Gold Coast development lobbyist turned dumped News Limited columnist Graham Staerk is again riding high after his controversial pulpit “Staerk Reality” was reprised to lavish praise on the man who controls the fate of his clients’ projects.
In June 2010, Crikey revealed that Staerk, a former Peter Beattie press secretary, had used his regular Gold Coast Bulletin outlet to covertly plug the interests of numerous paid clients he had failed to disclose. A day later, a disclosure was added to the column and two weeks later it was dumped under pressure from senior News executives.
Now, the self-described “mayor maker” is back. Last week, he launched into print on the myGC site to pledge his devotion to newish Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate — the millionaire former Liberal candidate who ran as an independent and now wants to build four casinos on the coast, including one (since denied) next to his own Islander Resort.
“Though he’s only been in the big chair just over 150 days, mayor Tom Tate is already showing the potential needed to become one of the great mayors of a major Australian city,” Staerk writes. “Tom’s in the job for the right reason. To get it done and fix the City. Because he has nothing to lose, he’s going for it.”
Crikey wondered what might have prompted the sudden outpouring of adulation. Surely Staerk wouldn’t be so cynical as to drench the mayor with rivers of praise to get a foot in the door for his patrons.
Staerk’s new blog, owned by popular local radio station 102.9 Hot Tomato (“The Gold Coast’s best music”), has a disclosure at the bottom noting their charge is a “registered lobbying client with Queensland Integrity Commission and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet*”.
Let’s revisit his list of lobbying clients. Prominent among them is Pearls Australasia, a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Pearls Global. Pearls is the owner of the recently refurbished 1980s resort icon Sheraton Mirage, located on The Spit.
Before his election, Tate — breaking from the seven other mayoral candidates — pledged that he would rehash long-dead plans to build a cruise ship terminal on The Spit, despite huge virulent local opposition that culminated in the largest ever petition (38,000 names) being presented to the Queensland Parliament. A casino to fund the development has also been planned.
If the terminal is built by a Tate-helmed council, the Sheraton would snaffle — alongside the adjacent Palazzo Versace — the lion’s share of infirm international tourists keen to waddle off the Costa Romantica and into beachfront luxury.
Staerk — a former bankrupt accused by a NSW government inquiry of laying the groundwork for “a litany of lies and deception” on the Tweed Council — is also the lobbyist and spokesman for Ridong Developments, the Chinese bankroller of $1 billion bling palace “Jewel” , a 45-level tri-tower hotel that is meant to be erected before the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
The six-star edifice was recently “called in” by LNP development minister Jeff Seeney to silence objectors and is set to start construction next year.
Last month, the CEO of Jewel, Steven Haggert, embarked on a bizarre “fact-finding trip” with Tate to Honolulu, Las Vegas and Miami to investigate “sister city” opportunities. (Tate humorously hit up Miami after Honolulu and Las Vegas failed to respond).
The junket was also attended by local Liberal backbencher and industrial militant Steve Ciobo with Gold Coast Bulletin scribe Shannon Willoughby acting as stenographer. Memorable yarns included this one that revealed James Packer would be offered first rights to build a new casino — if Tate could secure an extra licence from his LNP mates — on the site of the current council chambers at Evandale.
Staerk also agitates for the Committee for Southport, which is smack bang in the in the middle of hitting up Tate to build shopping, entertainment and an “international event precinct” in the Broadwater Parklands. The plans include a handy ferry route to The Spit.
But all the bonhomie could be starting to wear off — even in the usual boosterish Bully. Yesterday, Geoff Chambers penned a swingeing piece claiming the Tate honeymoon was “over” because of mis-communication over the casino plan.
A senior Tate source told Crikey this morning that Staerk, who did not respond to an email query, was yet to personally front at council HQ to parade his wares. But with his popular blog back ruling cyberspace, and his paymaster hobnobbing in Vegas, the lack of a face-to-face meeting would seem the least of his concerns.