's all very well to talk about these wonderful facilities, but let's remember, Cairns is a community of 160,000 people, stretching from the Bloomfield River, to Miriwinni, and we have to cut our cloth, and we have to make sure that whatever pieces of infrastructure we put into this community, we can pay for, and that we consult widely about how we do it.
This was just basically thrust on the community of Cairns like a dose of cod liver oil you took from the end of a dessert spoon from your mother when you were four years of age, whether you liked it or not, open up, swallow this, and let's get going. And I mean the community's just over that.

JOHN MACKENZIE: Now, the $40,000 question, Martin Tenni said on this program a few weeks ago he had information that you may indeed be cobbling together a team to have a crack at the election in what, about 17 months time, March, 2012, are you in a position today to talk about your future plans in that regard?

KEVIN BYRNE: Look, I haven't consulted the ones that are near and dear to me, like my two beautiful ladies on this, but John, I've always said, and I said it last time when I was out of action for a while, or missing in action, whichever - I think a whole group of people want
me to be missing in action, never to be found [laughs], but I've always said that I never rule anything in, or anything out, I have a great love and a passion for the City of Cairns, I am not happy with what's happened, I mean there's nothing worse than ex-politicians sticking their oar in the water, and I've deliberately stayed out of most things, because of that, but the reality is that that's an option for me in the future.

At the moment I'm actively employed, I go to work with a spring in my step every day, I have a lot of challenges in my life, you know, I'm enjoying what I'm doing, I'd love to be doing it out of Cairns, I enjoy what I'm doing though, and I will review my position, as I've always said, in the first half of next year.

JOHN MACKENZIE: Alright, and thanks for talking to me today, from PNG, former mayor, Kevin Byrne.

Quote for the day

"Would it be inappropriate for Oliver Bligh to use, 'Ima fuck you like my mother fucked Queensland' as a pickup line during schoolies?"
- From a Facebook friend who wished to remain anon!

Friday 19 November 2010

27 trapped in Pike River mine explosion

At around 4:30pm New Zealand time, there was a massive explosion at the Pike River coal mine, on the West Coast of the South Island.  The mine is situated between Greymouth and Reefton. 

Only two miners have emerged out, with 27 still trapped.  There has been some reports that there is one death at this stage. A gas caused the explosion.

Pike River, which employs 150 miners, is a horizontal mine, not a vertical shaft, which will facilitate the rescue. The main tunnel is 2.3 kilometres below the surface. It only opened just over a year ago.

This incident comes after similar accidents in Chile and China in recent weeks, however unlike a collapse, this explosion is, probably caused by methane, produces carbon monoxide, which is extremely poisonous. As a reader reminded me, this is where the canary in the coal mine comes in as canaries are famously sensitive to such gases. These miners have a breathing unit to put on for this to get themselves to a refuge station where there are oxygen supplies.

There has been no powered ventilation since 3:45pm Friday. There has been no communication with the missing miners.

Howard signs his way through Cairns

A line up of right thinking Howardites and even some leftie liberals, all came to see John Howard in Cairns yesterday.

"It was great to see him and get his book," an LNPer told CairnsBlog, who asked to remain unidentified, for fear of being outed as a Howard supporter.

"We've moved on, but there's still heaps of us who love him, if you know what I mean."

Howard's autobiography Lazarus Rising: A Personal and Political Autobiography has received acclaim and also some raw description of his former treasurer, Peter Costello.

Around 7,500 copies have already been sold.

Shona Martyn of HarperCollins said she's thrilled that the book has debuted at number-one non-fiction.

"This is a well-written, highly readable and important book, and early word-of-mouth is reflecting this. Reaction to Mr Howard at events has been extremely positive, with individual people buying multiple copies," Martyn said.

A second reprint of Lazarus Rising will take the number in print to 75,000 copies.

Have you purchased a copy?

Councillor Gregory won't take defamation against CairnsBlog

Yesterday I blogged about the inaugural Cairns Regional Council standing committee meeting for the cultural precinct, and the absolute circus the debate is becoming.

I quoted Councillor Paul Gregory, saying that he suggested council should return the $40 million offer to the Federal Government. I heard this directly from the Mayor and other Councillors. It was also mentioned on ABC radio I understand.

