The Gold Coast City Council, led by mayor Ron Clarke, is second only in size to Brisbane as our biggest municipality and with an annual budget of $700 million. It also boasts 289,500 ratepayers and a population nearing 500,000, with 25% of them born overseas. So with a booming economy and an enviable climate and lifestyle available to its residents, why is there trouble to be found in paradise? In part two of The Clarke Chronicles, the man with a famous name fires up when questioned by our man on the Gold Coast, Willie Whiteshoes.
With a consistent line being pushed by its critics of a Gold Coast City Council (GCCC) being driven by a development friendly “power bloc” dictating council decision-making, few councils now face greater local scrutiny than this Ron Clarke led municipality since he swept to power in March 2004.
But ever since he took over from former Mayor Gary Baildon as the preferred “establishment” candidate, Ron Clarke could be forgiven for thinking he’s been heading up the “wild bunch” as if somehow all they’ve been doing since the election is shooting up the town to the consternation and alarm of everyone from the Gold Coast Bulletin, to National Party apparatchiks and a couple of strange ratepayer protest groups.
As has already been noted, leading the “watch dogs” on matters of corporate governance and accusations that the council is pregnant with conflicts of interest because of campaign donations from developer interests, are our admirers at the Gold Coast Bulletin. I don’t agree with special interest donations myself, but they are a fact of life and why only now such editorial rectitude?
Already it has been highlighted that despite years of having a previous Mayor who received huge developer support that didn’t concern the paper through all that time (some 75% of almost $200,000 for his last campaign), potential conflict of interest as applied by the paper or anyone else including myself, is not black and white. Gold Coast Developer donations have long been a fact of life but it neither makes it wrong or right while the law remains as it is. In fact I will come back to this whole vexed question subsequently as to the linkage between council campaign donations for candidates and what is to be expected in return for such largesse, and why the law does need to change and council voting procedures with it.
But putting that to one side, during the course of this interview I raise with Ron Clarke an examination of one particular instance of a councillor voting in relation to a planning application before the council from a company which had donated to his 2004 campaign. In fact it was an instance highlighted by the Bulletin that originally raised it with the councillor himself.
But as will be seen from debating this whole question with Clarke, that what does constitute conflict of interest as it applies to GCCC voting and for all other Queensland municipalities come to that, is a veritable minefield. It’s also strangely enough why I agree with the Bulletin that as things currently stand there surely is a need for legislative reform. The perception special interest campaign donations somehow promote some kind of corruption of council voting or at the very least can contribute to the perception of “tainted” voting; is now being continually held against the council as some kind of probability. That it is already leading to instances of conflict of interest when the law certainly says otherwise.
For those wanting to make this council into a whipping post, this whole area of “conflict of interest” is always going to get some credibility attached to such attacks in the wider community because the linkage does create a climate of suspicion and as we all know in politics, perception becomes everything irrespective of truth.
Hence in today’s second part of the interview with Ron Clarke, this whole conundrum of what is the right and wrong way to go about dealing with this problem can’t be solved or properly reconciled without, as I see it, significant changes to existing law. One which would ultimately lead to any councillor being unable to vote on any business before the council involving an entity who donated money to their election campaign. Introduce that and much of the current ambiguity about conflict of interest vanishes.
Until then from conversations with the Mayor and others and even taking into account the views of the “soap box” critics both within council and the wider community, the GCCC is going to continue to suffer from the outrageous (or otherwise) slings and arrows of being attacked for its day-to-day handling of council business because “conflict of interest” is an easy catch all to keep applying political heat for whatever reason even beyond the principle itself?
