Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cairns Entertainment Precinct vote.....the long version.

No prizes for guessing where I was all afternoon. Believe me when I say it was ALL afternoon. The Council vote on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct was scheduled for 2 p.m and I left the Council building at 5 p.m. Proceedings didn't actually go that long but by the time I caught up with many of those who attended......the day was over.

I turned up this afternoon at 12.39. Precisely. I was early because of a few things. I had my two eldest children with me and mum had agreed to babysit while the meeting went on upstairs and I wanted to get some idea of who was attending and what their position was.

The first person I came across was Jack Wilke-Jans who is running in Division 9 at the upcoming election. He was attending (in his words) 'for practice' and also came as an interested member of the arts community. His view was very positive for the Precinct and he was hopeful that the vote would be yes.

Next to enter the cafe area was Barry Neale from Residents Against Crime and Cairns Community Council Watch. A strong opposer to the project he and I had a wonderful conversation about the entire proposal. While we do not see eye to eye on it, we are in agreement that changes are desperately required in the consultation arena of Council office. We both think that those in charge of consultation procedures are ineffective and are not adequately doing the job. We also agree that the miscommunication on the proposal has led to misinformation, we just disagree on what that information is (which illustrates the point very well really.)

I then had a chat with Brendan Fitzgerald, Katter's Australian Party candidate for Barron River. He has another take entirely and believes that the project should be staged differently. He would prefer to see the smaller theatre built first but more than that, would like to see a 'School of the Arts' incorporated into JCU, feeding the Precinct with potential stars in the artistic arena. This proposed school would include all aspects of stage technician, musicians, dancers, play-writes, actors etc.....essentially a local NIDA. Frankly, I think it's a brilliant idea. The opportunity to change the order of development was not on the agenda so could not occur but the proposal for a performing arts school is one I would support wholeheartedly.

After quick hello's to Rob Pyne, Kirsten Lesina, Julia Leu, Mayor Val Schier, Janine Aitken, Tanya Brooks-Cooper, Stuart Traill, Darren Hunt, Mal Floyd, Tony Hillier, Gavin King, Locco and Daniel Strudwick, had a very brief interview with Channels 7 and 9, then up to the 3rd floor (after getting stuck in the lift door not watching where I was going. Thankfully Gavin, Locco and the entire 7 and 9 News crews saved me from being swallowed whole .)

The Council Chambers were packed. I'm not kidding. It was full to bursting. They even added an extra row of seats but still it was standing room only. I started off seated, right up the front, but elected after a short while to stand as the hostility in the room was pretty confining.

Proceedings began with the Mayor making a very short statement in welcome to all those who were present. She then mentioned that at just past 12 p.m last night she had received a message from Sno stating he would not be attending as he was flying overseas. That statement elicited sarcastic laughter and a few loud whispers stating that the meeting should have been cancelled. Val chose to ignore it and moved on. The traditional owners were acknowledged and the first motion was under-way.

It spoke to the marketing of the Precinct and was a straightforward motion. Di Forsyth spoke for it and was quick and succinct, not so for the negative speaker Nancy Lanskey. She took the opportunity to complain about the incredible speed of this proposal, argued that there is no rush and it felt rushed and said that the community objected to the Precinct being shoved down their throat. Val said she had no idea what Nancy was talking about......they voted, all in favour bar Nancy.

Moving on.....

Margaret Cochrane was next to speak, she put forward several amendments to the original motion. These included; stating that Council would give 'in principal' support, changing it to include Council where it stated that the State Government would approve based on the business case, ensuring it had Federal Government support and getting guaranteed funds from the State. This motion did not get up. The crowd were restless and many called out in disgust. It was time to squirm a little.

Then the Precinct Manager Linda Cardew spoke. She stated that she had been to Anthony Albanese's office the preceding week. His staff told her that there was no guarantee that the 40 million allocated Federally could be postponed or extended beyond June next year. The money has been allocated from a specific fund which is to be used 'in regional centres where it will build infrastructure that will create jobs'. That being the case it could possibly be reallocated to another centre if Cairns did no use it.