However, Paul says he said no such thing, and telephoned me to confirm this. In an email to all councillors and the CEO late yesterday, Paul Gregory wanted his colleagues to know the facts.

"There has been a suggestion that a councillor stated yesterday that the money for the Cultural Precinct "should be sent back"; this suggestion came from the Mayor on ABC radio this morning," Councillor Gregory wrote. "It has also been made and attributed to me on Michael Moore's CairnsBlog."

"This is patently untrue, and can be verified by listening to the relevant part of the audio tapes of the meeting (which I have done). It was shouted out by a member of the gallery sitting directly behind me while I was speaking. I will be asking for a retraction from Mike," Paul said.

Of course, I'm a nice and easy fella to negotiate with, given reasonable and timely communication. Such dialog also displays a gracious and courteous act on behalf of the person that feels aggrieved or mis-represented.

Now Paul and I don't have the same political leanings on every issue, of that I'm certain. However his communication with me since being re-elected in 2008, has always been open and positive. He's always responded when I've asked for a comment about any issue. I recall Paul approached me on the day of Council's investiture in April 2008 and raised some issues. I also remember his partner, who was by his side, was not impressed with the way Paul had been represented on CairnsBlog. We discussed things, and I took on board his concerns.

Following yesterday's attribution on CairnsBlog to Paul, I corrected the error as soon as he contacted me. I also cheekily asked if he wanted to take out defamation proceedings, a quip in relation to Councillor Blake's $350,000 case against me.

"Absolutely of course!" Paul responded, with a sarcastic reply.

Councillor Gregory said he took "no offence" at the error, as the person who bellowed out the remark was right behind him, sitting in the public gallery.

"[It's] probably an easy mistake for Val to make," Paul said. "Which is why I asked for no apology, just to get rid of it."

I share this tale because it shows you how a small comment, that was originally attributed to a Councillor and may have defamed his character, was dealt with promptly and respectfully. Paul in fact comes out of such a situation with a greater respect and integrity for the way he dealt with it. It wasn't adversarial, just professional.

Of course Councillor Alan Blake could have taken a similar course of action, but never picked up the phone. There's a lesson in all this.

Even though Paul asked for no apology: Paul, I'm sorry for suggesting you would even utter such things. Thanks for allowing me to put it right.

Indigenous Ergon employee wins reinstatement in 'discrimination' case

In August I wrote about Tommy Sebasio, who was taking on Ergon Energy over what he saw as unfair dismissal and treatment that disadvantaged him, after serving the company for 20 years.

In a dispute that has raged on for a year, Ergon have been ordered to reinstate Sebasio immediately. They will not appeal the decision, in what has perceived as a publicly embarrassing indigenous discrimination case.

Tommy Sebasio was employed as an electrical fitter mechanic, and recently, was promoted to manager at the Bamaga power station. A year ago, Ergon fired Sebasio, after he failed to complete an improvement plan.

In a decision handed down from Fair Work Australia, has ordered Ergon Energy Corporation to reinstate Tommy Sebasio.

"This determination relates to an application made by Mr Tommy Sebasio for an unfair dismissal remedy on the grounds that the termination of his employment from Ergon Energy Corporation was harsh, unjust and/or unreasonable," Commissioner Paul Spencer ruled.

Ergon terminated Sebasio, predominantly related to his failure to perform administrative tasks. He will be re-instated to another position, on the same pay, however will not be paid for the year he has been out of work. Between 1989 and 1995 Sebasio was the sole employee at the Bamaga power station. In 1995 a second employee was added, and another in 2006, who was shared with Ergon's operation on Thursday Island.

Commissioner Spencer questioned why Mr Sebasio had not engaged in a performance improvement plan, called it "remarkable" and "raises questions as to why that had occurred."

"It may have been attributable in some way to [Sebasio’s] complaints of exclusion, resentment, communication and cultural issues that he alleged he was experiencing," Commissioner Spencer said. "It is more than odd that an employee with more than 20 years of service who is dedicated to all of his other duties would fail to engage at all in a process that he is aware may lead to his termination."

"It is further puzzling why there was not an early intervention into this process to identify the cause of his lack of engagement," Spencer said.

