Thursday 22 September 2011

Casting Vote of Mayor wins the day | Council now looks forward to turning first sod

Council gives go-ahead for Cairns Entertainment Precinct

Daniel Strudwick
Thursday, September 22, 2011
© The Cairns Post

GROUND could be broken on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct before the end of the year after Cairns Regional Council pledged $57.3 million towards the project in a vote yesterday.

The precinct’s future now rests with the State Government. A Cabinet Budget review committee is likely to decide on the Government’s share of the funding within weeks.

It took councillors more than an hour to reach a decision over funding yesterday, but not before a divide was cemented between factions of the council on opposite sides of the precinct debate.

Five councillors endorsed the plan to commit the council’s money to the project and forge ahead with work on the $150 million first stage of the master plan. But five councillors also opposed the plan, insisting a complete business case needed to be seen before any money could be pledged.

The precinct was given the green light only on Mayor Val Schier’s casting vote. Cr Sno Bonneau, who has regularly voted against the entertainment precinct, missed the vote yesterday because of an overseas trip. He hasn’t attended a council meeting since August 17.

The entertainment precinct’s project manager, Linda Cardew, said early works are likely to start on the Wharf St site next year. But Cr Schier said the first sod could be turned before the year is out. "The reality is that it’s going to take time to get the tenders out and assessed and awarded," she said. "But in the interim, there are some smaller things that we can do to indicate that work is under way."

Yesterday’s decision was welcomed by members of the local arts and business community in the council chamber, including Jute Theatre and the Cairns Chamber of Commerce. Three members of the packed public gallery, including former councillor Annette Sheppard, were almost kicked out of the meeting for shouting loud comments.

Ms Sheppard interrupted the meeting to tell the Mayor she was "out of order" for rejecting an amended motion put forward by Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane. As reported in The Cairns Post yesterday, the changes called for financial safeguards to protect the council’s financial contribution from any cost blowouts.

She wanted the council’s commitment to remain "in principle" until councillors were satisfied with a full business case, which is yet to be completed. Cr Cochrane also asked for a formal response from the Federal Government, indicating whether they would extend the expiration date on $40 million of funding that has to be spent by July next year.

Her safeguards attracted support from councillors Paul Gregory, Linda Cooper, Alan Blake and Nancy Lanskey, who wanted more proof that the precinct’s business case stacked up. But Cr Cochrane was voted down, again because of the Mayor’s deciding vote, and the original recommendation was put forward.

A preliminary report from project management group, Savills, shows the council can afford to press ahead with the $150 million first stage. Bob Minnikin from Savills told the council yesterday the business case, which is due in December, would confirm the figures presented in the preliminary report.

"In the short term, there is a need to get things moving straight away, and that means doing the long-term plan in stages," he said.


On this vital issue I am with the Mayor all the way. It really was 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 then named 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 centres, 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 asset should be located in the best location and not in a place that is second best.

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 disingenuous, 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 now need to cast their political persuasions aside and put their collective shoulder to the wheel and make the Entertainment centre happen.

I was part of the policy development committee that helped formulate the Entertainment Precinct policy which Val took to the election. Val has a mandate for this policy initative and needs to be applauded for not breaking a promise.

I believe Council should direct its energies towards ensuring that the costs do not blow out. This is the issue where the ratepayer's interest will now be best served.

I am happy with the progress made so far. Let Cairns now proceed united towards a common goal.

Ross Parisi
22.09.2011                _______________________  |  _____________________ 

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