All the 12s were lined up. Would this prove auspicious? Meeting commenced at 10 on the dot with Cr Terry James (Div 4), as Deputy Mayor, in the Chair. Mayor Bob (‘Bats are Birds’) Manning was reported as being simply ‘away’ for a week perhaps to attend a wildlife awareness course.

There were 21 items which the council raced through in well under an hour. Nearly all were bread and jam issues which were duly waved through with Cr Julia Leu (Div 10) sometimes offering an opinion or seeking a clarification. Cr Steve Brain (Div 1) offered hearty congratulations for the outcomes of item 9 -Rates Based Financial Assistance to Not for Profit Recreation, Sporting and Community Groups For 2012/13 (Assessment 413336 Division 1) – and item 12 – Proposed Shared Facilities Agreement with Ergon Energy for Use of the Communications Building and the Broadcast Tower on Lot 894 RP887080, Pannikin Street, Goldsborough– Division 1. I mention these to show the kind of commonplace issues that are the grist of local government. Fair enough too.

This report will comment on four items of interest.

Item 1: Draft Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy 2012-2022

Although only a draft document it is of interest in setting the general direction of the region. Julia Leu expressed concern over the broad intent of the plan and voted against. All others voted for. The plan is broadly focussed on establishing a Four Pillar economy for Cairns as per the state diktat (construction, mining, tourism and agriculture). Maybe Campbell Newman and Jeff Seeney were watching an SBS show on China and thought an updated version of their Four Modernisations under Deng Xiaopeng might be good for Queensland.

Emphasis is to be on strategic use of ports for economic growth; balance between environment and economic growth demands; efficiency outcomes; whole of network approach; and clarity and transparency in port planning. In other words, a classic growth strategy and some motherhood statements.

Item 3: Material Change of Use Shopping Facilities (Extension to Existing Sub Regional Centre) – Captain Cook Highway Smithfield, Captain Cook Highway Smithfield –Division 9

This was approved unanimously in a blink. Council Watch has not heard if there are any community concerns about the expansion of Smithfield Shopping Centre.

Item 13: First Peoples Advisory Committee Minutes

Discussion here was around proper cultural awareness training for councillors and council staff. Ian Lowth, the officer concerned, stated that was implicit in the notes although Julia Leu was concerned that it was flannel and there was a possibility that little would be down. She tied Lowth down to doing the training within this financial year (by 30 June 2013).

Item 17: Lake Street Connection – Division 5

Being in his division, this contentious topic was led by Richie Bates the local councillor. Prior to this there had been a rally in front of the council at which a number of guest speakers, including Cr Rob Pyne, argued strongly against the proposal on cost, public space amenity, backward thinking, lack of consultation, safety etc.

Cr Steve Brain (Div 1) expressed concern at the lack of community consultation. Cr Richie Bates (Div 5) stated that he wanted to alter the wording of the recommendation from ‘council endorses…’ to ‘council proposes…’ arguing that this was simply a first measure and that discussion (community consultation) would take place down the track. Members of the audience (around 12 had come upstairs with placards to lend support to the protection of City Place) called from the background ‘why not discussion first and proposals afterwards?’ The alteration was made.

Cr Richie Bates argued for the opening up of City Place from the perspective of enhanced bus routes and even said it would improve cycling opportunities. Some were aghast at this supporter of cycle ways and, by definition, enhanced public spaces, advocating for ripping up a public space into which at least $20m has been poured over the last several years – and this without any ostensible public consultation.

Cr Rob Pyne (Div 3) spoke strongly against the motion with focus on safety issues in the centre of town with the road being opened. He also mentioned that when this last came up in 2009, $38m was on the table and nothing came of it. He asked, rhetorically, where in these straitened times the money for this latest proposal on the opening of City Place was going to come from. He argued that it was Cairns State Member Gavin King’s push to be seen to be doing something that was driving the agenda.

Acting Chair Cr Terry James asked if there were any other speakers for the motion and Cr Steve Brain said that he simply wanted to make a comment and not speak for the motion. Cr James than asked if there were any more speakers against the motion and Cr Julia Leu started to speak at which point Cr John Schilling (Div 2) interjected and stated that Cr Leu did not have the right to speak against as there had not been a second speaker for. Cr James got very flustered about what to do and asked Cr Leu to speak again whereupon Cr Schilling again insisted that she didn’t have the right and that Cr James must put the motion and close the discussion. Cr Leu interjected ‘what is this, North Korea? I have something I want to say about this important issue.’ Cr James recovered and put a motion to the chamber on whether to end the debate. Cr Schilling’s attempt to stifle discussion was temporarily lost. This was very revealing of the mentality of a councillor who, as part of a team with the numbers in council, clearly doesn’t feel that it is necessary to have any kind of debate on contentious matters.

That was effectively the end of the debate anyway and the motion ‘proposing the refurbishment of Lake St’ was passed 6-3 (Cr James as Chair did not need to vote). Only Cr Leu, Cr Pyne and Cr Brain voted against.

Where this will take us in terms of consultation on the issue is anybody’s guess.

For the record Crs Max O’Halloran (Div 7), Jessie Richardson (Div 8) and Greg Fennell (Div 9) uttered not a word throughout the meeting. Nice work if you can get it.

Notes taken by Denis Walls – 12 Dec 2012