Tuesday 6 November 2012

Cairns Solar Eclipse hopes for a cloud-free sunrise

With just over 8 days to go, the Solar Eclipse that will sweep across Cairns and Far North Queensland next Wednesday 14th November morning, will be a hit and miss with a lot of cloud cover spasmodically appearing in recent days.

I snapped this stunning cloud-free sunrise a few days ago from Yorkeys Knob beach, just a few kilometers north of Cairns.

You can see False Cape in the background with near-perfect viewing conditions for our eclipse next Wednesday morning.

Sunrise is around 5:42pm approx at the moment, so don't forget to rise early and get a great spot to capture this wonderful moment.

My friend and confessed eclipse freak Michael Aisner from Boulder, USA, who is coming here to catch his tenth eclipse since 1979, says it's a total obsession with an insanely elegant rare phenomenon.

"What a charge-up seeking out and standing in the moonshadow of perhaps the grandest of all imaginable celestial and natural events," Michael Aisner says.  

"The sun at 93 million miles, the moon at only 250 thousand and they happen to 'appear' the same size in the sky. Bizarrely the sun is 400 times farther - our round moon 400 times smaller – voila a perfect fit."

Aisner says if you add to this utter rarity – looking up are sentient creatures contemplating the majesty and specialness of it all.

"Are we the singular creatures in all the infinite universe to be thusly treated?  Rush! Plugs me in every time. Bonus is I get to see much of this earth, meet odd bearded people and share it with appreciating worthy eclipse partners," Michael Aisner says.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Is the media more left or right ?

University of Western Sydney student and social media player, Debski Bebski, whose pages include "Julia Gillard - Worst PM in Australian History", has just produced a startling graphic of Australian media commentators.

When selecting media personalities to appear in this list, they were chosen on being the most read and viewed in Australian media and journalistic content.

The left-hand side indicates those in the media with a "left-wing" agenda.

Those on the right reflect those with a more "right-winged" perspective.

When you have a look at the overall media as a whole, you begin to see how one sided it really is, Debski says.  Particularly when the only "right-wing" programme on TV is Andrew Bolt where as the "left-wing" media have an array of political programs on most TV stations. For some people, TV is the only way they get their information.

Interesting observation.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Saturday SoapBlog - LNP's next target: what you say online

Just a few short months into the new Queensland State Government, numerous community agencies and advocacy groups, along with many Government departments, most notably Health, have been stripped of funding.  

The Environmental Defenders Office, Tenancy Advocacy, Association of Healthy Communities, FNQ Volunteers, are just some of those that are fighting for their financial survival.  Most of these organisations had contrary views to the conservative Liberal government.

Along with new attitudes to stamp their agenda on the political map, the Queensland State government is now looking at controlling how social media is regulated, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and online discussions.  

Welcome to Joh Bjelke-Petersen Version 2.0.

Late last evening, as the early wet season rain cloud swept across the Cairns coastline, 30-year-old Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said that social media websites must be held accountable for removing content which has the potential to influence trials.

It comes as a working group was formed at yesterday's Standing Council on Law and Justice in Brisbane.

The group will look into what they call a "growing problem" of prejudicial comments in online social media. 

“This issue has reared its head in a number of high-profile cases and it is critical for the State and Federal Governments to act now to prevent further problems,” Jarrod Bleijie said. “Irrespective of the context or forum, nobody should be making comments which could have an impact on a trial before the courts.  The problem goes well beyond the individuals and rests with the social media sites that allow them to be posted."

Bleijie says he wants companies behind the website to work with the Government to help find a solution. 

“Creating laws in this space can be problematic as one blanket law is probably not going to suit every jurisdiction.  There is a real opportunity for these organisations to say ‘we will not let our social media sites participate in these activities’ and they should be proactive on the matter,” Bleijie says.

The announcement comes just days after local Federal MP Warren Entsch exposed the identity behind the anonymous Hillbilly Watch blog, that had attacked him with name-calling and a series of criticisms.  Whilst my CairnsBlog had also targeted Entsch in the past, I had always done this under my name and openly discussed issues that I wanted raised and exposed. My only concerns with online commentators and bloggers is that they contribute openly and transparently, and not behind the veil of secrecy  thereby diminishing their argument and losing respect for their position in contributing to the debate.

The Queensland Government has also expressed serious concerns about the time and cost related to making defamation claims against posts on social media.

“A real problem we have is that some organisations are based overseas and do not have offices in Australia. “This makes it virtually impossible for someone in Queensland to pursue defamation action, Jarrod Bleijie says. "There is a great deal of ground to cover in this area, but this working group is a good start in determining the initial plan of attack.”

Bleijie says the new working group will consult social media organisations, news media organisations, justice officials, law enforcements authorities and the courts, before making recommendations.  However this now concerted effort appears more about censorship and control, that will almost definitely attempt to stifle rigorous, free and open debate in the emerging arena of online discussion.  Politicians like Entsch, fear that social media is one forum with they no longer have control, like that have enjoyed for many years under the rules of the old Fourth Estate.

Cairns, for a long while, was dominated by one newspaper, and with print media steering doing the barrel of their own self-inflicted suicide, the rules and the game of public discussion and criticism have been rewritten without the establishment's involvement or sanction, and it's pissing them off greatly.

When I started CairnsBlog in 2007, there were no blogs or online forums with other views from the stable of NewsLtd, and traditional media hadn't embraced or worked out how to address the desire by the masses to share their views in such a dynamic and interactive way.  Now there's a plethora of blogs in Cairns that caters for everything and anyone, no matter how many brain cells you have.

Such  moves by the State government should ring alarm bells for everyone that wants and encourages free and open debate to criticise, humiliate and debate of politicians without fear or favour and without the worry of the thought police knocking on our doors and telling us what we can say.  After all, it is us the people that own and run the internet, and we will continue to advocate and champion the fundamental right of totally free speech.

It's likely that if Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen were alive today, he would be arranging a same-sex union with Premier Campbell Newman and consummating the marriage on the first night.

Friday 5 October 2012

Fires on Cairns Sunbus subject of urgent investigation

Here's some photos from today's Sunbus fire, near the corner of Airport Drive, on the Captain Cook Highway, Cairns. 

This is the second fire on a local Sunbus, in recent weeks, and the Transport Workers Union have launched an inquiry into the safety of local Cairns buses.

 During today's incident, about 10 passengers were onboard at the time of the incident.

Delfin Lend Lease ‘No corporate citizen’ for South Cairns - Cr Rob Pyne

Cairns Regional Councillor Rob Pyne has criticised Delfin Lend Lease for the failure to fully consult with the community in relation to the sale of their iconic sales office on Forest Gardens Boulevard. 

"I'm bitterly disappointed that the company rejected an offer from local community group, St. John’s Community Care, to purchase the building for community use,” Cr Pyne said.

”St. John’s provides support to the frail aged and people with disabilities as well as a range of home and community care services in the Far North.”

Delfin Lend Lease also owns and manages Cairns Central shopping centre in the heart of Cairns.

Theo Bacalakis of St. Johns confirmed their proposal was rejected outright.

"We submitted a formal offer to purchase the property, only to be advised that Delfin had declined our offer to purchase the property, in favour of an offer from a private developer," Theo Bacalakis said.