The State Government agreed to fast-track the final approval for the allocation promised from them and suggested that Council reiterate the fact that the Precinct could tie in with the Convention Centre when arguing it's case as part of the business plan.

The Precinct report from Bob Minnikin of Savills came next. The end result was that the figures are good, the numbers are realistic and true, the staging is necessary and the borrowings are affordable. The report ended with a statement that the cost of the first stage has some scope to move downwards but will not move upwards. He seemed pretty adamant about that.

Rob Pyne then reignited the energy in the room with his speech, arguing that this decision was not and should not be a political one. This decision is about the community. All of it.

Julia Leu spoke in favour. She said the extensive planning, the need and the evaluation were enough to convince her it was a good project. She also mentioned that many other projects in the past had not gained full support from the community prior to being built but have worked out in strong favour of all residents. She urged Councillors to vote for the future of the region.

Linda Cooper believes that we need to have this but doesn't like the ongoing costs being passed on to future generations. She would not vote positively based on the lack of a business plan and no definitive numbers. Cost blow-out remains too high a risk.

This was spoken to and it was again said that the cost will reduce possibly, not increase. Linda was unconvinced.

Di Forsyth spoke for the Precinct. She mentioned the long wait on this and said that it's time now to just get on with it.

Nancy Lanskey said that this is the first project up for development by Council which would not make money. She stated that it is all about the cost of the project, the potential for blow-out and the reliance on regional growth which may not come to fruition. Too many variables.

Val pointed out that Council subsidise many local amenities and facilities that benefit the community and it is the job of Council to do so.

Margaret Cochrane agreed that the subject of a performance space had been floating around for a long time. She wanted to know why Whites Shed was in the first stage as her belief is that the two theatres should be built concurrently, both being needed. She also worried that community groups would not be able to afford the cost of hiring the facility and things like the Eisteddfod would not be able to access it.

Advice was given that Whites Shed is heritage listed and in very poor condition. If construction begins beside it there is a strong possibility it will simply collapse and that should be avoided. Hence the fact it is included in the first stage.

Paul Gregory mentioned that each Councillor was elected to represent their Division first and the broader community next. He said that this was a tough call for all Councillors to try and balance Divisional issues with community issues. Division 1 is in need of better sporting facilities and parks, making this Precinct a 'want' rather than a 'need'.

Alan Blake shared that view. He agreed that the Civic Theatre needs to be replaced but thought this project was much too 'grandiose'. His concern was about over-running costs and the poor condition of the CBD. He continually mentioned that Council were 'bullied' by the State to accept the land and we should not be dictated to. Whites Shed is also ugly and should not be considered important. He said that the 'stuff' inside it would fit on the back of a ute and should be moved elsewhere and the building itself was decrepit.

Councillors where then reminded that the decision to accept the parcel of land was made by Council in a unanimous vote in July last year.

Kirsten Lesina then summed up. She said that the need is there. This is not a want. We are looking at the future and the community needs it.

Then....the vote. 5 for, 5 against. Val used her casting vote to tip the scales and the motion to allocate Council funds to the Cairns Entertainment Precinct was carried.

And the crowd went wild! That's not actually far from the truth. The noise was deafening and frankly, I used the confusion and chaos to get out of there. During the meeting one person evicted themselves by shouting his opinion all the way to the door and two others were warned three times then told they would be asked to leave if they spoke again.

Now what? Well, afterwards I spoke for a few minutes to Ian Thomas who is running for Mayor. He was disappointed but not discouraged by the result.

Barry and I ran into each other again and his only statement was 'This is not over yet, not by a long shot' and I believe him.

Several members of the Arts community (including Ruby Boussard and Avril Quaill), were very happy with the outcome but like me would have preferred it to be clearer.

My children were just bored.

