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.

Monday 2 July 2012

100 days of LNP disappointment

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk says in just 100 days the LNP government has disappointed Queenslanders by becoming mean and tricky instead of delivering the “humility, dignity and grace” promised by the Premier.

Launching a list of 79 of the LNP government’s disappointments in its first 100 days, Ms Palaszczuk said the Premier and the LNP had failed to keep their word on a string of commitments.

“Most recently we have seen the mean and tricky side of this government with the Premier able to cite 2,529 contracts the government holds with a power company, but then claiming he can’t say how many of his own workers were being sacked,” she said.

“Taxpayers still don’t know if they will have to foot the bill for breaking any of those contracts which may have penalties attached to exit clauses.

“That is a good example of the government’s inexperience, its willingness to risk taxpayer funds through diversion tactics, and its refusal to be upfront and open with Queenslanders.”

Ms Palaszczuk said the document she released gave a brief overview of the LNP’s major broken promises, backflips and bungles which had badly disappointed Queenslanders.  The Premier has launched just the first wave of government job cuts, despite making unequivocal promises to them in the election campaign that their jobs were safe,” she said.

“The LNP’s job cuts will affect frontline services as possibly thousands of support staff are sacked, despite promising to enhance frontline services.  The Premier and the LNP promised higher standards of accountability, yet trash the standards of ministerial behaviour expected of any government in the post-Fitzgerald era."

“It uses taxpayers’ funds on a still politically active politician, Peter Costello, and claims that his audit and its predictable findings is ‘independent’.  Most disturbingly, the LNP in office is more than willing to talk down the Queensland economy just to score cheap political points and cover its own broken promises and its inability to fund its election commitments."

“The LNP in office sees nothing wrong in striking fear into the hearts of elderly, infirm and disadvantaged Queenslanders who live in public housing by threatening to take their homes away or force them to share with strangers."

“The LNP has failed to govern with the ‘humility, grace and dignity’ the Premier promised.  The LNP prefers to gloat, play the blame game, and look after its own. Its first major capital works project — a new office building for the Premier and Ministers — highlights its sense of entitlement,” Ms Palaszczuk said.