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Confirmed: Cruise Lines Refuse To Support Gold Coast – Royal Caribbean Says They Won’t Invest

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The Gold Coast is potentially facing a catastrophic planning blunder with Brisbane soaring ahead as the preferred future cruise destination in the region and major cruise companies refusing to offer any commitment to the proposed half-billion-dollar Gold Coast oceanside terminal.

Image above: proposed Brisbane super cruise terminal, via Port of Brisbane Authority

by Jake Dunn

 

BUILD IT AND THEY WON’T COME – WELL MAYBE, POSSIBLY … THEY’LL DECIDE AFTER THEY SEE SOMEONE ELSE USING IT

It is becoming increasingly apparent as processes advance that the two biggest cruise companies basing ships in Australia are baulking at offering any tangible support towards the concept or construction of a Gold Coast oceanside cruise terminal.

In a fresh response to questions from LiQUiFY Magazine, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean International (RCI) – one of two major cruise lines plying Australian waters – said they won’t be investing any money into the Gold Coast proposal and that, if a terminal were ever built, they would wait and see if it had anything to offer them before making any decisions about scheduling ships here.

“Royal Caribbean has no plans to build a cruise terminal on the Gold Coast,” said the spokesperson, adding that they ‘could’ be interested in a future terminal however would want to see the terminal first and know that it met the economic needs and suitability of the company’s requirements prior to coming to the Gold Coast.

EXCLUSIVE: CRUISE TERMINAL COST BLOWOUT REVEALED – FULL SCALE HOME PORT NOW ONLY OPTION

“If another party were to build one and it was economical, and suitable for use, there could be interest in calling there,” the spokesperson told LiQUiFY.

The current position of the company has diverged little since a statement issued in 2013 by the company’s then Australian Managing Director, Gavin Smith, made it clear that as a destination, the Gold Coast did not meet their business objectives and they were only interested in Brisbane.

“Royal Caribbean has no plans to build a cruise terminal on the Gold Coast” – 2017 Statement from Royal Caribbean International

“Our interest as a cruise ship operator however is in the potential for a base port to be created in Brisbane that can accommodate our 300m+ ships and enable a full ship turn around to be completed – this is our primary desire for cruise infrastructure in Queensland,” said Smith at the time.

Mr Smith said that both his company and rival cruise heavyweights Carnival P&O likely share the same position regarding a proposed terminal for the Gold Coast.

“I believe this is consistent also with the desires of the other major organisations.

“Such a facility would enable expansion of our business into Brisbane with a home ported ship … with this in mind, it makes it difficult for me to support a ‘way’ port development in south east Queensland that does not deliver against either the objectives of ourselves or the Australian based cruise industry,” – said the RCI Managing Director.

It is understood that the mayor of the Gold Coast, Tom Tate, is well aware of these views however is choosing to push ahead and continue an ongoing and uncapped rate-payer-funded investigation into various incarnations of a Gold Coast cruise terminal proposal.


LiQUiFY Magazine investigated the effects of such a structure on swell using computer modelling and ripple tank studies using a variety of basic swell directions, sizes and periods – the results demonstrated significant swell impacts in the immediate area and potential swell impacts for several kilometres both north and south of the structure. Despite the obvious surf amenity loss that the terminal will deliver, the mayor is strangely maintaining that there will be no impacts of surf amenity, defying all logic and scientific reasoning

 

Separately to RCI’s non-commitment, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – who operate the famous P&O brand in Australia – have also indicated they will not support the proposal and development of a terminal here, opting instead to wait and see if it offers anything they may be interested in after it is built.

A Carnival spokesperson admitted that the company has no interest in the Gold Coast as a turnaround or home port, and whilst they could possibly explore transit and day visits in the future, they would however wait and see until after it is built to make any decision.

“Irrespective of what ultimately happens at the Gold Coast, Brisbane would continue to be the main turnaround port where cruises start and finish,” said the spokesperson.