While the recent bun fight locally over the proposed sale and redevelopment of the Surfers Paradise Transit Centre is a political football of an entirely different colour, it also serves to highlight how the council is again beset by an issue where it is providing plenty of ammunition for special interest groups to attack its policies. As Ron Clarke makes clear, he sees this kind of brouhaha as increasingly typical of a more organized opposition to the council that is not being fought on its merits so much as being manipulated by the likes of local National Party cronies, and the Bulletin, who to be fair much like Crikey; is always happy to help promote a good fight or wage a campaign. But the Mayor believes the paper has gone from original support to now helping orchestrate fierce opposition as yet another example of why he finds himself so frequently at loggerheads with the Bulletin. He sees its reporting as highly selective to himself and the council generally, and hypocritical in the extreme on the question of Developer campaign funding.
Mayor takes even handed approach to key advisors
Willie: What led you to appoint former Gold Coast Mayor (and prominent Liberal Party identity) Ray Stevens to your personal staff as a key advisor following your election and what exactly is his role?
Clarke: I needed someone who was very au-fait with how the council operated because what I was after was someone who could run down all the queries I get. I don’t have the time for many of these things where I get so many people coming up to me when I go out and meet with ratepayers every fortnight and they are asking me all sorts of queries and I need to follow up. So what I was after was an executive assistant who could find out why things are the way they are or can explain back to people, because I find the worst thing about bureaucracy is that the council administration doesn’t explain where they are coming from, they have no feel for public relations and just want to get on with their job and often regard the public as a bit of a nuisance. So I believe in order to better communicate with people you have to know the facts, and you have to get someone who knows their way around. Someone who knows everyone in the council and has been there and done that, and can get the answers for me and the ratepayers as an information seeker.
Willie: So is he confined to ratepayer type inquiries rather than ringing up on your behalf to discuss a policy issue say with the Minister for Local Government?
Clarke: No…I do that if it’s required. Ray Stevens is not a guy…if you are going to do something like that then you would hire someone from the Labor Party to do it…and you wouldn’t be Jim Soorley (laughs), because he and Peter Beattie do not get on. So the two people I have got that others think are supposed to be doing the political thing for me are choices I would not make for that kind of thing…I’m not stupid (laughs).
Willie: But to get this on the record you have two key advisors where one is a Liberal Party stalwart and the other the ex-ALP Mayor of Brisbane…and his role is?
Clarke: An almost defrocked Labor Party man…I mean he’s not one of those favourite Labor Party people. He’s the chairman of our Future Strategic Infrastructure Planning Committee and he’s the best man to get because he knows it all. He’s applied himself to roads, or tunnels, or rail or light rail…he’s perfect because he knows it all. And if I want to ring somebody to be frank, I will ring Jim and say: “who should I speak to in this department”? I don’t say Jim Soorley told me but he knows them all where he might offer some advice like: “oh don’t touch him he’ll be dead against you”…and that’s invaluable. And the same goes for Ray Stevens who is also fantastic in cutting through so much red tape. There’s 3000 on our payroll out there and you can get stonewalled.
The average age of population is now actually becoming lower due to influx of students, lower age of retirees, and influx generally of people going into business here and that’s also a result of actions we are taking that are working very well.
It’s ironic that there are people hitting out at me for employing Jim Soorley and Ray Stevens, and then believing they’re going to be somehow directing me. One problem I do have is that I don’t take to directions very kindly. I listen to as many people as I can but I’m fairly independent and like to lead from the front, so I’m no bloke to be instructed.
Willie: Did you accept donations from the likes of developers or anybody else towards your campaign?
Clarke: I had made it very clear from the start I was funding my own campaign. But then I have to say nobody was really offering, although there was an instance of where we sent money back to a couple of individuals who wrote cheques to me.
Why $150,000 developer campaign Trust Fund gives council heartburn
Willie: So obviously you are an absolute clean skin, but what do you say to the example of a council down the road (Tweed Shire) now being investigated for possible conflicts of interest between developers and those they helped elect. Given the donations by developers to some of your own council, isn’t there a worry that there exists a similar potential for problem here?
Clarke: But as far as I’m concerned as long as they’ve made statutory declarations, what you have here is the problem of people like the Bulletin charging them with the fact that they didn’t reveal them to the Bulletin beforehand. Now I don’t mind people not revealing them to the Bulletin then because that’s up to them, and there may be declarations after and that’s up to them.