The Commissioner questioned Ergon's senior manager, and asked if they visited the Bamaga station "to assess his environment and to determine whether there was substance to the issues." Mr Farmer confirmed the time he spent at the Bamaga Power Station was extremely limited. When asked whether he had ever travelled to Bamaga, he responded:

“Not whilst I’ve been at Ergon – sorry, yes, I have. We done a careers expo in Bamaga," Mr Farmer said. When question when was that, he said: "I can’t remember off the top of my head. It was 2008, 2009. We done two expos up there."

Sebasio was promoted to the position of station manager, even though he was undertaking the duties of this position, but not fulfilling all of the administrative obligations. However, the Commissioner noted, the promotion was in title only, as he did not receive any increase in entitlements and was told he would not until he improved his administrative tasks.

The Fair Work commissioner ruled that Farmer’s management style was "abrasive and his concentration of calls did not work to resolve the issues that Sebasio said he was experiencing." The hearing suggested that to prevent the interplay of potential cultural issues, senior Ergon staff from Cairns, should immerse themselves in the environment.

"This is not a cultural response but would have assisted in assessing [Tommy Sebasio’s] circumstances," Commissioner Spencer said. "Neither Brand nor Farmer did this, their visits to Bamaga were fleeting and they were preoccupied with other issues and then they managed [Sebasio] remotely from Cairns. Mr Farmer in particular did not address the Bamaga operational and staffing issues."

Local Electrical Trades Union organiser, Stuey Traill, who campaigned against Sebasio's dismissal, was estatic about the decision.

"The bloke is a legend," Traill said. "It's the best outcome for so many reasons. This decision vindicates our campaign and our legal action through the Unfair Dismissal trial process, a process that has seen Tommy Sebasio without an income for 12 months.”

“Now we can negotiate the specific role that Tommy will perform for Ergon in his community for his people" Traill says. "Tommy can hold his head high and return to the job he is extremely good at, with the respect that he deserves."

Stuey Traill says this case proves that employees in remote and isolated areas need to be given the same amount of support that employees in major centers receive.

“I am proud to be associated with Tommy and congratulate him on his return to work and for the strength that he has shown through this whole process.”

Sebasio said that through his formal education and family upbringing in a remote community, he became acutely aware of the struggles of the indigenous race in Australia.

"I recognised parallels in other countries, oppressed races with their own struggles," Tommy Sebasio said. "Some of them were worse off than I, so I didn’t complain too much, I waited for change. Things did change for me. I starting working in the electrical industry.

Sebasio credits joining the Electrical Trades Union with the positive outcome.

"I joined the ETU as soon as I could, because I heard and believed that my rights at the workplace would be looked after by this mob," Tommy Sebasio said. "The Union felt like family. My workplace evolved with the union representing my rights. It became safer and I felt secure. Bargaining agreements were negotiated and I had a say through my vote as the member of the union. I liked this, it felt good, I felt equal."

"When tested the union stood up for me. They represented me and by that representing all the members and their family. I felt that this was bigger than just about me. To me the union is family. I am proud to belong to this mob," Sebasio said.

Tommy was born in Bamaga, and lived most of his life there. The residents of the communities are predominantly Torres Strait Islander or Aboriginal. He is a respected figure in the community and he spoke five languages including Torres Straits Creole; Western Torres Strait Islander; Eastern Torres Strait Islander; and Local Aboriginal English.

Talking from Bamaga this morning, Tommy Sebasio said the decision was surreal, and that large companies like Ergon, can't get away with actions like this.

"The first person I thanked was my mum. She was praying very hard for me," Sebasio said. "It was natural for me to stand up against Ergon, because of what has happened to my people in the past. Our elders that served in World War 2, weren't paid properly. Those issues came up. There was another mob, called DCS money, that were never paid to us, so when this sort of thing happens, you stand up."

"I see this as natural justice. I spoke to someone on Facebook, and he congratulated me, however I said to think about what happened to us in the past, and thank all the principles our elders have," Tommy Sebasio said.

Although Ergon will say this was never a dispute about cultural issues, the clashes the led to Sebasio's termination a year ago show that the company had little understanding in working with indigenous communities and the difficulties that are faced in remote Aboriginal towns throughout Cape York.

The case of Ergon and Tommy Sebasio is a perfect example of corporations not understanding how to work productively with indigenous employees.

In August, to assist the ETU's application at the Fair Work hearing CairnsBlog author Michael Moore travelled to Bamaga to talk with locals about Tommy Sebasio’s termination. You can see more on the CairnsBlog YouTube channel...