St. Johns is a not-for-profit charitable and benevolent institution, and doesn't rely on Government grants to provide the infrastructure necessary for its community services.  It does however receive substantial government funding to provide direct support to its clients.

“The Delfin Forest Gardens property is the ideal location for St. Johns,"  Rob Pyne says.  "It has good access for those people of the southern corridor who need to access the community centre for services, and to combat any social isolation that they experience."

"The property also has a building that would ideally meet the need of those people who would use the Centre.  I am sure Cairns Council would have considered supporting the St. John’s bid, but we were not given the opportunity," Pyne said.

Pyne says that the community benefit of St. John’s proposal would not have disadvantaged Delfin Lend Lease financially.

"The community benefit would have been considerable.  There is very strong support within the community for this centre to remain for that community purposes, so I certainly call on Lend Lease to reconsider the St. John’s offer,” Rob Pyne said.

LNP must declare views on Crime and Misconduct Commission changes

LNP MPs should publicly declare their views on Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission, Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk says, following revalations about a private meeting between Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Mr Douglas, the immediate past chair of the Parliamentary CMC Committee.

“It is time all Newman Government MPs let Queenslanders know if they support the shadowy plans of the Premier and Deputy Premier to somehow interfere with the CMC or if they support the views of backbencher Alex Douglas who has said the CMC is operating well,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney says he plans to have a private chat with Mr Douglas who as the immediate past chair of the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee has openly expressed confidence in the CMC."

“The fact the Deputy Premier thinks Mr Douglas’s comments warrant a private discussion only adds to the air of uncertainty over the government’s plans for the CMC’s governing legislation."

“Why does an MP’s statement that the CMC has been acting fairly suddenly spark a private visit from his party’s deputy leader unless Mr Seeney is somehow trying to change Mr Douglas’s mind?” Ms Palaszczuk said.

The Labor Opposition says Mr Douglas was well informed on the status and operations of the CMC because of his service as chair of the PCMC during the last term of State Parliament.

“Mr Douglas was PCMC chair and had access to all the information the all-party parliamentary committee had before it when it conducted its regular review of the CMC,” she said. “It is well past time LNP MPs said where they stand on the CMC. We have heard from Mr Douglas now we need to hear from all the others.”

Bus on fire, Cairns airport road

The access to Airport Drive, the Captain Cook highway is closed due to a bus that has caught fire. The bus caught fire on the inbound lanes of the Captain Cook Highway near Cairns Airport Drive. Both inbound lanes are now closed. Motorists are urged to avoid the area and use the Cairns Western Arterial Road until the situation is resolved.

Friday 28 September 2012

Questions need to be answered about Cairns MP Gavin King's secret email

The leaked email leaked from Cairns Regional Council by Cairns MP Gavin King, still has a number of glaring questions unanswered.

The confidential email that Gavin King sent to to Mayor Bob Manning and his Deputy Terry James, was a deliberate attempt to hide the agenda of City Place redevelopment without any involvement from the community.

King was communicating about official business from his Parliamentary email address, yet deliberately chose to send it not to Council, but to Manning's and James' private home email accounts.   Why?

This was no mistake, but a concerted and deliberate action to hide dialogue about an important debate at the heart of our city.

What other emails has Gavin King sent secretly to Councillors and the Mayor since being elected to serve and represent the people of Cairns?

With today's announcement that King, and with Federal MP Entsch and Councillors will meet to sort the mess out around City Place and their priorities, the email from King that exposed LNPs agenda for Cairns' CBD, showed a real desire to exclude the people and any consultation with the community.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Obama of Barr for President?

My friend is a USA citizen, has just received his voting paper for this year's US Presidental elections.

If you like peace and freedom, Roseanne Barr might be a good option.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Hillbilly blog identities exposed is a good thing

The self-proclaimed 'satirical analysis' Hillbilly Watch blog, that cites itself a watchdog of 4CA Radio host John Mackenzie, has outed in Federal Parliament by the Member for Leichhardt Warren Entch.

Local blogger and Facebook political moderator Ross Parisi said, the toothless tiger ACMA, will now be called upon to investigate and scrutinise whether HillbillyWatch has breached the law.

It's headline crys...
  • "Cairns bigot and loudmouth John Cueball (formerly the worst toupee in the business) MacKenzie, washed-up radio lout, and his cronies like the former Cairns Post, now LNP MP (Misogynist Prick) for Cairns Gavin "Don't Rape Me" King."
HillbillyWatch started up just over two years ago and has always published under the curtain of anonymity, all the time firing at anyone they wished. The often childish and vile name-calling has been it's hallmark, instead of mature and strong public debate.

Warren Entsch used his parliamentary privilege to out one of those behind Hillbilly Watch...
  • "I rise to name and shame Brian Lawrence McCarty, the main blogger behind hillbillywatch.com," Warren Entch said in the federal Parliament on Monday.

    McCarty is a 58-year-old American who lives at 7 Whitehaven Court in Clifton Beach. Information accessible online shows McCarty worked as a sound engineer in Hollywood but moved to Cairns in 1998. He attempted two web ventures, coralseastudios.com and webjazz.com, and I am told both turned out badly.

    I have received written advice from a former associate that McCarty, desperate to refinance Coral Sea Studios, attempted investment fraud using fa
    ke website content and stolen identities. Since 2008, he has been working at the Baskin Robbins ice-cream franchise on Cairns Esplanade, describing himself as guest relations manager. This associate identifies McCarty as having a severe personality disorder, with a dark side driven to, 'defame strangers and damage their businesses'
Besides McCarty, there are others involved covertly with HillbillyWatch.

Deryck Thompson, of the Machans Beach Community Association, a supporter of Val Schier and the Labor Party.

McCarty gave a small donation to Cr Linda Cooper's successful re-election bid on Cairns Regional Council, without disclosing his address, a breach of the Local Government Act.

Deryck Thompson donated $1,150. It's odd that Schier would be associated with such people, especially McCarty.  There are other identities involved with contributing to Hillbilly Watch.

Brian McCarty and his cohorts have been going by the alias of 'Mick Glennie' of Edgehill.

There is a wealth of critical attacks about McCarty's dodgy business dealings online.

Whilst I was the community relations officer at the Red Cross Blood Service, I had some ugly run ins with Brian McCarty. His Baskin Robbins ice cream business on the Esplanade wanted to offer some vouchers to blood donors, but his demands were outrageous and I was warned by other staff to avoid dealing with him. He became aggressive and verbally violent on the phone. He then wrote to the Australia chief of the Red Cross venting his anger and threatening all in sundry.

I then went down to the Cairns Esplanade and asked neighbouring business what they knew of McCarty. A tour agent said he had a history of yelling at people, and would often lock up cycles that were packed near his store so the owners couldn't retrieve them. In another ugly incident, McCarty stormed in to McDonalds one Monday morning after an violent stabbing that left the victim's blood along the footpath, and demanded that they clean it up.

Of course it's been no secret that Warren Entsch has been on a mission for sometime to curtail or close down Blogs and online discussions that are critical of himself and others.

Last year I wrote two pieces critical of Entsch, and he was on a mission thereafter to attack me.