Willie: If we go back to where there this #Lionel Barden Trust fund was put together before the council election last March, that was set up to distribute donations to various candidates basically from developers. Before the election those candidates receiving such funding were being cagey about it. Now by law were they compelled to declare such donation before or after the election?
Clarke: A certain time afterwards but it was frustrating the Bulletin before that because no one would tell them. Now before that Gary Baildon operated on a trust fund, and he had his previous Mayoral elections financed by a trust fund.
Willie: So this was for the purpose of being hands removed from donations as a blind trust?
Clarke: Hands removed. That’s what he claimed and yet this time he made the declaration after the election. I don’t know what he did after the last time because I didn’t follow it through because I wasn’t interested so much. But I know that he always claimed: “I always do it through my lawyers – they run a trust fund and people make donations to it. Now this time he admitted to donations of almost $200,000 – mainly from developers. Now I assume they came through the trust fund and he listed them in his declaration as you are bound to do.
Willie: After he’s signed and made his declaration is there some way he would be unaware or not have knowledge of who might have made donations to him?
Clarke: No you have to have the knowledge because you have to list who made the donations. If it’s gone through the trust fund I can imagine it…but in the end they have to list it and who made the donation.
He’s got the power!
Crikey produced a Bulletin article that examined the minefield of what constitutes a conflict of interest under Queensland Local Government regulations. The paper looked at the issue of Deputy Gold Coast Mayor David Power’s participation in a particular matter before council, where the paper alleged he had played a key role in having an amendment approved to the possible advantage of a developer Yarrayne Pty Ltd regarding an Upper Coomera development. According to the Bulletin article of Tuesday, September 24 written by Ken Vernon, Yarrayne had previously donated $2000 to Power’s election campaign. The article states: “The gift was correctly noted in Cr Power’s official declaration of campaign gifts”. As becomes clear the Mayor had not previously sighted this report.
Willie: Cr David Power according to the Bulletin voted on a development by a company who donated to his campaign, but when asked about it said basically he wouldn’t know who had contributed to his campaign (such matters being left to his campaign manager). What I am asking is whether anyone should take as credible after a councilor has been elected, that they could say “I am not aware of who might have donated money to my campaign”?
Clarke: No…and no one would say that. I have never heard anybody say that they’re not aware of who made a donation to them.
Willie: OK if you read the parts of the article I have underlined here it makes clear he is claiming ignorance regarding this matter. (Mayor reads various highlighted passages)
Clarke: You would have to go back and check this incident but as I remember it there were some problems regarding the sloping of the land and I think what happened was they lost a number of sites and it was a matter of putting it from one side to the other. It was not as simple as (Eddie) Sarroff says.
Willie: But the bare facts would be that he (Power) received money in his campaign from a developer that regardless of him saying he didn’t know whether they donated money to him or not, he has voted on an issue where a company contributed to his campaign. Where it seems he has materially changed – against the advice of the council officers’ if I am reading that rightly…
Clarke: We often do that…
Willie: Yes I am not saying there is anything untoward about that, but I could argue he has supported a proposal that appears to have enriched that company…
Clarke: Well we don’t know that and you have to be very careful…
Willie: But this relates to the reinstatement of seven prime lots…
Clarke: Well we don’t know that…they probably lost seven somewhere else? You have to be very careful what Eddie (Sarroff) says about these things…let’s look at the whole case. I’m not defending him. I’m saying nobody should be voting on an area from where they are getting contributions.
Willie: That’s where I am coming from because at the end of the day, take away our views as to the status or impact of those seven pieces of land, the fact he has voted on an issue concerning a company that donated funds to him; should he have disqualified himself from the vote? I would have thought that any issue that comes up with a developer who has donated money to you should be declared as an interest?
Clarke: Absolutely. No doubt.