The comments mirror what Carnival’s CEO, Ann Sherry, recently told LiQUiFY in an response to questions regarding their potential commitment.

Sherry, who is considered a cruise industry icon in Australia, was adamant that building a terminal on the Gold Coast would not be something Carnival would participate in.

“We are not party to the discussion and have flagged for some time that the decision to build a facility needs to be taken locally, ” she said.

Ann Sherry also expressed some concern over the reliability of the proposed oceanside terminal, highlighting that her company is well aware of the weather conditions and viability of the location in the open Pacific Ocean.

“The Gold Coast has very difficult logistical challenges given the sand movements, waves and general weather dependance of any facility outside a protected anchorage,” she added.

The actual stances held by the cruise companies are in direct conflict with recent newspaper headlines attempting to suggest that the cruise companies are backing the idea and that, if built, they will be coming for sure.

“The Gold Coast has very difficult logistical challenges given the sand movements, waves and general weather dependance of any facility outside a protected anchorage” – Ann Sherry, CEO Carnival Cruise Line Australia

One such headline published on the morning of the council vote read, “Build it and they’ll come: cruise lines keen on proposed Gold Coast terminal” – however the text of the article provided no such assertion and very little evidence of industry support for the Gold Coast other than brief and recycled industry statements that did more to demonstrate the industry’s lack of direct commitment or backing for the construction of a terminal on the Gold Coast.

BRISBANE IS THE PLACE, SAYS CRUISE LINES

Both major companies, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line, have publicly and actively thrown their weight well and truly behind Brisbane’s new Luggage Point international cruise terminal project, investing both energy and money into the project whilst highlighting that their focus will be Brisbane in the future.

When asked recently about home port and turnaround port objectives in South East Queensland, especially when stacked against the Gold Coast proposals, Carnival CEO Ann Sherry was blunt and to the point.

“Our position remains that Brisbane would continue to be seen as the turnaround port for the area, and our focus continues to be on the construction of an appropriate facility there,” she said.

The Port of Brisbane Authority is guiding the Brisbane terminal development and is understood to have secured significant funding from both Royal Caribbean and Carnival which have emerged as willing partners and majority financiers of the project.


Royal Caribbean International are fully backing the new Brisbane terminal with their own money and their praises – no such interest is evident at all for the Gold Coast mayor’s costly proposal for an oceanside terminal off The Spit

 

According to leading cruise website www.australiancruiseingnews.com, the new project won’t require any government funding and is privately funded by the major cruise lines.

“Taxpayers will not have to shoulder the construction cost. Two of the world’s largest cruise companies – Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation – will spearhead the building of the terminal,” said a recent article on the ACN website.

The cruise industry website asserts that 80% of the approvals are already in place for Brisbane and the project is ready to go.

In stark contrast to the Brisbane project, both major cruise companies have confirmed they are unwilling to spend a single cent on any Gold Coast terminal project.

Brisbane’s new Luggage Point site may not have the beaches that the Gold Coast has, however it does have a list of essential infrastructure items making it a significantly superior business option for investing companies.

Just some of the onsite or near-site infrastructure, characteristics and services confirmed that the Brisbane site already has in place but the Gold Coast either doesn’t have or can’t possibly achieve are –

  • Easy access to ship bunker fuel, overland and supplied from nearby fuel deposits and plants
  • Direct and close access to a full-scale international airport
  • Access to a nearby heavy rail line that can easily and cost-effectively be extended to meet the terminal
  • Scheduling surety from a proper deep-water harbour that is not exposed to ocean swell and elements
  • Near unrestricted space to expand and grow in the future, and space to develop the vast support infrastructure needed for a full turnaround home port
  • No impact to recreational amenity or visual amenity – consistent with its surrounding developments
  • Easy access to existing major customs and quarantine infrastructure
  • Cost-effective location with easy road access (already budgeted and planned to be upgraded)
  • Cost effective construction costs with estimated $100 million total price tag
  • Major cruise lines already publicly committed and financially invested
  • Strong State Government and local support
  • Little to no public opposition
  • No loss of prime beachfront public land or dedicated public park land

By all appearances it is evident that both the State Government and the local Brisbane council are on board with the project also with Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, Graham Quirk, putting his hat into the ring, offering his council’s endorsement and support towards the new super terminal.