In March last year I wrote about Warren's new Parliamentary website that he got a Brisbane business to do, to the outcry of local web developers and designers. In October 2010 I wrote about Entsch's media advisor whose business owed more than $250,000 to a raft of media business in Cairns, an ironic and compromising position to be in I cited. These two stories enraged Warren and he told many that he would be making it his priority to outlaw and close down blogs.

Of course, prior to this I had interviewed Warren on many occasions as Labor's tenure in Cairns was appalling and worth throwing out. These are many stories and video interviews still on CairnsBlog of Entsch supporting the access that I extended to his point of views.

Another local identity who has been attacked by Hillbilly is local author and marketing consultant Andrew Griffiths. Andrew is a strong advocate for social media, however has detested the anonymous carry of like HillbillyWatch.

"As for Hillbilly Watch – the only things he has left out [about me] is that I A) eat babies B) cause cancer and C) was responsible for 911," Andrew Griffiths told CairnsBlog. "To be honest I just laugh at this crap. Anyone who knows me – knows me. But he will get his day. I assume it is Brian McCarty – who is a lunatic as you know. I also love the fact that he writes like a little spoilt brat. The only thing he didn't do was threaten to give me a wedgie. But as always, I hate bullies – and I hate people that are too gutless to speak up and confront someone head on."

"I have always respected you for doing that Mike – I haven't respected a lot of your contributors though I have to say," Andrew Griffiths said.

Local activist Bryan Law has also welcome McCarty's name being published.

"I'm happy to see Mr McCarty exposed. Some of the abuse he writes and incites is of a very low calibre and if he tires of abusing public figures he has a go at their spouses and children... often with all the sophistication of a disordered sex pervert. I'm glad he's been named," Bryan Law said. "The issue isn't defamation, it's accountability and it cuts both ways. [CairnsBlog owner] Michael Moore has been sued and harassed by former Councillor Alan Blake because he published openly. Hillbilly Hack is vile but safe because he hides."

Here's the video from Colin Riddell of Entsch's speech in the Federal Parliament.

Warren Entsch has called the antics of HillbillyWatch "cyberbullying" and says there's a "disgusting lack of accountability in social media." There's a case to answer there, but there is a distinct right by any citizen to publicly criticise politicians in a manner that is open and transparent.

"In Cairns, public figures have become the target of an American-registered website called Hillbillywatch.com, which claims to be a satirical pro-Cairns blog but in reality is a forum for trashing
reputations and fuelling obscenities," Warren Entsch told the Federal Parliament on Monday night. "Much of what is posted is too vulgar to mention in this place. The
site focuses on a local radio host, describing him as a 'caustic, divisive, destructive, and cancerous plague on Cairns'."

"A local Member [Gavin King] is referred to as 'the MP (misogynist prick) for Cairns, the 'don't rape me' paid local liar for the LNP," Entsch said. "A council candidate [Barry Neall] is labelled as a 'bitter old bigot who runs a website known euphemistically as 'Residents against Aboriginals?', and vocal conservationist Colin Riddell, who has just successfully campaigned to have a cruelty provision, particularly in relation to turtles and dugongs, enacted in the State Parliament, is advised to 'take it right up the keister from his LNP mates … do you like it this way Colon?"

"Dangerously, this site is not afraid to insinuate sexual misconduct, and the articles generate spiteful remarks with no fear of reprisals, let alone consideration of their target's mental health," Warren Entsch said. "One local resident who is frequently targeted heard I was going to tackle this issue. She told me, 'Freedom of speech does not come with a carte blanche licence to ridicule, defame and publish blatant untruths about others under the cowardice of anonymity. The vitriol exhibited is unacceptable to those who try to live by a code of decency and respect for all. Its originator must be made accountable.' "

"This is a site that targets individuals, and while it may not be physical violence it can easily take the form of these written attacks. I am often vilified, but my policy is to simply ignore it as these people thrive on acknowledgement. In this case, while I do not want to offer it any promotion, I am speaking out because I will
not be left with blood on my hands if this harassment gets to be too much for one of its victims'" Entsch says.

"The major problem with these social forums is that while complaints can be lodged with the relevant authorities, the task of revealing their identities, or prosecuting, is extremely difficult," Entsch said. "These people, and I understand that there are a number of contributors to Hillbillywatch, are hiding behind anonymity."

"Well, no more. If they want to publish on Twitter, Facebook or online forums, they should be transparent and accountable for the impact their comments may have."

"Free speech is one thing, and I have nothing against clever satire. But I strongly support any moves by this House to put better processes," Warren Entsch says.

Entsch is right to expose Brian McCarty.

Whilst the Blogsphere is big enough for everyone with a view, when people hide behind fake or invisible identities and take aim at anyone without revealing themselves, it's a cowardly way to contribute to the public or political debate.

I believe there is a place for all kinds of exposure and strong criticism of public officials and politicians. In fact that is where social media and blogs have over-taken mainstream media and newspapers by far. However this doesn't allow for disgusting name-calling, outright abuse and cheap shots, all whilst hiding anonymously behind a fake name and website.


I have amended the story above after a complaint from Todd Hartley, CEO of Choice Australia Management, to remove his name from any connection with Hillbilly Watch. I unconditionally appologise for any harm caused by this.

"Your erroneous comments have caused significant concern to me.  I request you note the error on your blog and apologise to me for the damage caused by this error," Todd Hartley wrote to CairnsBlog.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Cairns Council will act on CBD transit plan, rebuffing Queensland State Government

Cairns Regional Council is shirking the Queensland Government, accusing that it has failed to adequately fund and commit to the Lake Street Transit upgrade.

"I'm really disappointed Cairns MP Gavin King and his capitulation on the CBD," Councillor Richie Bates said today. "There was plenty of good news ahead and Council is ready to fix Lake Street's issues."

"Despite the failure of the State Government to fund and carry out their transport infrastructure obligations, Council is prepared to get the job done."

Bates says that the redirection of over $30 million in funding from the CBD into the Bruce Highway as another example of the neglect that the economically-depressed city is feeling at the hands of the new LNP government.

"Yesterday's assault on a Lake Street Sunbus driver emphasises the importance and urgency of fixing the City Centre and it's transport issues," Richie Bates says. "Adequate consultation with all the stakeholders will be will be a key component of the Council-driven project as it moves forward."

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Mareeba and Port Douglas a step closer to Council de-amalgamation

The former Douglas and Mareeba Shires have passed the first process to de-amalgamate from Tablelands Regional Council and Cairns Regional Council.

Local Government Minister David Crisafulli has announced that the former Douglas Shire and Mareeba Shire Council will be examined by Boundaries Commissioner Colin Meng for possible de-amalgamations.

Robert Hanan of Friends of Douglas Shire is pleased with the decision, but is cautious about any early celebration.

"It's still a long way to go," Hanan told CairnsBlog. "This is a good decision, and our financial modelling showed that we did a good submission."

Hanan said he hopes that if the de-amalgamation is successful, the re-established Douglas Shire should expect some money back from Cairns Regional Council that consumed Douglas when the former Labor State Government merged the Councils in 2007.

"There's a strong argument for the return of some money. We will be footing a $3 million bill for this," Robert Hanan said.