(However the Mayor agreed that the protocols regarding campaign donations as a possible conflict as the paper itself made clear was very ambiguous, and he would seek a clear ruling on this matter as to what the obligations are under the Local Government Act from CEO Dale Dickson. I was later informed that Cr Power was not only entitled to speak up on a debate on any matter regarding a company that had made an election donation to his campaign, but could also vote on the matter without it being a conflict of interest. Power clearly has a better appreciation for what does constitute an actual conflict of interest than either this writer or indeed the Mayor, when he told the Bulletin he not only had no knowledge of the Yarrayne $2000 donation which ruled out any possible knowing conflict, but to quote the Bulletin.
“Understandably, Cr Power bristled at the question of whether accepting a campaign contribution from development companies whose cases he deliberated upon and made decisions about, might in any way constitute a conflict of interest. “Not at all,” he said.
Ron Clarke’s ‘history’ with the Gold Coast Bulletin
Willie: Why don’t you think you are getting a fair go from the Bulletin, because surely there’s more to it than Editor-in-Chief Bob Gordon being an old mate of former Mayor Gary Baildon?
Clarke: Well maybe. I threatened to sue them (Bulletin) way back when there was a reporter who was writing a series of ill-informed articles about the Runaway Bay sports centre saying it shouldn’t be built, and he was going to make a Pulitzer Prize out of it! He was on the Bulletin staff and they caused us about $2 million worth of problems having to go to the Environmental Court. The council backed our position thanks to Alan Rickard (former GCCC). In fact it was so controversial that when we had the opening and we had a plaque made, Gary rang up the day before and said “I’m sorry – it’s too political and I won’t be coming”. So we had a plaque we had to throw away because the Bulletin was still publicly opposing it. It seemed to me there was more to the headlines and what they actually cut out of articles…in fact similar to what (Cr) Peter Young has done (harking back to yesterday’s interview). What they’ve cut out and haven’t told as much as what’s in there.
Willie: But do you think that was systematic or could it be more headlines not properly reflecting the story?
Clarke: Yes it can happen and I am told by people who know him well, that Bob is like all Murdoch editors – he’s very hands on and headlines are designed to be provocative. Look via a lot of headlines and what is missing in reportage you can give a very different perspective.
Willie: So a headline like Crazy Clarke?
Clarke: And you can get someone like Dawn Crichlow to say that at any time, where she might comment “Crazy Clarke because he threw someone out the door” and you can never get that headline back…
Willie: It creates a mythology…
Clarke: Of course you do because it depends on what you write and I become the pasty that’s there…but it could have been David Power, he’s a bit of a patsy as well where they don’t write anything particularly good about him…
Willie: But I am trying to get to the nub of understanding whether you believe the Bulletin had it in for you for any particular reason?
Clarke: I can’t complain about the support earlier. I was criticised but everybody is criticised when they run and I can cop that. There were some things they could have covered but they have all sorts of reasons as to why they don’t cover them. But then there were a few weeks where they were more balanced in the way they reported council. I’m not going to try and pick the reasons as to why or where they had been more balanced; but at one point they thought I was a “lame-duck Mayor” and now I’m running too fast with issues such as the Transit Centre and raising the Hinze dam wall.
Willie: It’s interesting though that since we began to do a little digging you detected a kind of editorial shift occurring on the Gold Coast?
Clarke: Without Crikey…there’s a lot of these damned newspapers around the place that get away with….I mean The West Australian is a good example. That was a great example where it’s just unbelievable what that new guy was doing over there. And Crikey is the only protection…the conscience pricker as it were that’s around; and it’s not because of how many it’s read by but by who reads it. So it’s great to have someone like that and that’s why I don’t react…or have given up with the Bulletin where I wrote down very early in the piece that they only publish a modicum of positive council news. That’s why I was so keen to get my point of view across to Stephen Mayne at Crikey.
Willie: But there is a perception out there whether in the Bulletin or via local talkback radio and a couple of agitating protest groups is of a dysfunctional council at war with itself?
