Saturday, 17 September 2011

D-Day as councillors set to vote on fututre of Cairns' $150m entertainment precinct

Damon Guppy
Saturday, September 17, 2011
© The Cairns Post

THE future of the Cairns Entertainment Precinct hinges on one last meeting, with councillors to decide whether the project will go ahead or be scrapped.

Officers have advised councillors to vote in favour of committing to stage one of the precinct and providing $57.3 million over the next three years for the construction period.The recommendation would ensure the council secures the $40 million the Federal Government has committed to the project. The council will lose the Government money unless it allocates its own funding, specifically set aside for the project, by June next year.

The precinct would depend on the State Government, which has given conditional support, matching the council’s funding.Mayor Val Schier said she was positive councillors would agree to press ahead with the precinct, which has been scaled back from $240 million to $150 million.

"It’s hard to say because councillors have been wavering and flip-flopping and uncertain how to vote," she said. "But it’s my belief the council can rise to the occasion and think strategically. This is about planning for the next 50 years."Cr Schier said concerns raised about the precinct, which ranged from the cost to the waterfront location, had been dealt with.

"There have been genuine concerns and we have listened to them," she said."We have done extensive financial analysis of this and the recommendation is that we can afford it without raising rates beyond CPI (consumer price index)." Cr Schier said the council’s contribution to the precinct would not drastically affect other capital works spending.

The final proposal includes an 1100-seat performing arts centre, a footbridge across Wharf St between the precinct site to the Cairns Convention Centre, an on-site car park, landscaping and public space to link the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal with the performing arts centre, and the refurbishment of White’s Shed.

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This may come as a surprise to many but on this issue I am with the Mayor all the way. It really is a test for the Councillors especially those opposed politically to the Mayor as to whether they are on Council for the long term benefit of Cairns greater region or whether they are on Council to play political games for short term gain.

The opposing views vary from; that Cairns does not need this ambitious venue, that Cairns can not afford the Entertainment Centre, it is in the wrong place, and several other spurious allegations.

During my years in local government, I was always mindful of the cost to the community on the one hand and the overall benefit to the community on the other.

One of my biggest mistake, I made when I was on Council was not to support the concept that a joint partnership between the then Cairns City Council and the Mulgrave Shire Council take over ownership of the Cairns Airport. Council listening intently to the concerned residents that packed the Cairns Civic Centre to the rafters, voted to reject the proposal.  The opportunity to make millions for the benefit of the ratepayers was lost forever. The rest is history. The moral of this episode is that the residents are not always abreast of the facts and that some Councillors can at times be disingenuous in spooking the public.

Not all public infrastructure pays its way. There is a general principle that 'user pays' applies where possible. However, not all public assets do pay their way for good reason. For example, local roads do not pay their way,  nor do community swimming pools, nor do libraries, cyclone centers, community centres, the list is endless. That is why residents pay general rates. That is why it is essential that cross subsidies apply. Nothing new here. Typical of a civil society.

Furthermore, I believe that public assets should be located in the best location and not in a place that is  left over because private developers don't want it.

The best spot for the Entertainment precinct is exactly where it is proposed and that is, on the water front. All reasons why it should not be built there are political in nature and mischievous in intent.

Cairns needs a shot in the arm for may reason. The local economy is in the doldrums, tourism is marking time, unemployment is widespread, promised employment drivers like Freebody's Water adventure was/is a 'pie in the sky' dream and is unlikely to happen.

Cairns Regional Councillors need to cast their political persuasions aside and vote not only with their heart but with their head, for the long term interest of Cairns.

I commend the Entertainment Precinct to the Council. 

Ross Parisi

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