In a statement released by the South East Council of Mayors, Graham Quirk said, “at a local level, Brisbane City Council included this location in the local plan in 2012 and in City Plan 2014 for a potential cruise ship terminal. We’re pleased to see the Port of Brisbane has now received the support of the State Government for this project.”

The Lord Mayor confirmed his council is backing the plan in saying, “The proposed deep water terminal at Luggage Point will enable vessels of any size to dock in Brisbane, and could be up and running by as early as 2019. The nature of the proposal means it will be 100 percent privately funded. No tax payer or rate payer funds are required.”

Late last year the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, made it abundantly clear that her government saw no need for a second cruise terminal to be built just an hour down the road from the new Brisbane one.

The Premier, on ABC radio, said, “once this cruise ship terminal opens up here at Luggage Point, with its proximity that it has to the airport, I think you’ll find that there may not be a need for that second cruise ship terminal on the Gold Coast.”

“If they want to do their business case and submit it to us, then they can … if the council wants to do their work, let them do their work but I think you’ll find once it opens up here in Brisbane there’s going to be less of a need for it on the Gold Coast, because people will be able to travel down there quite conveniently,” added the Premier.

“I think you’ll find that there may not be a need for that second cruise ship terminal on the Gold Coast” – Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

The new Brisbane super cruise ship home port is currently scheduled to be opened in late 2019 according to the Port of Brisbane, around the same time the City of Gold Coast council is still wrapping up initial environmental impact studies for their Gold Coast proposal.

In a statement released by the Premier, she said, “a new purpose built, deep water Cruise Ship Terminal would be a major step forward for the tourism sector here in Queensland.”

 

COUNCIL FORGES AHEAD, IGNORING A SEA OF WARNING SIGNS AND RED FLAGS

Despite revelations that the major cruise companies are solely focussed on Brisbane and have already shown considerable hesitation and concern regarding the Gold Coast proposal, the City of Gold Coast council voted yesterday to progress their own process and spend another round of rate payers funds pursuing their pipe-dream oceanside terminal.

In the face of limited industry support and calls from the Premier of Queensland saying there may be no need for the Gold Coast project, the council abandoned the mounting concerns and a growing series of red flags to shift direction towards an oceanside home port terminal for the city – again shattering mayor Tate’s clear election promises that there would be “no cost to rate payers” and it would be a “transit port only”.

Opponents of the terminal plan have taken aim at the council, labelling those councillors that voted to support the progression of the process as ignorant and blind, telling LiQUiFY that the project fails to financially stack up and the recent estimations regarding the possible patronage and economic return on such a development are fanciful and unrealistic.


An almost-comical conceptual video being purported by the local council shows the Pacific Ocean looking like a flat and smooth lake for miles in all directions, with a blank cruise ship glistening in the mid afternoon sun, barely a breath of wind, and almost no corresponding home-port infrastructure appearing on the shore site – no wonder the local councillors are supportive when they are constantly being bashed around the head with unrealistic imagery and claims like this

 

Late yesterday a Save Our Spit Alliance spokesperson said, “Brisbane is the preferred home port option and the industry has made that clearer than clear to our councillors, yet they have again blindly followed the mayor down his pet-project development rabbit hole – the ignorance demonstrated by some of these elected representatives is unprecedented.”

“The visible links between this proposal and the adjacent Chinese ASF Consortium casino highrise development are numerous and obvious given that the same companies, Price Waterhouse, MacroPlan Dimasi and Aecom are doing both of them – how can councillors be so naive to this blatant land grab?