Clarke: I’ve done the numbers and we have come up with something like 1,428 resolutions being passed in 30 council meetings held in the nine or so months from the March election. That’s also produced 432 individual motions involving a whole variety of things, and this council is moving very fast in lots of areas despite what people think out there. I say: “Ok you should really only judge us after say a year into the council’s term” – because in those first early stages you are kept busy working on getting the kind of people you would like to see help you getting on board. But then also I have got a white board that I look at every day and I know where I am going on all the subjects I am caught up with and so far I haven’t lost anything.
There may be some priority wise that I’m not moving on yet, but by the time I finish my term I don’t believe that I will have backed away from anything that I have been talking about during my term, but some things you can’t just jump in and do straight away. I have already crossed off on quite a few of my objectives that we’re working through. We’ve now got the advisory boards working tremendously well and they’re coming up with some great information.
Willie: Your own voting pattern analysis does show certain councillors voting strongly together which harks back to concerns about a council voting bloc, developer friendly or not?
Clarke: People on council vote with each other as is to be expected in any kind of governmental forum, and in some cases overwhelmingly the same. But to then say that this is somehow proof of some kind of development vote as opposed to sharing a common view is open to different interpretation. It’s unusual to say the least when you can see a couple of councillors’ who have voted with a 99% agreement on the divisions (around 125 since March), when people call for their votes to be recorded, but then you also need to consider this is only a reflection of a voting pattern which might only be about 30% of all motions that are carried.
Willie: Wouldn’t it be right to say that in the context of a council voting bloc it’s seen as more a pro-development bloc rather than any philosophical approach…or at least that’s where the Bulletin is coming from?
Clarke: Yes that’s where they’re coming from because they’re trying to connect the election campaign donations to it, but there’s no developers’ bloc where someone can come in here and say “I will get my way no matter what and I just have to ring up so and so and it will happen”.
Willie: How would you describe the constitution of the council at the moment given the Bulletin sees the council as pro-development
Clarke: Well you have got your Strategic Development where the Standing Committee chairman is Dave Power. You’ve got your Planning which is done well by Ted Shepherd, and Ray Hackwood’s the chairman of City Infrastructure, which are the three main committees most commonly linked to development. You also have to understand that most recommendations coming before the full council on development and planning issues have already been thrashed out in those standing committees. Only then does the council look at those particular recommendations, and by then most of the wrinkles have already been removed during debate. Therefore you can’t just judge the voting patterns in council in a final resolution without taking into account the process by which the committees have already eliminated a whole range of applications issues.
On the other side of the fence is “the chip” (as in – “off the old block”) as I like to call them or the “three musketeers”. That’s Eddie Sarroff, Dawn Crichlow and Peter Young, because they tend to invariably vote in opposition, where more often than not if one votes one way you can be sure the other two will probably go the same way.
Willie: But do they always agree on everything because when I hear Eddie Sarroff talk…he strikes me as a reasonable and rational sort of bloke?
Clarke: Yeah Eddie is a reasonable guy and Young is quite an intelligent bloke, but he is the guy who fires the shots. Without Young there the other two are very amiable. Young is an environmentalist, and he’s done university courses all over the place and always been very strong in that regard, and as far as Dawn is concerned she’ll usually vote for whatever he says anyway! They are the only three that I can see who ever vote together consistently in opposition. But the rest of the council, some of them vote all over the place. You really can’t pick what will finally go through because of the different make up within the council.
When it comes to a bloc or clique within the council, I believe that is more likely to come about as left over baggage from the previous council, where there has been some hatreds that have been built up so that when these three vote one way, there are others who inevitably end up on the opposite side to them.
Willie: Well given your three musketeers on one side, tell us about the others and your views as to their respective personalities?