Thursday 18 November 2010

Marriage for some, not for others

With the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in the headlines, Britons are overjoyed. Some Australians however, are not celebrating and are calling for marriage equality under law for all couples.

Nick Thompson of the Cairns LGBTI Alliance, is helping co-ordinate a rally this Saturday at City Place, at 1pm.

As a member of the Labor Party, Nick Thompson offers both brickbats and bouquets to Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, who has given support for advancing Federal support for gay and lesbian Australians.

"There are parts that I praise Warren, [and parts] that are critical of him," Nick Thompson says. "Warren Entsch’s comments on broader equality measures regarding same sex couples and gender identity, are welcomed and greatly appreciated, particularly those relating to red tape, Medicare rebates, and the transgender community, as well as appropriate aged care facilities for
LGBTI seniors."

However, Entsch's latest call that creating legislation to allow same sex couples to marry is ‘provocative’ and less important, or getting in the way of these other reforms, is very concerning and incorrect, Nick Thompson says.

"Wedging the equality debate by saying some things are more important than others, or measuring what equality is more important than other forms of equality is a logic that does not add up," Thompson says. "Governments should be reforming every aspect of discriminating
legislation to create fair equal systems that don’t exclude anyone based on sexuality relationship status, or gender identity or penalises them based on this."

"Perhaps Warren should act on his call for an advisory group to better inform himself of what the community actually wants rather than trying to skirt around the issue of same sex marriage by incorrectly suggesting there are other ‘more important’ areas of social reform that require attention," Nick Thompson says. "They are all important and they are all possible,"

He says that Warren Entsch has a strong track record on gay equality issues, however playing different segments of the community against each other, so that he doesn’t have to act on same
sex marriage, is a political move that has not gone unnoticed and is immensely disappointing.

"The speeches in Federal parliament relating to same sex marriage from both major political parties, including Warren Entsch the member for Leichardt, have been incredibly heartening for the LGBTI community who are advocating for full equality," Nick Thompson says.

This Saturday's rally at City Place in Cairns, will be an opportunity for these issues to be aired. Nick Thompson says it's been six years since both major political parties have excluded same sex couples from the federal marriage act.

"It’s integral that supporters of same sex marriage from the Far North keep the pressure on parliament regarding the decision to exclude same sex couples from the marriage act and the rally is the perfect opportunity for people to do so," Thompson says.

First cultural planning meeting turns into circus

The first public meeting of Cairns Regional Council's new standing committee for the Cultural Precinct, turned into a sham yesterday.

The proposed Cairns Cultural Precinct, that now has State and Federal backing, along with the support of the State Land owner, Ports North, has caused a storm in recent months, even though Council unanimously decided to back the project, the planned waterfront site, and engage the community in extensive consultation of an 18 month period.

The conservative lobby of Councillors Bonneau, Blake, Gregory and Cochrane, attempted to hijack the proceedings at the inaugural standing meeting. They decided that they would not even vote to "note" the report from the Project Control Group, which caused a rebuke from the Mayor.

"I suggested that they could pretend that they hadn't read it and ignore the hour long discussion we'd just had," Mayor Val Schier told CairnsBlog.

It appears now that such behaviour is simply showing these councillors up as grandstanding and trouble-makers, in light of the prior decision where the Council voted unanimously to support the project at the waterfront site.

The councillors stacked the meeting with dissenters including Martin Tenni who heckled from the back. Notably, the predicable anti-Val team of Robin and Niki Johnston, was there of course. A few supporters, such as Maurice Milliner of the Yorkeys Knob Residents' Association, valiantly applauded during the politically-charged two and a half hour meeting.

One of the agenda items gave the extensive history of consultation and feasibility studies over the past 16 years, yet this was largely ignored by those in opposition to the cultural precinct project.

The mood of the opposing councillors at the meeting was adversarial. Someone in the public gallery went so far to suggest that Cairns Regional Council should return the $40 million back to the Federal Government. Such an idea could be seen nothing more than a sick joke in the current unemployment situation that the region is still experiencing.