“We know how Aecom works, just look at what they did with the economic and operational projections for the Clem 7 Tunnel in Brisbane … if you want inflated figures that defy logic yet benefit construction companies and development proponents, then they seem to be the go to firm,” they added.


Approximately 11 hectares of irreplaceable oceanfront public reserve and parkland are under threat as the proposed terminal encroaches on dedicated public spaces – something the now-Premier of Queensland promised would never be touched under a Labor government

 

The Save Our Spit spokesperson expanded on their take on the constantly escalating figures and complexities of processes involved, calling out the council for what they believe are dodgy dealings and secret agendas.

“The visible links between this proposal and the adjacent Chinese ASF Consortium casino highrise development are numerous and obvious given that the same companies, Price Waterhouse, MacroPlan Dimasi and Aecom are doing both of them” – Save Our Spit Spokesperson

“It’s just unacceptable that a terminal idea that was supposed to be modest and cost so little has now been revealed as a half-billion-dollar behemoth that’s going to be an incredibly high-risk and low-return project by all evidence – of course they knew – the mayor knew this would happen all along and he’s kept the public in the dark.

“Our council must have rocks in their heads if they think this is a good way to attract investment and tourism to the city, it’s a massive risk and low to negative return venture that masks a subversive real estate plan.

“They’ve totally wasted money and squandered the chance to position the city to capitalise on the emerging and growing Brisbane market and passenger numbers, and Gold Coasters are going to be the sore losers when we miss Brisbane’s cruise passengers and nobody is willing to pay $450 million or likely more for a defunct white elephant,” said Save Our Spit.

With costs spiralling out of control, the local mayor promising that ratepayers won’t be paying for the terminal and the cruise industry unwilling to spend a cent, Save Our Spit says only one logical outcome remains, and they suspect it has been the plan all along.

“The only possible way to get this deliberately unusable and broken piece of hoax infrastructure in place is to trade prime public land to cashed up foreign developers for it – they tried it with Wavebreak Island and nearly succeeded in ripping off Queenslanders of their land and property, now … here we go again – the worse the project economically is, the more land and public parks they will try to give away to pay for it – it’s an age-old real estate scam,” the SOS spokesperson asserts.

“The council is involved in a land scam and it’s a shyster’s process to see a small minority benefit greatly at the expense of the majority.

“Save Our Spit are calling on the State Government to intervene and it’s long overdue that the Local Government Minister stepped in to put this dodgy LNP process under the microscope.”

In yesterday’s council meeting, just four councillors voted against the progression of the proposed project.

Both Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines have expressed that their focus is Brisbane as the new home port and turnaround port for South East Queensland, and that the Gold Coast would be considered an afterthought should it ever be built.

LiQUiFY recently broke news that the terminal was unviable as a port of call, and that feasibility reports suggested the proposal had secretly grown to now be a full-scale industrial home port with an almost a half-billion dollar development cost – something that the mayor strongly campaigned against and promised voters would not be happening.

The feasibility studies into the economic case for the terminal, produced by Price Waterhouse Cooper in conjunction with Aecom and MacrPlan Dimasi, remain secret and confidential despite calls from the public – who paid for the studies – to release them.

“The terminal would be a port of call only, without refuelling or disposing of sewage” – Mayor Tom Tate, 2016 election policy

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate’s own 2016 election policy that prescribed his intention for an oceanside terminal – the one he loudly took to voters as part of his campaign in 2016 for re-election – has now all but been abandoned in the wake of recent revelations regarding the cost, scale, home-port infrastructure and the addition of fuel and sewerage infrastructure and services.