Clarke: Well firstly you’ve got (Jan) Grew, Davie Power, Ted Shepherd, Ray Hackwood and Bob La Castra. I would say those four are on one side, with the “musketeers on the other – and the rest of us in the middle. You have Rob Molhoek who Bob Gordon has nominated as his mayor in training (laughs) and Bob will admit it. He nominated himself for Deputy Mayor at his first meeting. There’s nothing wrong with ambition and he made it clear. Then you have got Greg Betts, and Grant Pforr and they’ve got very curious minds and you can’t count of them to vote any particular way…they go all over the place but they are very strongly their own people and they’re bloody good councilors.. Susie Douglas is also a good councillor although at times she takes a partisan political stance (National Party). Daphne McDonald is unaligned and she voted against the pay rise the same as I did.
So that does give you a working dynamic that does makes for some fluid decisions and hardly suggests some kind of rigid voting bloc. But the people who always scream the most about carrying the day are “the chip” because they are always being out-voted. In fact I think they expect it because as soon as there is a vote they say “the bloc has voted…the bloc works again…the bloc’s in power…”
Willie: When did you first become aware that there was a perception being put out whether from the Bulletin or elsewhere that there was seen to be this “bloc” exercising power?
Clarke: I don’t remember anything about it until after the election campaign, and these three started it because they were voted out of the getting the chairs of these standing committees, they started talking about this block. Eddie Sarroff was the only one who previously had a chair as head of the finance committee. He in fact resigned from it, he didn’t stand for it, but he got upset so I don’t know what he was after.
Willie: Do you see him as a diametrically opposed councilor and opponent of yours?
Clarke: Yes. But I talk to him all the time and I do things with Young as well. Eddie votes to have votes, but he is very flexible I will tell you that. He will vote either way but he’s got an obsession with being on the audit committee and I pulled him out of that and he was really very upset about that. But he’d been on it for seven years and there’s no way any councilor should be on an audit committee for seven years. I say no Mayor or no councilor should be influencing the audit committee. Of all the committees that’s the one that has to be absolutely independent; that they can run a rule over anyone at any time, any place, and not be influenced. So he had been in charge of it. One of the people who handed out how to vote cards for him used to be in charge of the internal audit department, so he’s had very close relationships, and I’m not saying he’s dishonest in any way, shape or form, but that precludes him because you need them at arms length – and I’m an ex-auditor and there is no way that you can have that happening, but he’s been very upset about that.
Willie: If you had to sum it all up at the moment given all the current kafuffle – how well are you traveling?
Clarke: We are going ok and I know enough about businesses and about everything else in my whole career that you can’t be judged until you’ve had some time to get some achievements under your belt. I don’t like to hark back to it, but it’s apt if I say that you don’t break a world record just because you intend to break one, and you say you are going to break one just because you’re training for it. If you are ever lucky enough to do it, it takes a while. Now I have only got one voice on council and to get these things done takes a lot of time and political maneuvering to talk to people and bring them up at the right time.
Now when I think it is the right I will got to town – as I have with the Hinze dam wall and as I also have with desalination as well as the pipelines, because I like to have three different areas we’re coming from because this town has more rainfall than any other major city in Australia. Our average is something like 1400 milliliters annually – and Melbourne’s average is 485.
Willie: If you put the Hinze dam wall up as proposed is the run off already there to help fill it, or do you have to do other things to help boost the catchment area?
Clarke: When it rains the capacity is there whereby had we already built stage three, we could have come close to having already filled it twice in the last four years. We are currently at something like 85%, and in the New Year we might well have reached current capacity (163,500 megalitres). But when we greatly increase our future capacity for the city by raising the dam wall another 13.5 metres, this will take capacity up to 296,000 megalitres.
Desalination is expensive but our future is desalination, but we do have a problem also not only with it being more expensive but it adds to greenhouse gasses, so that’s a problem we need to overcome first and we are looking at ways of dealing with that. But yes we also need to have greater storm water harvesting in catchment areas, and we have to look at other small areas too as to how we do our waste work. We have currently $534 million of works already on the books and again that’s nothing to do with me, but that’s happening right now with our waste water and storm water and sewerage plants – and that’s taking place all over the city. This is the most dramatic city…
Willie: By any measure the coast economy is booming and the demographics for new arrivals also seem to put lie to the coast as simply a giant retirement village?