Councillor Di Forsyth says she was shocked by the "disrespectful, and at times, belligerent behaviour" of some of the people in the public gallery. She wondered what was their agenda.
"I felt sorry for the people in the gallery who were there because they genuinely wanted to find out more about the Cultural Precinct and were interested in hearing how the project was developing," Di Forsyth told CairnsBlog. "My concern also was for Council staff who have put in so much time and effort over a very long period of time to ensure Cairns has the best possible performing arts centre and museum, for now and 50 years into the future."
The mid-afternoon meeting time also was questioned for restricting interested residents attending.

"Some suggested to me that more people who genuinely want to participate in the planning process, to make this an exciting world class facility, would attend if we had the meetings at a later time," Di Forsth said.

Forsyth says the project is worth fighting for, as it's a significant and a very important development for the community of Cairns.

"Who remembers the criticism of Tom Pyne and his council when they agreed to build new Council Chambers in Spence Street? They then called is Tom's white elephant," Forsyth said. "And let's not forget the lagoon and Esplanade developments. I would like to personally thank Tom and his Council for having the guts and foresight to stand firm and overcome the negative and often unfounded criticisms, and thus leaving a legacy that we can feel proud of. The Esplanade is now much loved by locals and tourists alike."

Councillor Robert Pyne was more direct in his criticism.

"If Council can not deliver these much needed projects, due to such dysfunctional behaviour – the Minister should seriously considering dismissing the whole Council and appointing an Administrator," Rod Pyne said. "That may be her only alternative."

At yesterday's meeting, Councillor Gregory again backed the idea for a different site, something Councillor Blake has been leading the campaign for, yet in contradiction, both voted to support the project and the waterfront location in a previous Council meeting.

The Cairns Ports North chief has also come out in support of Council's intention to utilise the waterfront site.

The Cairns Cultural Precinct has been planned, talked about and discussed around the Council table, for over 16 years. It is hoped that we can get on with building the Performing Arts Centre - the first stage of the precinct - on the waterfront land gifted to Council by the State Government, in the next year. We should be taking advantage of the $40 million dollars promised by both Federal and State Governments, and create a facility that we will all be proud of, and at the same time, creating jobs for hundreds of people.

These continual obstructions have nothing to do with good decision making, and more about narrow-minded political games.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Cairns government staff terminated weeks before Christmas

Up to 40 Cairns-based BioSecurity Queensland staff have been terminated in the last two days, in a sudden decision just weeks before Christmas.

There are claims that the funding of the jobs was due to a total mis-management of the department.

The staff, working with the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries based in Portsmith, included field officers, laboratory, a mapping officer, and even some data entry administration staff. It is believed that most were on a casual contract, however many had been employed on a permanent casual arrangement since 2008 and were told there was funding for their roles.

Staff who talked with CairnsBlog said they were shocked at the decision. Some learnt of termination by a telephone call midday Monday.

According to some staff who didn't wish to be named, there was a "complete mis-management of the funding" for the field staff programme, working on projects like the Asian honey bees and the electric ant eradication programmes.

There were around 20 field staff employed on the Asian honey bees programme since February 2010. All have been terminated, even though they were given assurances they would be employed till the end of the year, with the likelihood there would be work past this date.

The inspection field staff funding is approved in six month periods. January appointments were told in April it was likely to be extended. By May staff were again informed that there was "definite funding" for the programme until the end of December.

While staff knew there may be some cuts due to increase in nests found, they weren't expecting all to be cut. Long-term casuals were expecting to retain their jobs. As they were all on casual employment arrangements, there is no notice period pay out or holiday pay. All pay ceased on Monday.

There is a story doing the rounds that the State government apparently have a "don't fire anyone 30 days short of Christmas" policy. I wonder if that's true?

The DPI and BioSecurity Queensland would have known funding was concluding and should have kept their staff informed well in advance. Instead we now have all these people competing with the school leavers for any casual work to get through the Christmas period.

Here we have a Department, operating under a State Labor Government who made election promises for "Anna's 100,000 new jobs," yet these workers were not even given one day's notice. No doubt many of these folk have mortgages, car loans, credit cards etc, and were expected that their employment would have finished them all up at Christmas, or at least given a sufficient notice period so they had a chance to plan ahead.

In a town where unemployment is already a massive issue, we have a government department, unable to run a budget properly that has resulted in a firing just under 40 people, with no notice, weeks before Christmas.