Douglas Shire included the boundary just north of Ellis Beach, Wangetti, Port Douglas, Mossman, Daintree, Cape Tribulation, to just South of Wiujal Wujal Aboriginal community, along the Bloomfield Track route.

Isis, Livingston and Noosa Shires have been approved for review. and each will have to find money to pay for the cost to separate. A decision is expected by the end of November.

Cairns MP Gavin King forgets to mention huge staff cuts in Preventative Health

With massive Government sector job cuts across Queensland, an important Preventative Health team has been cut in half, something that new Cairns MP Gavin King failed to disclose in recent discussions on ABC.

The loss of 50 jobs in Preventative Health could have major impacts on some Indigenous communities where syphilis outbreaks can cause many other serious health issues, including for pregnant mothers.

Cairns MP and LNP newcomer Gavin King has only talked about 400 jobs with the Dept of Environment and 20 odd jobs in Tourism. This deception needs exposing. Why he forgot to mention the 50 dedicated preventative health care specialists from the Cairns Public Health Unit, who were all axed from their positions last week, is extraordinary. The staff cuts in this vital public health unit has failed to rate a mention in King's radio interviews.

The Federal Government’s Initiative of ‘Closing the Gap’ in Indigenous health will remain unachievable in Queensland if only front line health service provision is relied upon.

In fact, not one media outlet has published this information. The Nurses Union, a very large and powerful group of health workers, seems to want to protect those that are front line. Many people work behind the scenes to make the nurses able to function efficiently and do their jobs.

Others such as those in Public Health, work to keep people out of hospital, and to stop the spread of infectious diseases.

When 50 health professionals from the Cairns Public Health Unit were told by the new Liberal National Party State Government that their services were no longer required, given just two weeks, to finish up, local State MP Gavin King, along with other media, failed to mention the decimation of these healthcare workers. King deliberately ignored this fact when he spoke to Fiona Sewell on ABC radio. He mentioned the 20 jobs axed from Department of Tourism, but all from Corporate Office in Brisbane. He mentioned the 400 jobs from the Department of Environment, but only 2 local jobs.

The majority of these positions are made up of nurses, doctors and other specialised health care workers who all have a mandatory tertiary qualifications in health, and many have a Masters of Public Health as well. These officers are each specialised in their own fields and have spent many years in their chosen career in public health.

The Cairns Public Health Unit services a population of over 250,000 people.

These specialised and dedicated team of professionals work to keep the general public informed of health risks like smoking, unsafe sex, handling bats etc), to stop the spread of infectious diseases (Hendra virus Dengue fever, tuberculosis, influenza, salmonella food poisoning etc), to maintain clean and safe drinking water (checking of water supplies for E coli or other contaminants), and many other activities that protect the population they serve. Much of their work involves in trying to improve conditions in Indigenous communities. After all, North Queensland has nearly half of the Queensland's Indigenous population living here.

One such specialist, celebrated her 20 years with Queensland Health last Wednesday, only to discover two days later, that she no longer had a job. This person is known internationally for her work on improving Indigenous nutrition in Papua New Guinea and Far North Queensland. It beggars belief that this well-renown health professional has been put out on the scrap heap along with her colleagues.

Another dedicated specialist in sexual health has been overseeing a syphilis outbreak in a remote Indigenous community. Much of this work involves contact tracing and ensuring patients receive the appropriate treatment. Sexual health officers from Cairns have had to go to this community to help test and treat patients in order to eradicate this infection. Cases of the disease are still being reported.

It seems that those that are left in Corporate Office in Brisbane, think that Thursday Island is off the coast of Cardwell.

Queensland has taken a step back 20 years and will never achieve Closing the Gap in Indigenous health in Queensland, without the preventative work going on behind the front line services.

Monday 17 September 2012

Another $1.2 million on another report for Cairns Entertainment Centre

Cairns Regional Council has voted to spend $1.2 million for another report for a performing arts centre.

This is in addition to $12 million that has already been spent on planning for this facility at two other locations but previous Councils. Only Councillors Robert Pyne and Julia Leu voted against the expenditure.

  • APPOINTMENT OF CONSULTANTS ................................................................. 64
    P. Tabulo: 26/7/18-05: #3717198
    Moved: Mayor Bob MANNING
    Seconded: SCHILLING

    1. Council appoints the consultants as listed below for the preparation of the Concept Plan for a Performing Arts Centre as required in the Heads of Agreement with Ports North. These appointments are made in accordance with Local Government (Finance, Plans and Reporting) Regulation 2010, section 184 because of the specialised nature of the services that are sought, together with their experience and association with the previous Cairns Entertainment Precinct, making it impractical for Council to invite quotes or tenders for this Concept Plan stage.

    2. Savills Project Management be appointed to manage the preparation of the
    above Concept Plan and to undertake Phase 1 of the preparation of the Business Case as also required in the above Agreement for the sum of $328,640.

    3. The scope of the Business Plan be agreed with the State and Federal

    4. Council delegates authority in accordance with Section 257 of the Local
    Government Act 2009 to the Chief Executive Officer to finalise any matters relating to the appointment of consultants for the proposed Performing Arts Centre and to also resolve contracts from the Cairns Entertainment Precinct project that will not be necessary to progress the Performing Arts Complex.

    Performing Arts Complex- Concept Plan Consultants

    Consultant Discipline Proposed Fee including Expenses
    CA Cox Rayner Architect $372,099
    WT Partnership Cost Planner $46,000
    Acoustic Studio Acoustic Engineer $87,012
    Schuler Shook Theatre Planner $70,170 25
    Arup Structural Engineer $86,100
    Arup Mechanical Engineer $74,500
    Arup Traffic Engineer $50,000
    Cardno Civil Engineer $61,975
    SPP Hydraulic Engineer $71,500
    Steensen Varming Electrical Engineer $46,000
    Steensen Varming Vertical Transport Engineer $5,000
    Certis BCA Consultant $32,000
    Cundall ESD Consultant $34,950
    Urbis Town Planner $35,500
    PricewaterhouseCoopers Economist $138,811