Clarke: No not at all…and in fact we are pushing hard on education, just as we’re pushing on with our marine precinct, our Yatala industrial area, and our food and beverage sector is fantastic…and that’s also aligned stuff with tourism. We’ve now got a tremendous range of economic activities, so people are coming here to live because of employment opportunities and it will surprise many people to know that our unemployment is the lowest in the country when it used to be among the highest.
Now I have to say this shows that the council has been operating far better than I thought it was because they have been advancing these issues and initiatives well before my time. But also I think a lot of this was probably happening below the surface and to be frank wasn’t being promoted enough by the likes of my predecessor Gary Baildon.
Surfers Paradise Transit Centre controversy
Willie: What are your thoughts on the role of prominent Gold Coast political figures involving themselves in the current Surfers Paradise Transit Centre row, and do you see this as a cynical attempt to manipulate the issue as a political football at the next state or council elections?
Clarke: I believe the powers in the Surfers Paradise National Party hierarchy– Rob Borbidge, Lex Bell, and Gary Baildon, along with the Bulletin, are searching for ways to reassert the dominance the conservatives once enjoyed on the Gold Coast through their Surfers Paradise power base, have seized upon the “sale” of the Transit Centre as an ideal cause to use. Especially with Cr Suzie Douglas also a chief agitator and National Party member who stood earlier for the party in the Surfers Paradise seat at the state election before last.
Note: (This quote has been amended from its original preview in Crikey earlier after the Mayor pointed out that his concerns about political interference didn’t in fact lie with the Liberal Party acting in concert with the Nationals, but the row is being seized on by the National Party all by itself. Also he has corrected his earlier belief Cr Susie Douglas did not stand at the last State election but the previous one.)
Willie: So you see overt National Party linkage between the intervention of the likes of Borbidge, Bell and to a lesser extent Baildon, and the role of Cr Douglas in leading the Transit Centre protest movement, and the way it is manipulated as a running issue in the media?
Clarke: They used and misrepresented the issues to suit their purpose. It is an easy vehicle for the National Party to gain the maximum publicity by simplifying and misrepresenting the issues in question in order to make it into a running sore for their own wider political purposes to re-establish their own political influence for the future on the Gold Coast, where their influence over the last several year has waned dramatically.
Willie: I have been told that Peter Beattie’s office is now starting to realise that perhaps all is not what it seems as to what possibly likes behind all this local agitation against your administration?
Clarke: I am not aware of any acknowledgement from the Premier’s office as yet although they could have put this issue into perspective had they had the will, or bothered to check the facts.
Willie: Previously I described the Bulletin’s coverage of the Transit Centre debate as lop-sided which brought forth the usual protests from a Bulletin council reporter where I had missed the instance of a key “pro” case being put by you in their paper. But is it fair to say that other than on the day it kick started an SMS phone poll campaign where you got to have your say, over the course of recent weeks it has indeed run an overwhelmingly negative campaign against the council over the Transit centre debate?
Clarke: Yes the Bulletin had a poll when the Council resolution first was passed with a 94% agreement for the “sale”. Yet a few days after led the negative campaign, and have ever since by decrying the sale of public assets. Ironically in May, when Council deferred making a decision to allow Cr Douglas to develop other options, they attacked us in an editorial claiming we never made the hard decisions and I was a lame duck unable to make up my mind.
Willie: But it is a fact as the Bulletin likes to reminds Crikey – that they provide you with a half page weekly column each Saturday, albeit that over recent weekends as typical examples they ran on pages 42 and 32 of the paper! Given you have that forum why does the council still feel it is necessary to take out paid advertising to present the council’s side of the story?