Following all the terminations on Monday, one of the full time staff who was kept on, said they were given a two-hour "crash course" on data entry. The person was told that any data entry or research done from now until the end of the year, will "probably be disregarded anyway" because they sacked all the people trained in the data entry jobs. This effectively displays that the research methodology that DPI in Cairns are using, is flawed.

Last Thursday, all the field staff were told that there was an issue with funding and not to come in on Friday, and that it would be dealt with on Monday.

"Come in on Monday and we will see what happens" a senior staffer told the fired workers.

Laboratory, mapping and data entry staff were also called in Thursday afternoon and told funding had run out. They were told hours would be reduced to half until Christmas, when they would finish up. However on Monday, they were all fired, effective immediately.

There remains the four team leaders who are shell-shocked by the sudden developments. One permanent field staff, one compliance officer and the manager, Wim De Jong, who's only known qualification is as a bee keeper. Some staff told CairnsBlog that he is not well-liked within the local bee community. "He has little or no science background, and shouldn't be in charge" one staffer said, with some labeling the programme a "joke". De Jong wound the programme back in 2007, which was widely said to give Asian Honey bees time to swam to out of control levels.

Since 2007, there have been over 200 positive sites discovered around Cairns, including swams or nests that have been positively identified. It is believed that the DPI have not had proper science involved in relation to tracking and predicting the bees at all.

Australia is the last country, apart from Antarctica, to not have the destructive Varroa mite that can kill a honey bee colony.

Freebody's waterpark plan a 'litany of broken promises'

A former Mulgrave Councillor has launched an attack leveled at waterpark developer Paul Freebody, predicting his planned $30 million park will probably never go ahead.

Ross Parisi, who has been farming on the Barron River Delta for 30 years, calls former Cairns Councillor Paul Freebody's plans, "litany of broken promises."

While Cairns waits patiently for the much-vaunted employment surge caused by the construction of Adventure Waters water park, the site at Smithfield, just South of the Yorkeys Knob roundabout, continues to be a blot on the landscape. Located adjacent to the Captain Cook Highway, it is not a pleasant and inspiring visage to the passing tourist let alone the Marlin Coast residents and tourists that travel this road daily.

Of course, the view is not the only problems that arise from a litany of broken promises. The state of the derelict condition of the old derelict building located on the site, is of greater concern, in particular to the children of Caravonica School, the residents of Smithfield Heights and to the nearby adjoining residents.

The community is constantly reminded by the authorities nonetheless, by the weather bureau, of the impending more intense than normal, monsoonal wet season, along with the potential of extra cyclonic activity. The region is already experiencing the consequences of such increased activity.

The loose iron roof cladding, along with the general disrepair of the building, is a disaster waiting to happen. Paul Freebody has had ownership of the site for in excess of three years and no maintenance/removal to the vandalised and graffiti-ridden structure, has taken place.

I understand that Mr Paul Freebody is having difficulty putting together the finance to make his water park happen. The much-publicised starting date as reported in the Cairns Post has come and gone. All the promised jobs have not eventuated. The principal reason for approval has proved to be a false premise.

This does not surprise me, due to the fact that the proposed facility is located within the Barron River Delta and bisected by an old river bed. I wrote a year ago, when I called for a moratorium, that the highway culverts opposite the proposed development are indicative of a channel. When the delta is in flood this section has extremely fast-moving water flows. The Cairns Regional Council should have deferred development, pending a Council-commissioned hydraulic study.

Any financier would be reluctant to fund a potential non-performing loan. While the community might be sympathetic with his bad investment predicament, the community nevertheless should not be burden with a derelict site.

Therefore, I find it incredulous that Cairns Regional Council can condone a $35 million development approved site, to remain a cyclonic-borne threat to the surrounding community. What I find more disturbing is that Paul Freebody and his development company are showing contempt for the community by their arrogant demeanour. His action or lack thereof, is synonymous with an errant corporate citizen.

My challenge to Paul Freebody is to rectify this situation forthwith and to show the Cairns community that he is indeed interested in the well-being of the local community. Perhaps, Mr Freebody could begin to create the promised employment opportunities by hiring unemployed people to clean up the site.

As a resident of the Cairns area for over 50 years, and a keen advocate of positive community action, I find it abhorrent that Mr Freebody allows such a situation to exist and continue unattended. Using the excuse that construction work is imminent will not wash with the community. It is unlikely that the project will go ahead and even if it did go ahead, it will not happen before this years’ monsoon.