    TOTAL 1,211,617

    Motion Carried
    Councillors Pyne and Leu voting against the motion

Sunday 16 September 2012

Brisbane-centric LNP must stump up for Cairns   

LNP Cabinet Ministers should be embarrassed showing their faces in Cairns at this weekend’s Community Cabinet after delivering their first State Budget in Parliament which scrapped infrastructure, slashed services and cut jobs in the region.
Member for Mulgrave and Shadow Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, said the LNP’s 2012 State Budget almost wiped Cairns off the funding map with the scrapping of major infrastructure projects and critical underfunding of others.
"Treasurer Tim Nicholls could easily find $3.5 million in the State Budget as a first instalment for planning the Premier's pet project --  a new Executive Building for himself and his Ministers in the Brisbane CBD," Mr Pitt said.
"But as the Cairns Chamber of Commerce has said the LNP needs to start developing an 'outside-of-Brisbane mindset'. So far all the LNP Government has delivered for Cairns and the Far North are cuts to jobs and services.
“It is the height of rudeness for the Newman Cabinet to try and come to Cairns the weekend after the meanest Budget in a generation is delivered and try to sell their slash-and-burn policies to the people of Queensland.
“I think the people of Cairns will see the LNP’s transparent spin for what it is. Once again, as the Cairns Chamber of Commerce says, ‘token commitments rather than definitive plans for action’ and ‘give-a-dog-a-bone’ commitments' are not good enough for our city and our region."
Mr Pitt said the Member for Cairns Gavin King should be ashamed he has now officially lost more than $90 million for the people of Cairns with further implications across Far North Queensland.
“Mr King has lost the $57.3 million Cairns Entertainment Precinct and $33 million worth of investment in the Cairns CBD upgrade, with the LNP only allocating $5 million for the CBD upgrade,” Mr Pitt said.
“It should be noted however that after all the claims by Mr King of co-called ‘phantom money’ in the last budget under Labor, there is no funding identified for the upgrading of the $5 million for the upgrading of the Cairns CBD in the budget papers.
“The people of Cairns should be incredibly disappointed that Mr King has let the LNP Government rip infrastructure investment out of Far North Queensland.
“This will have wide-ranging impact on jobs and industry in the whole Far North.
“Even when the LNP commits $40 million for the Trinity Inlet dredging project, it is well short of the expected cost of between $80-100 million.
“This and other cost blow-outs show how shonky the LNP’s election policy costings were."
Mr Pitt said on top of scrapping infrastructure projects in Cairns the LNP government has also slashed hundreds of government jobs in the region.
“In response to last week’s Budget, hundreds of people took to the streets in Cairns to protest the LNP Government’s axing of 14,000 jobs,” he said.
“A couple of weeks ago we saw concerned doctors and nurses protesting outside Cairns Base Hospital in response to the revelation the LNP are slashing nearly 3000 Queensland Health jobs.
“The people of Cairns are seeing this mean and tricky LNP Government for what they really are.”

Tuesday 4 September 2012

'Crocodiles must go from Cairns and Port Douglas' - Michael Trout MP

The MP for Barron River, Michael Trout, says crocs must go. There must be no more deliberating on the safety or otherwise of crocodiles, he says. Action must be taken now before a life is lost.

“There’s no time for pussyfooting around the crocodile debate," Member for Barron River, Michael Trout says. “Our crocodiles are proliferating, with record numbers being sighted around Far North Queensland from Port Douglas to Innisfail.”

“Our tourism industry will be the endangered species if the issue of removal of these dangerous reptiles is not addressed immediately. It’s only a matter of time and another human is going to be attacked. We’ve just recently nearly lost a child, and I really wonder how the parent felt about the comment that the croc was probably after the pet dog."

“If the pet dog had not been there, the child would have been the target. If the dog was taken in front of the child, the child would be traumatised for life.”

Trout says there was only one path to go down now, and that is zero tolerance with crocodiles being removed from all populated areas.

“Crocodiles don’t stay in one place. Spring is here, and during Spring, crocodiles start moving around again," Michael Trout says. “Anyone at Clifton or Palm Cove will tell you about crocodiles swimming parallel to the shore between the two beaches, and numerous crocodiles have been spotted between the two beaches in the estuarine creeks and on the beach in recent years. Last year the beach was closed week after week following numerous sightings."

“I’m just amazed we haven’t had a fatality recently, but if we don’t act now, there will be consequences,” he said. "At Lake Placid, once a popular recreation/swimming area for locals and tourists alike, is now deserted following several crocodile sightings. Crocodile signs and grim warnings have replaced splashing and laughter on a hot day as salties move into freshwater areas. The Kiosk is closed along with everything else. Rafting companies can’t allow their customers to enjoy a swim after a half day tour."

“We have enough problem enticing tourists to Cairns during the summer due to stingers, but now we have a proliferation of crocodiles in estuaries and on beaches in our northern suburbs, in popular swimming areas such as Lake Placid, and crocs turning up in drains and waterways in the middle of the city."

“One of the most popular, iconic family activities in Queensland is Surf Life Saving. The majority of Queenslanders at some stage of their lives have spent their leisure times on the beach, safe in the knowledge that life savers were present to ensure their safety.

“Now Surf Life Saving Clubs are having difficulty persuading parents to let their children attend nipper training and events. Numbers are dropping significantly, and our Life Savers of the future are diminishing rapidly in turn.

“One particular outrigger canoe club operating out of Port Douglas reports an alarming increase in sightings and a few frightening incidences," out says. “Undoubtedly the crocs are becoming more game, to the point where one was hit with a paddle while canoes were leaving the ramp. A sleeping dog was taken from the back of a moored yacht on the piles."

“I won’t rest until this matter is dealt with in the only way – removal of the crocodiles – not only for the sake of preserving life, but to avoid the death of tourism. I’m not talking about culling, just removal. It’s time to take action, and that doesn’t just mean removing a few rogue crocs from around well used boat ramps."

Michael Trout says that since he started campaigning before the last election, this was one of the biggest issues facing the region that he has pledged to take action on.

Friday 24 August 2012

Leaked email shows Cairns MP Gavin King has been ‘loose with the truth’ on CBD

Labor MP for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt says that a leaked email from Cairns MP Gavin King to Cairns Mayor Bob Manning detailing plans for work on the Cairns CBD, proves he has been deceiving people in Far North Queensland.

Yesterday in State parliament, Pitt asked Premier Campbell Newman to acknowledge that the LNP planned to replace Labor’s $38 million funding commitment with a tokenistic $3 million project for the Cairns CBD.

“The Premier didn’t seem to know anything about plans for the Cairns CBD when asked about this and quite simply didn’t answer the question. Has the Member for Cairns not kept him in the loop or is Mr King acting alone?” said Mr Pitt.

In the leaked email (above) King says:

“The $38 million that many people were concerned about ‘losing’ is staying in FNQ.”

The email acknowledges that there is $38 million that won’t be ‘lost’ to FNQ despite King previously saying it didn’t exist.

“Mr King himself wrote an article in The Cairns Post in 2011 that talked about the previous Labor Government’s budget announcement of $38 million," Curtis Pitt says. “Mr King has been caught out being loose with the truth on numerous occasions and it’s very disappointing.”
Mr Pitt said the email also revealed that only $3 million will now be spent on the CBD instead of what was previously a $38 million package for the Far North under Labor."

“This is a loss of $6 million straight up from the $12 million that has already been allocated as a line item in the 2011-12 budget, with the remaining $26 million included in the forward estimates,” Pitt said. “With a $3 million commitment, no wonder Mr King was being ‘tight lipped’ about the costings of his CBD proposal in the newspaper earlier this week.

“And it’s no wonder that CBD business people aren’t optimistic about the city getting its fair share in the budget, with Craig Squire saying:

“I think it’s disappointing; we were on the verge of getting some good money but we’ve been shafted.”

Curtis Pitt says the email also makes it clear the money King is using as ‘currency’ for local negotiations is not guaranteed as it is still subject to the Cabinet Budget Review Committee.

The email goes on further to say that the remaining $32 million will be spent to improve flood immunity on two bridges on the Bruce Highway between Cairns.

“If the government does intend to spend money on the Bruce Highway between Cairns and Ingham, residents in my electorate of Mulgrave or further south in Hinchinbrook may benefit, and of course I would welcome that,” Pitt says. "But residents of the Cairns electorate must sure be asking – can Gavin King hold on to any funding?"