Now, we wait. Next week the State Finance Committee will vote to allocate us the promised money. The business case report will be complete. Barry and his friends will be organising the next public meeting (set for early November at this stage). The Councillors who voted 'no' can tell their constituents that they support the Divisional needs before the entire community's needs and those who voted 'yes' can tell theirs that the jobs are on the way (and Sno will have some serious explaining to do).

This was the crux of the matter. It might not be over, there might be more bumps along the way, but today's result must be adhered to and this Precinct will be built. I'm not sure that I'd call it an outright win, but it's certainly a big step in the right direction.


  1. I was glad at least a few from Edmonton attended, for me i spent my afternoon on checkouts covering sick staff, and talking to locals most of Edmonton were in fact oblivious to what council was doing, even the local cairns post's headlines did not get them excited. Edmonton is so used to being left out it is now resolute that what they say is not listened to, very few ask there opinion's , our councillor is an unknown whose name is not widely known, and is less prominent in local society. Leigh go out or come down front of shop and ask a local about the CEP and your answer will be "what" most locals are to busy trying to survive cost of living rises at present, they have kids trying to keep them occupied during holidays is a nightmare as little to do locally. it is frustrating you all have this wow $253 million project on the waterfront and this area has 37 kids suspended from isabella , we have cairns largest youth crimes rate and growing,and no one is putting forward solutions to this. in Edmonton truancy from school and parents not sending kids to school is an issue. Val does not give a shit about south cairns issues. she is not even willing to stand on our turf after many invites and discuss this with locals there veiws. She is not a Mayor for the region but an insular City Mayor who delivers for her area of the beaches. A true mayor would be willing to meet all her constituents and discuss with them her councils faults.

  2. "The crowd went wild!" Was it a happy crowd, or an angry crowd?

  3. Interesting to see where Councillors used the asinine in framing their objections. Nancy Lanskey claimed the vote was "rushed", despite it being a controversial topic for well over a year. Perhaps turtle-myrtle Nancy wants a few more years to think about it, duh?? Then Margaret Cochrane dared to use sheer sophistry in inferring that community groups couldn't "afford" to use it. Hey Margaret, get off your duiretics, hormone pills etc, it's a COMMUNITY theatre and won't be charging the schools $2,000 like the Casino does, for staging school functions. Then Linda Lovelace Cooper simpers that generations to come will be paying for the facility. Hey Linda, get away from your mirror (if you can) and think about how it is the ROLE of Council to PROVIDE community theatres and that throughout the western world, in every major city, local councils are funding their city theatres as an ongoing yearly cost. Durh, durh.

  4. The schools currently pay between 20 and 30 thousand to hire the Convention Centre for Awards Nights. A shocking waste of school funds that should be going to the kids. The crowd went wild alright......both sides. It was hard to pick which side was loudest but both were very vocal. Invigorating really. Great to see so many locals step out and take a strong position on something for this community (negative or positive). Something this important deserves vigorous debate and many questions asked of it. That part is now done. Time to build it.

  5. Thanks Leigh for an interesting and considered post. Some points:

    1) "We both think that those in charge of consultation procedures are ineffective and are not adequately doing the job."

    Do you have any reasonable conception of just how far this Council has come from the previous? As somone who was asked to present, on rates, at the only time the last Council attempted consultation, it was a dispiriting experience.

    Speaking as someone not aligned with your own political background all should know the lamentable record of the previous Council. I have directly contacted Council many times and expe,rience under the current Council is vastly superior and the Mayor herself has never failed to personally respond, even when my vitriol didnt deserve it.

    2) "Paul Gregory mentioned that each Councillor was elected to represent their Division first and the broader community next."

    Really Paul? I would have thought that was the opposite of the best democracy can offer?

  6. Leigh, that is a hell of a lot of money for the schools to pay out. Did the schools speak out about the need for a new Entertainment Precinct?