On behalf of the community, I hereby call on Mr Paul Freebody to clean up the site of all loose material that is a potential threat to the well-being of the Smithfield Heights residents. Bring back the old excavator and put it to work.

Furthermore, if the site is not remedied satisfactorily by the end of November, then Cairns Regional Council should serve Mr Freebody with the appropriate notice to make the site safe from potential aerial debris.

The Cairns Regional Council representative for Division 8 is Councillor Cochrane. It is imperative of her to take a personal interest in this matter until it is satisfactorily resolved. The time has come for action, not more empty promises.

Monday 15 November 2010

Council launches fresh website

Cairns Regional Council have redesigned their (our) website, which was launched this morning.

The new website has a fresh look and feel and appears a far better interface for visitors and those looking at investing or moving to our region.

Many web links to individual pages will change, so you may need to change addresses to specific pages you regularly look up.

Sunday 14 November 2010

LNP calls for electoral overhaul in Queensland

Electronic voting, truth in political advertising requirements and tighter electoral expenditure guidelines, are being called, as 200 LNP delegates gathered in Cairns this weekend for their State Council.

Electronic voting, that will require voters to show photo id, and a commitment to restoring honesty, integrity and transparency to the Queensland Parliament, is top of the list to reform the electoral process, John-Paul Langbroek announced at the State Council in Cairns.
Langbroek is also calling for a referendum on a fixed three-year electoral term, and truth in political advertising laws.

They are also calling for election expenditure caps and a ban on professional lobbyist donations to parties.

“We have released a comprehensive plan to get Queensland back on track," John-Paul Langbroek said. "[This is] a plan to create responsible, honest and transparent government. For too long, government in Queensland has been under a cloud of corruption. We need to make changes to the voting system to stop people from voting more than once or assuming someone else’s identity at the polling booth."

Langbroek says moving towards an electronic voting system and requiring people to show identification will put an end to this practice.

Friday 12 November 2010

Cairns Cultural Precinct land-owner slams opponents

The Chief Executive Officer of Ports North has put out a stinging attack directed at those that have questioned alternative sites for the planned Cairns Cultural Precinct, including councillors and the former CEO, calling them ill-informed.

Most notable objectors to the use of waterfront land, is former Ports CEO Bob Manning, and Cairns Regional Councillor, Alan Blake, who has led a campaign against using the waterfront site.

However, Ports North CEO Chris Boland says that given the continued community debate surrounding the Cairns Regional Council’s planned cultural precinct, and its location on Ports North land, he should set the record straight.

Boland says that Ports North, as the Planning Authority, Land Owner and Lessor, has put in a considerable amount of work with the Council to ensure the proposed precinct and design is compatible with the Cityport Masterplan.

"Ports North has in place Plans that will allow for doubling of the general cargo wharves in future years if necessary and there is space for the expansions of the Port’s traditional cargo operations as business opportunities arise," Chris Boland says. "The criteria for assessing any land development adjacent to critical Port facilities are that it must be consistent with the Cityport Masterplan and the Seaport Strategic Plan; must not interfere with the Port’s ongoing operations; must not restrict or prevent the Port’s future expansion and Port operations."

Boland also says that it must provide an appropriate commercial return to the Port to enable the ongoing development and operations of the Port’s maritime infrastructure.

"The Cultural Precinct, if designed right, will satisfy all four of these criteria," Boland says. "It is unfortunate that despite detailed personal briefings on Port operations and plans to numerous organisations and individuals, including to the former CEO, that the debate continues to be ill-informed."

Chris Boland says the site that is set aside for the cultural precinct, is a transitional zone. Port documents show that in 1994, the Cairns Port Authority identified and recommended that the precise site for the proposed Cultural Precinct be cleared of the molasses tanks as they were incompatible with the new Convention Centre. These documents show that the location in dispute today was identified in 1994 as a landscaped buffer zone.

"It is unfortunate that Bob Manning, a former Chief Executive Officer of the Port, has sought to incorrectly claim this is not the case. It is important to set the record straight in this regard," Chris Boland says.