“At a time when the Far North needs support from the State Government, the LNP has announced they’re walking away from projects that would’ve provided vital jobs and economic stimulus to the region," Curtis Pitt says. “Since becoming the local member, his contribution to the Cairns electorate to date has conservatively been ‘’minus $95.3 million’ – based on lost state funding of $38 million for the CBD project, and $57.3 million for the Cairns Entertainment Precinct."

“It gets worse when you throw in the $40 million value of the port land and the $40 million from the federal government for the CEP. If the full $38 million is made available for Cairns and the Far North, people need to remember that it’s because it had already been previously allocated," Curtis Pitt says. "Even the LNP Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said the Newman Government has no excuse for scrapping the Lake St upgrade."

“The money may well have been [committed] by a previous government, but it’s the government that made the commitment, not a political party.” [-Warren Entsch]

In terms of how the LNP views Cairns, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney let the cat out of the bag earlier this week Curtis Pitt says.

"When he said ‘it’s not all about Cairns’ as it was when the ALP was in government. If ‘Brisbane’s man [King] in Cairns’ does indeed turn this around and bring on some projects to replace the shovel ready ones he’s lost, I’ll congratulate him," Pitt says. “But that’s the point – these projects that have been lost were well advanced in their planning or were shovel ready.”

Gavin King’s statements

* On radio 4CA, the Member for Cairns said on 13 June:
“This $38 million was just a figment of Anna Bligh’s imagination.[and].the reason no dollars were spent by the previous Labor Government was because there was no money.”

** Article ‘Construction, tourism big winners’ written by Gavin King, 15 June 2011 said:
“The budget also contained the first $12 million of a $38 million package to overhaul Lake St Bus services and City Place...”

Budget reference
*** Capital Statement 2011-12, page 111 – Cairns Bus Station and Barron River Bus Stops.

Thursday 23 August 2012

NewsLtd gets it wrong on Gillard trust fund

Restoring Cairns 'City Place'

This is a story about public space in Cairns. Veteran local activist and anti-war campaigner Bryan Law, sets out the argument.

I’m pretty much a newcomer to Cairns. I moved here in 1993. The city was changing rapidly then. It was in recovery from the setback of the Pilot’s strike, and striving for environmentally “sustainable” economic “growth”. Struggling with the tensions between development and amenity. As you know, we’ve had mixed results.

In 19 years I’ve seen three incarnations of City Place, amid profound change in all our public spaces.

ANZAC Park has gone. Munro Martin Park has been majorly debilitated and deprived of love. The historic Cairns Yacht Club on Wharf Street is gone. The Esplanade has been congested and extended as an entertainment zone. The Casino precinct is up-market sterile.

Inherent to every discussion of public space and heritage in Cairns are the Aborigines whose land we share. When I first came to Cairns as a visitor the best public spaces were in the deep shade of giant figs, with water and toilets and panoramic views of the bay and ranges. Aboriginal people were present (plentiful) as if they had a right. As if the city could include them.

ANZAC Park has gone. Munro Martin Park has been disfigured. City Place is under attack.

In those 19 years I’ve seen the Bama (Aboriginal people) pushed from pillar to post, and the politics of public space in Cairns has regularly worked against them. We are all disfigured by the effects of racism. One reason for former Cairns Mayor Kevin Byrne’s assault against City Place was his burning desire to move along the blackfellas.

Today, City Place is “flat”. Sterile, under-used, just hanging on amid the debris of Cairns CBD. In response, the petit bourgeois of city tobacconists want City Place opened up to traffic.

Mind you they’ve wanted the motor car back in City Place for all the time I’ve been here. Not only does it get rid of the Bama, but it might bring an extra dollar to our door.

Now, these petit bourgeois are the very same people who’ve let the fabric of our CBD deteriorate in the first place. In good times they charged top prices for second-rate service while congratulating themselves for being clever operators. Now, when things get tough, they want taxpayers’ money.

City Place is worth much more than that. When I hang out in City Place, I appreciate being under the sky, away from traffic, in a place that encourages humans to congregate in open air. I like the birds, the bats, the breeze, the balm of tropical paradise. Of course it works best when I bring my own seating… and covered walkways would be nice - they used to be nice until Kevin Byrne tore them down.

Beyond that I like seeing the different peoples of Cairns going about their lives.

When I go to a political or public gathering at City Place, I feel at home. Being surrounded by the living fabric of our town square holds the city in the forefront of our minds – in a way unmatched by any other venue. I like to see speaker’s corner at play.

City Place can be improved alright. It can be majorly improved with very little money, and very little new infrastructure. City Place can be improved as a community project.

City Place does not need a bus-way running through it, or the loss of a stage which works just fine, and which cost more than a million dollars to build just three years ago.

The recent Council and Queensland elections have radically changed the circumstances around City Place. The Cairns Entertainment Precinct is dead. The CBD plan that relied on the CEP is likewise an ex-plan. Queensland Transport will be pruned like every other state agency, and Queensland grant money is much reduced. What will happen next?

I like Gavin King, and wish him well in his Parliamentary career. Can he solve City Place, in association with his Party colleague and Mayor Bob Manning?

If Gavin King is serious about our economy he needs to solve City Place using minimal elegant means. I’m going to have a little go at helping. I’d like to re-create City Place as a pedestrian town square.

As a citizen of Cairns I’d like to work with as many other citizens as possible who are prepared to give a shit about the public spaces of our polis. In particular I want to work in cooperation with Geoff Holland and the CBD group he set up earlier this year.

I want Mayor Bob Manning to keep the promise he made as a candidate speaking at City Place in April this year, which was to design a revitalised City Place using the wealth of local talent and skill.

This is our opportunity to get it right. Restore City Place.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Labor MP Curtis Pitt says Cairns is ''falling off the map'' for LNP

The Cairns region has fallen off the map for Queensland's new LNP Government with the Deputy Premier openly admitting Far North Queensland is not a priority, Member for Mulgrave and Curtis Pitt said today.

Pitt says Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney admitted to State Parliament that Cairns would not figure in the government’s major budget priorities, including the distribution of funds under the Royalties for Regions scheme.

In response to an interjection from Mr Pitt while the Deputy Premier outlined the carve-up of $60 million allocated in the first year of the scheme, Mr Seeney said...
  • “The interjection from the Member for Mulgrave really typifies the approach of the previous government – that it is all about Cairns, that it is all about the major regional centres along the coast. Those opposite never considered anything west of there and that is the situation we are about to rectify.”
Pitt said Far North Queensland residents should be horrified that the government would treat their region with such disregard.

“I’m not ashamed that our government was all about Cairns, in fact quite the opposite – I’m proud of our very strong record in the FNQ region,” Curtis Pitt said. “Ours was the government that poured hundreds of millions into infrastructure in the city, that developed the Cairns Economic Plan. What you see by way of contrast is a government and a local member who gleefully, wilfully rip hundreds of millions out of the region and refuse Cairns the right to participate in such schemes as Royalties for Regions."

“It’s high time people like Gavin King started to perform for the area and do what they said they would do – stand up for Cairns and ensure that this government allocates the funding that Cairns and the region require and deserve. The Newman Government has earmarked almost $500 million to be split among 14 local council areas under the royalties scheme, but not one cent will come to our local area or region."