Clarke: My column is often edited and only represents my opinions. There are numerous resolutions council passes on a weekly basis that ratepayers never know about. Naturally the Bulletin cannot be expected to feature them all but Council needs to accurately communicate with its ratepayers as to what is happening in their city on a regular basis.
Willie: What did you make of that organized Transit Centre protest (Bulletin estimate 700) where your opponents protest that council doesn’t listen to them, yet when you tried to present the council’s side of the story you were howled down and prevented from doing so?
Clarke: The “rally” of around 200 – 300 (police figures) was orchestrated with the rabble rousers allowed to gather around the speakers to maximise the noisy “support” for the live TV cameras. It was quite obvious I would be shouted down but nothing was done to move these people away or to talk to them privately. Then again, Cr Crichlow and her Southport supporters from their branch of the National Party were some of the most vocal during my attempt to speak.
Willie: Is the council becoming obsessed with bigger is better given many people do question the need for any city these days to approve high rise towers let alone potentially an 80 storey high rise on the Transit Centre site, with it seems more ultra high-rise developments being planned?
Clarke: Firstly there was never going to be an 80 level high-rise on the Transit Centre but market forces will decide how many of these are built. There is a need to slow down development within the guidelines of the Town Plan but it is impossible for any Local Government authority to overnight say “no more”. Investors have made decisions five to six years in advance and why should one be allowed to proceed and not another if both have complied with the Regional Planning Scheme? We need to follow this scheme and ensure infrastructure catches up, then surpasses the city’s likely needs. It is this infrastructure that is at fault and the fact that previous councils accepted the development without a corresponding upgrade of this infrastructure. This is what we, in this term, are fixing.
Willie: You are reported by the Bulletin as saying you will only serve one term and have said despite having your council called the Beverly Hillbillies by Rob Borbidge, you thought he would make a good Mayor to succeed you if he stood. In light of his grandstanding on this issue do you still think he’s the right man for the job?
Clarke: I do not believe I ever said Rob Borbidge was the right man to be Mayor. Rather that he had the right attributes to be a Mayor. I feel the whole of the electorate do not want a Mayor from Surfers Paradise-Southport, and especially not one with National Party ties.
Willie: Given the history of the Transit Centre and its original development by the council, does Lex Bell’s opposition to its redevelopment now appear hypocritical when he was at the helm when they initiated the original poorly planned development?
Clarke: I think that Lex Bell has a lot to answer for in that he was Mayor when they made what must have been one of the worst decisions ever made by the council. That’s when the original Charles Hicks bequest was betrayed and the parkland donated by Hicks was decimated by building an ugly two storey above ground car park which has been shown to never have been necessary in the history of its existence. Bell has to take his share of responsibility for the original desecration of the park and the manifest waste of public funds.
# According to the Bulletin election returns showed $150,000 was donated to the Lionel Barden Trust Fund which supported the campaign of four candidates, and for its contributions saw the election of two new councillors Grant Pforr and Greg Betts.
Given Ron Clarke believes the council is being exploited for partisan political gain, as best Crikey can determine from inquiries this is how the council presently stacks up:
GCCC current likely major political party affiliations
Six of the current council have been aligned in one form or another with either the National or Liberal Parties, and three have stood as party candidates in elections. The ALP has no connection to any current councilor other than it seems Cr Peter Young has supported a State Labor party candidate and some believe he has wider ambitions within the ALP in future years.
Mayor Ron Clarke No political association
Cr Ray Hackwood Former Liberal Party candidate
Cr Grant Pforr Liberal Party supporter
Cr Dawn Crichlow National Party supporter
Cr Susie Douglas Former National Party candidate
Cr Rob La Castra Liberal party member
Cr Ted Shepherd Former National Party candidate
Cr Peter Young Supporter of State ALP candidate
Cr Sarroff no known associations
Cr Grew no known associations
Cr Betts no known associations
Cr McDonald no known associations
Cr Power no known associations
Cr Molhoek no known associations