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.


MG said...

some great food for thought

Bryan Law said...

Dear Margaret (or Alan), It’s clear to me that Cairns desperately needs a Mayor of distinction and achievement – but we don’t yet have a candidate for same. Lacking a man or woman of substance, honesty, vision and leadership, perhaps we might turn towards an accomplished and cunning liar instead. Someone prepared to tell ratepayers what they want to hear. Someone without shame or ethics who can simply cover one lie with another when caught out. You are just such a person, and I strongly encourage you to nominate for Mayor at the next cairns local government election.

While I won’t be voting for you (I still have ethics) I believe your presence on the ballot would achieve two vital things for our city. First you’ll make Val Schier look comparatively brilliant. Second you’ll undermine “Robber Baron” Byrnes bid for fresh glory.

Finally you’ll provide all the youngsters of Cairns with an object lesson on what happens to puffed up mediocrities too openly displaying contempt for truth, process, and the voters in a democracy. Please, please, please allow your name to go forward for shaming purposes.

And Kevin, old sausage, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, really – the people love you mate. Really.

Colin Riddell said...

Hard arse decision maker vs Air head dill let me think? Come back kev all is forgiven .

Anonymous said...

Yeah Kev's contribution to culture and design is there for all to see. It's called the City Place. It takes a real "hard-arse decision maker ", totally lacking in imagination, to create something as ugly and useless at that.

Babs said...

what a co-incidence that K.B. just rang in.... Believe that if you will. Don't believe in co-incidences on that show.

K.B. wants to be Mayor again watch out.

Steve said...

The most telling thing about "the Byrne Interview" was what was not said. Nothing about who Byrne works for (A Chinese/US multi-national) Nothing about Brynes plan for a multi-storey hotel/residential development opposite the convention centre and why he wanted to be on the radio in Cairns, unless of course he wants to make a bid in 2012, Please Cr for election as Mayor