“Not only has the LNP excluded Cairns Regional Council, it has also ignored the Cassowary Coast Regional Council, Tablelands Regional Council and Cook Shire Council. I am sure FNQ residents will be disappointed that their local LNP MPs have failed to secure even the thinnest slice of this funding for our region. The expectation is – rightfully – that Cairns would at least be in a position to participate in the scheme and apply," Curtis Pitt says.

Yet another Cairns Council report commissioned for Entertainment Precinct

Cairns Regional Council will conduct a feasibility study to build a Entertainment Precinct on Ports North land.

Council will enter into a formal agreement with Ports North to undertake the study for the location of a performing arts centre on the site of the Ports North office building.

Successive Cairns Councils' have commissioned various reports and studies for more than 10 years for a new performing arts theatre complex, costing over $3 million.

The Ports North site is located across Wharf Street, just meters from the waterfront site favoured by former Mayor Val Schier.

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said the site, adjacent to the Cairns Convention Centre, had been identified as a possible site for a community performing arts centre.

“Council is mindful of the community views on this issue and has progressed its consideration of the matter in a measured and deliberate manner to ensure the right decision is made for the long term,” Bob Manning said.

“The Ports North site warrants further consideration in terms of cost and functionality in the context of a development, which is to be scaled back. A development on this site would not include the requirement for a regional museum, a civic meeting place and the bridge link across Wharf Street but provides the opportunity for exhibition space immediately adjacent to the Cairns Convention Centre."

“For this to happen we are entering into a Heads of Agreement – an arrangement that allows Council and Ports North to work together in this investigative process.”

Manning says Council had not committed to any further action on the site.

“This is not a decision to proceed with a performing arts centre but the outcomes of the feasibility study will be a key consideration for Council to determine its future direction concerning the provision of a facility for the performing arts in Cairns,” Bob Manning says. "Council continues to work with both the Federal and State Governments in attempt to preserve funding arrangements that were previously in place."

The feasibility study is expected to be completed early 2013.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Get Fluffy or Rover microchipped for $25

Next weekend you can get your pooch or putty tat microchipped for just $25.

Microchipping a pet allow Councils to easily identify its owner should it be found wandering in a public place.

Under the State Government’s Animal Management Act, all cats and dogs born after July 2011 are required to be microchipped. Microchips are required for any dog, cat, puppy or kitten given away, sold or received.

Trovan Microchips is partnering with Cairns Regional Council to have their animals microchipped for just $25.
  • 9am – 4pm, Saturday 18 August 2012
    Council's Impound Facility
    145-161 McCoombe Street, Bungalow

  • INFO 4044 3044

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Voluntary redundancy packages offered to Cairns Council staff

Cairns Regional Council is offering voluntary redundancy packages to employees.

The voluntary redundancy push is intended to assist streamlining Council operations to improve efficiencies to meet financial targets. Council say that this is in response to decreased workloads associated with the ongoing economic downturn in the Cairns region, an odd claim as the approved the fifth successive rate rise in five years.

Redundancies will be implemented on a strictly voluntary basis and employees have been invited to apply.

“Council has a policy of no forced redundancies and this is validated within our new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, accepted last week,” said spokesperson Peter Tabulo, after Lynn Russell left the CEO role soon after the election of the new Council. “We expect just as much interest this time around from employees who see the program as an opportunity to achieve their personal or career goals."

Tabulo says that technology improvements is bringing changes to the working environment and external circumstances such as decreased development activity has meant less workload in some areas of Council.

Only permanent full-time and part-time staff who have been employed at Cairns Regional Council for at least 12 months will be eligible for consideration by August 22nd.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Cairns gets super Police car for terrorists, just what we need. Not.

Barron River MP Michael Trout welcomes the arrival of the new police armoured police in Cairns.

A paranoid and fear-obsessed Federal Government has just purchased an armoured police vehicle for Cairns and Far North Queensland.

Equipped for riot police, tear gas and other anti-social paraphernalia, it has local leaders excited that we could host important events here.

The vehicle is a Lenco BearCat, a wheeled armored personnel carrier used by military and police forces, mainly in the USA. The 15-ton vehicle cost around $400,000. "BearCat" gets its name from Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.

It's a Ford F-550 6lt turbo-­diesel, 4-speed auto, with 1.5" thick steel armored bodywork with ballistic glass capable of multi-hits, blast-resistant floors, specially designed gunports, roof hatches and turret. There are modifications such as thermal cameras and spot lights.

This is only the second of its kind in Queensland.

"The state of the art vehicle is designed specifically for high-risk police situations.," Barron River MP Michael Trout said. "The BearCat is bullet and blast resistant and can also help safely rescue hostages or injured personnel in challenging situations."

Former policeman and Katter Party candidate for Cairns, Darren Hunt, says the new vehicle is awesome.

"The capabilities it has are amazing. We have the only SERT (Special Emergency Response Team) outside Brisbane and the amount of VIP's we have holidaying up here is huge," Darren Hunt says. "It makes sense to base it here."

However he quipped that it will get as much use as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

I suspect there will not be much change out of a million dollars for this beast, which belongs on the streets of Washington DC, not the Nard in Cairns.

Remains of historic Rex Theatre to be demolished

A significant piece of history is gone according to Cairns Councillor Max O’Halloran, as a decision is made to demolish the remains of the historic Rex Theatre on Sheridan Street.

Cairns Regional Council has approved the demolition of the remnants of the heritage-listed Rex Theatre.

At today’s Council meeting, Councillors acknowledged that the heritage value of the building’s façade had been significantly diminished by unapproved demolition – which is the subject of legal action launched by Cairns Regional Council this month.

Division 7 Councillor Max O’Halloran said it was a shame that such a significant piece of Cairns’ history had been lost.

“There are a lot of people disappointed at what has occurred on this site,” Max O’Halloran said. “The Rex Theatre held memories for many people and is a part of our city’s history. It is a condition of the demolition that any new development on that site recognises the history of the previous building, be it through a plaque, building name or otherwise.”

The Rex Theatre was identified in the CairnsPlan as a Local Heritage Site, unlike the 103-year-old waterfront Cairns Yacht Club that was demolished by the Labor State Government three years ago.

Mayor Bob Manning said the decision to allow full demolition was necessary.

“We really had no choice, considering the extent of the demolition that has already taken place,” Bob Manning said. “The structural integrity of what is left of the façade is cause for concern and complete demolition is considered to be the most appropriate option.”

A complaint lodged by Cairns Regional Council in relation to the unapproved demolition is expected to be mentioned in the Cairns Magistrate Court on August 16th.

Monday 23 July 2012

Newman's words come home to haunt

"There are many dedicated men and women in the Queensland Public Service and I say it to them today: Do not be afraid of me."

- Campbell Newman on ABC Radio, April 4th, 2011

Cairns mayor presents 'optimistic' budget amid 'trying economic times'

Cairns Mayor, Bob Manning talks about presenting the new Council's first budget, that will see a nearly 4% rise in rates.

It would be preferable to be speaking to a budget being proposed in times of strong economic growth and outlining aggressive revenue and expenditure targets – but this is not the case.