A Heads of Agreement between the Queensland Government and the Cairns Port Authority was signed in 1994 to facilitate the construction of the Cairns Convention Centre, which has specific clauses related to the molasses tank removal, that committed the Queensland Government and the Cairns Port Authority to $2.1M relocation costs. This same agreement also specifically identifies the area east of Wharf Street, extending from approximately Wharf 4 to the General Cargo access road, as a landscaped buffer zone. This is the location of the proposed Cultural Precinct.

"Notably, Mr Manning, as the then CEO of the Cairns Port Authority, recommended and signed the Heads of Agreement which included the following clause," Chris Boland says. "Critically, the proposed Cultural Precinct is setback from the load restricted heritage-listed wharves to enable them to be continued to be used for Port activities."

Boland says that the cultural precinct must be designed so that it acts as a physical and sound barrier between the city and wharves 7 and 8, and that wharves 4 and 5 must remain available for cruise, ship servicing and the occasional coastal trade operations.

"You can be assured that Ports North’s commitment to ensuring the future operation and expansion of the Port is central to use of this site as a Cultural Precinct," Boland said. "In this regard, Ports North entered into a Heads of Agreement with the Cairns Regional Council in November 2008, with regards to the establishment of a Cultural Precinct on a waterfront site."

Boland says that Ports North, following a Council requested feasibility study, has agreed to enter into a lease, subject to compliance with a number of critical conditions.

What makes Councillor Alan Blake's vehement objection and his campaign against the cultural centre being built on land, is astonishing.

He has pushed to locate the cultural building on the land where the current Ports North office is located, across the road from the convention centre.

Blake's contradictory campaign, appears more to be a plan to simply have an apposing view to the mayor, but it falls down in detail and accuracy of recent history.
The full Council agreed some time ago, to consult with the public over 18 months. Councillor Blake supported, along with all other Councillors, stating that they "believe that the waterfront site is ideal and does not impede future port development and maritime activities."

It is about time that the Council show some solidarity and stand behind their decision to uphold their own agreements. Such disruptions simply present some as dysfunctional leaders that are hell-bent of personal politicking instead of agreed outcomes for the whole community.

More scams in Cairns than you can point a wet season at

In recent weeks, there's been a number of scams in Cairns ranging from phone, email and door-to-door scams, so it's time to be vigilant.

Yesterday a woman received a phone call from a person claiming to work for the Queensland Energy Board, which does not exist.

The caller offered an easy to use energy saving product at a price and then attempted to coerce the last 12 digits of the woman’s credit card to secure the sale. The woman said she would not give that information over the phone.

"We already have your credit card number, we just need your three digit code on the back of the credit card," the scammer said. The woman ended the phone call, quickly followed by an abusive return call minutes later by a man with a foreign accent.

In another scam, Cairns restaurants have been contacted by email and asked to provide a booking for multiple guests over a number of nights whilst clients were in town. The scam involves an email from an international business wishing to book a restaurant for multiple clients and then relies on requesting direct phone numbers to make arrangements for credit card authorisations to be processed.

Cairns Police are reminding people if they are approached by someone asking for money transfers or to provide credit card details, to ensure they are legitimate.

"Never rush into any transaction. Always take your time and seek independent advice before making any decisions," Acting Sergeant Cary Coolican says. "Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. Just ask yourself, if a stranger knew of a quick way to make money, would they be telling you about it."

Meanwhile, Cairns and Townsville folk are being scammed, after being asked money by fakes posing as international students looking to rent a room. They are targeting JCU students.

The Townsville Bulletin reports that Michelle Notman placed a listing on James Cook University's online accommodation service then was contacted by email from someone posing as a 24-year-old UK student who wanted to study at the university.

The Nigerian scam, called a cheque overpayment scam, sees a fraudster send their victim a cheque for more money than requested and subsequently asks for the extra cash to be wired back into their account, the Bulletin says.

During an elaborate ruse including dozens of emails, "Pamela" exchanged correspondence with Ms Notman, asking about the room and sending through photographs before finally asking for personal details to send through a cheque to cover the bond, which was overpaid, and the difference should be returned. How gullible are people?

There's heaps of info about how scams work at ScamWatch.

Anyone with information which could assist police with their investigations should contact Cairns Police 4030 7000, Smithfield Police on 4057 1900, or Crime Stoppers anonymously via 1800 333 000 or Crime Stoppers 24hrs a day.