  7. No Alison, but Kirsten spoke on behalf of TAS and Bentley Park College which are the two largest schools in the region and require the space that the Convention Centre affords them. I have mentioned it many times in the past and was very glad that Kirsten brought it up.

    KS, you are absolutely correct that the consultation process is vastly improved from previous efforts. Concerns and queries are followed up almost immediately by Council staff. The concern is more that while the sessions are well run and informative, the advertising for them is insufficient and not reaching the majority. Many are uninterested anyway but I have spoken to far too many people who were completely unaware that any consultation was taking place. It's a case of half doing the job and perhaps speaks more to the marketing team rather than the consultation team.

  8. Leigh, I just cannot recall in my life where there has been so much community consultation over an issue..the Council has websites going, the Council has sent representatives around various suburbs, it has invited people down to the Council on several occasions, it has pro-actively sought community input.

  9. A fund for 'regional centres where it will build infrastructure that will create jobs'. Hopefully they can consider other projects along these lines!

    I'll be pushing for a technology park where IT based companies can grow, supported by the NBN and perhaps a tax incentive!

  10. Steven, your idea is a good one and Cairns would support that venture too. Have you considered the proposed Homemaker Centre which appears to be growing grass rather than being used constructively? It's right next to the city and the space is large enough for what you are suggesting. I know it's owned privately but it might be worth lobbying for somehow. Just an idea.

  11. Leigh, the Homemaker site is under construction, I don't know if it the same project, but something is happening there.

  12. Yes, I noticed that yesterday nomooremike. After sitting idle for so long FINALLY something is happening there. Still, I also noticed many vacant large vacant blocks in the city that would be suitable for this. The NBN will only benefit us if we ensure all IT businesses take full advantage of it and the suggestion that we create an IT 'hub' is a fantastic idea. Off subject I know but worth exploring.

  13. A Cairns "Silicon Valley" would need more land than a city block, it would need room for similar companies to move in. Gordonvale/Edmonton would be better than the city.

    As to the block, we're getting a Woolworths hardware store, at 13,000sq mts it's more than 50% larger than Bunnings, and right next door, plus up to 20 shops.

  14. Yes, that's the one. Bunnings have been fighting them which has caused most of the delay. Same situation as KMart in the southern suburbs. I always think of IT as being the perfect business for a multi story development and there is one right beside the Apple store in the city pre-approved for a high-rise. If I am incorrect on that front, and know very little about it so very possibly am, the Edmonton/Gordonvale area would indeed be the perfect place.

  15. The companies in Silicone Valley like to spread out, and are much bigger concerns than you'd expect, especially as they don't manufacture on-site.

    If you use Google Earth, have a look at Google's Campus.

    37°25'19.36"N 122° 5'3.38"W

    If you go to > Gallery > Google Earth Community, there's markers for other companies around the area.

    Edmonton/Gordonvale has the room, and could use the employment and financial benefits.

    Maybe someone with influence, (you?), should mention it to the mayor. ;-)

  16. "Paul Gregory mentioned that each Councillor was elected to represent their Division first and the broader community next."

    With regard my previous comment that this was the wrong way around please note from the website on Councillor roles and responsibilities: "Local government principles establish that the primary accountability of a local government is to its community, and decisions must be made for the benefit of the entire local government area. Councillors who represent a division must also ensure decisions benefit the whole area and not just the interests of the division they represent."

  17. Excellent report of the meeting, Leigh ... incisive and accurate. Puts the Cairns Post and its lamentable coverage of local issues to shame. In my admittedly biased opinion, Barfly did an infinitely better job with virtually zero resources.

    If I lived in your division, you'd have my vote at the 2012 Council election!

  18. Paul Gregory like Margaret Cochrane is pandering to the likes of the rednecks who always prefer sporting facilities to anything else. Entsch used his 20,000 soccer stadium as a successful carrot last Federal Election, so these two are following suit. Now watch Linda Cooper get up and talk about the sporting needs in her division, ditto the others.