The Cairns Regional Council local government area (together with the greater Tropical North Queensland region) continues to experience trying economic times with a narrowing of our economic base, diminished levels of business activity, high unemployment levels, restrained investment confidence, a high Australian dollar working against Tropical North Queensland as a tourist destination and a two-speed economy which benefits those involved in the minerals boom but in many respects creates problems for those areas located outside the influence of the mining precincts.

That aside, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. I can’t help but think that the Cairns region/Tropical North Queensland is again about to embark upon a period of growth and excitement. The announcement last Saturday of the commencement of China Eastern flights between Shanghai and Cairns is the most exciting aviation announcement since the late 1980s/early 1990s, when Cairns was flooded with flights out of Japan, and then out of Korea. This has far-reaching consequences for the regional economy and it is perhaps the most significant indication that the ‘tide’ has turned and this should provide a very real boost in business and investment confidence.

This is not the only opportunity that we have at our feet at the moment, but I would regard it as the most promising and potentially the greatest. Sometimes opportunities only present themselves once, and then they are gone. So what do we have to do to make sure that we achieve the maximum outcome from this announcement? The need has never been greater for the Cairns Regional Council and other entities such as Cairns Airport, Ports North, Tourism Tropical North Queensland and Advance Cairns to ‘partner’ and work together to make sure that we achieve the maximum harvest in terms of both the tourism potential arising out of this announcement and the many other economic spin-offs that will result.

Additionally, Council has to work diligently with the above entities to maximise other potential opportunities which have been or are being identified.

The 2012/13 budget is predicated upon three key assumptions:-

1. that the region is showing increased signs of business confidence and that there are signs to indicate that an upward economic trend could be emerging;
2. that Council needs to carry some of the weight in terms of households and business and therefore rates have been struck at the minimum possible increase ie. 3.0% plus the estimated impact of the carbon tax of 0.7%'
3. that Councils needs to hold its capital works program at the maximum possible level in order to stimulate local work, but at the same time not overextending itself. In this regard, Council needs to place itself in a position where it can respond, if it has to, in regard to a more pronounced pick-up in economic activity and which might require an increased Council spend.

Prior to the budget formulation, Council again committed itself to another round of ‘Infrastructure Charges incentives’ in an effort to stimulate commercial construction activity.

The 2012-13 budget provides for Total Operating Revenue of $291.73 million and Total Operating Expenses of $298.370 million, with a forecast deficit of $6.639 million. The forward estimates provide for the Council to bring the budget back into balance in the 2013-14 financial year. This will be achieved by both anticipated growth and a rates increase in the order of 4-5%.

In this regard, it is critical that budget blowouts do not occur, as these will simply compound bringing the budget back into balance.

The budget provides for a Capital Works Program totalling $93.75 million. A high level break up of this program provides for the following:-

Infrastructure Services                   $36.65m
Water and Waste                            $32.7m
Community, Sport and Cultural Facilities  $17.02m
Corporate Services                          $6.69m

Council should ensure that an early start is made towards implementing this program of works but it should also satisfy itself beforehand that major expenditure items are justified. I believe, as is the case in any budget, that there is ‘fat’ in the proposed budget and it is the function of Council and management to ensure that this is culled out and, if necessary, the funds reallocated.

In this regard, the budget provides a plan to go forward, but there is no reason why proposed expenditures/projects should not be tested to ensure their continued appropriateness. This will require
Council to become far more conversant with the 2012-13 works program (capex and opex) and this is a matter which needs to be resolved with management.

It is important for Council in the foreseeable future to start to consider a four-year budget strategy in order to build some discipline around where this term of Council is to take us all. The alternative will lead to a less than optimum outcome.

The current budget preparation has been a somewhat disjointed affair, with the Local Government elections being pushed back a month to accommodate the State elections, thereby leaving too short a time for proper consideration, and then this was compounded with an all too busy and extended Board induction process.

Under the circumstances, and taking into account the above comments, I believe the proposed budget is appropriate for Council to consider and adopt, but again I make the point that the adoption of the budget is not an end in itself and a strong discipline will be required to ensure Council implements the program of works contained within the budget, in the most cost-effective manner, and makes necessary adjustments throughout the budget term as changing conditions/priorities might warrant.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Queensland's money woes exposed in Commission report

Cairns political commentator Raj Patel says that the $57 million promised from the former Labor State Government for the Cairns Entertainment Precinct was the biggest lie.   They needed to borrow money to build anything.

Capital spending was financed increasingly by loans – an increase from 34% in 2005-06 to 96% in 2010-11.

The Commission's findings are horrendous. There has been little refutation of their overall accuracy. They include:

■ The government had embarked on ''an unsustainable level of spending that has jeopardised the financial position of the state''.
■ Government finances had deteriorated sharply since 2006 to the point that it was ''borrowing heavily to support the budget''.
■ State debt is now $64 billion and likely to be $100 billion by 2018-19.
■ The cost of Queensland of losing its triple-A credit rating added $100 million a year to interest payments.
■ The previous government's projected budget surplus needed urgent revision - $3 billion in ''fiscal consolidation'' (i.e. cuts) was needed for the budget to be in ''genuine surplus'' in three years.
■ Treasury's forward budget estimates were ''overly optimistic''.
■ The previous government, which enjoyed a revenue surge between 2001 and 2007, left no reserves for unexpected circumstances (e.g. the global financial crisis and natural disasters).
■ Public service productivity was poor.
■ Capital spending was financed increasingly by loans - an increase from 34 per cent in 2005-06 to 96 per cent in 2010-11.

The Brisbane Times reports that the commission's report is highly critical of both the growth in Queensland Public Service staff numbers and, more importantly, expenses due to classification creep and wage rises. Some of these problems were known beforehand, though they were not acknowledged by the Bligh government.

For example, the public service's growth and costs, which the commission identifies as a key underlying cause of the budget blow-outs, had been detailed by external researchers, such as the Institute of Public Affairs' Julie Novak in a public paper in 2009.

Friday 6 July 2012

Coral reef experts experts meet in Cairns for largest symposium

It's the 'Olympics' of coral reef meetings.  The largest gathering of the world’s experts in coral reef science kicks off in Cairns on Monday. By the end of the week, top scientists will have explored some of the most pressing questions in managing the complex changes taking place in coral reefs globally.

The International Coral Reef Symposium is held once every four years, and will bring together 2,000 experts and academics from 80 countries, to share their research and hear the latest developments in coral reef science. More than 1,500 scientific talks and posters addressing major themes will be presented, giving attendees a unique glimpse of the past, present and future of corals globally.

This is the third time the ICRS is being held in Australia, the previous years being 1974 and 1988. James Cook University and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, are hosting the Symposium.

Coral reefs around the world are declining almost everywhere. The Symposium will cover the full spectrum of coral reef science, with the aim of sustaining reefs, and feature more than 1,500 talks and posters.

Presenters will discuss coral reefs and climate change, ocean acidification, coral reef health and recovery, the role of marine protected areas, managing reefs sustainability and the Coral Triangle Initiative.

The Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs will also be launched during the conference, and urges governments to take action for the preservation of coral reefs.  There are already 2,400 signatures from the scientific community.