The current and very different incarnation of the cruise ship terminal has not been taken to the public for comment, endorsement or public consent and no consultation or public feedback has been sought //

 

I Dream Of Minke: Swimming With Queensland’s Coolest Creature

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minke-whales_tourism-diving-liquifymag-002Words // Dr Olaf Meynecke & Luke Sorensen
Photos // Dr Olaf Meynecke

She soars from the depths, gliding slowly like a colossal ship from some cult science-fiction film. Her dim and shadowy shape appears hazy in the distance, obscured by the light-filtering ambience of the deep Pacific water.

You know something is approaching and its coming for you – you can feel it in your bones. Slowly her lines become defined as she seeks you and inches closer. Your heart is racing, your primary instinct is demanding you to fear and flee this leviathan, yet something halts your nervous thoughts. A sudden rush of wonder and thrill and great accomplished fulfilment washes over your soul – is this what enlightenment truly is? This is me and I’m swimming with a whale.

With the recent announcement from the Western Australian Government that they will be soon allowing people to experience swimming with humpback whales, the spotlight is again aimed at the debate on whether other states should follow their lead, and if in fact the practice itself is safe and of sound moral, ethical and safety standards.

minke-whales_tourism-diving-liquifymag-001Nine’s 60 Minutes program recently broached the issue which earned mixed responses, but overall it ignited the debate and the imagination of tourists, locals and ocean lovers far and wide.

Gold Coast based Dr Olaf Meynecke – one of Queensland’s leading active whale scientists and marine mammal experts – recently undertook several expeditions off the Queensland coast to investigate the behaviour of the lesser-seen Minke whales. His work alongside these graceful swimmers has opened a door to perhaps an opportunity of a different kind, one that would eliminate the TV screens and magazine spreads from the equation and bring people literally face to face with their own marine wildlife story. But it has also raised many questions and concerns, as tourism operators elsewhere in Queensland and Western Australia scramble to dangle tourists off a rope into the path of a 35-tonne creature to make a few bucks.

Dr Meynecke has been investigating other options and undertaking further observations into the practicality and nature of the idea – an idea that he says is equal in opportunity as it is in moral concern and physical danger.

“We’ve already done two trips to investigate minke whale behaviour off the Great Barrier Reef. These particular whales have a few aggregation sites near Lizard Island during June and July every year,” he says.

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Researchers from James Cook University have spent the best part of the last decade working to find out more behavioural insights into these amazing creatures. Despite their growing database of knowledge, little is still known of the migration pathways, breeding grounds and dietary make-up of what is the smallest baleen whale on earth – the dwarf minke whale.

Dr Meynecke believes not only is the research an opportunity for scientists to grow their technical knowledge of this species, but that it also presents an opportunity for a more sustainable and plausible educational tourism experience, one that could see holiday-makers and locals getting into the water, up close and swimming alongside these much smaller whales. He says it’s an experience that could expand people’s philosophical and ideological understanding of the animals as well as the technical scientific understanding.

“As they have been seen in the southern ocean, close to humpback whales, it is safe to assume that they are taking a similar migration route to that of our well-known humpback whales, although the minke is thought to pass up the coast a little further offshore than their humpback cousins. They also pass the Gold Coast, but likely further off the coast,” he says.

An Antarctic minke whale – a larger type of minke – was killed in a Gold Coast shark net last year, so it shows us they are coming here. However, it is also very unusual for this species to come that close to the coast.

“One key interest of mine with this species is in regards to the feasibility and practice of actually getting in and swimming with them as a tourist attraction. This activity has been undertaken from Cairns for a few years now with only a couple of operators licensed to do so, under a strict set of protocols of course.”

Swimming experiences with humpback whales were first advertised in Queensland last year, and have since been explored by several operators applying similar methods to those used in the minke whale program – however they are dealing with much – and we really mean it – much larger animals.

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In observing the separate behaviours of dwarf minke whales and humpback whales, Dr Meynecke says he was able to isolate some interesting similarities, but also some strong differences between the species.

Similar behaviours include spy hopping or rather ‘head rising,’ breaching, site or belly presentation and the mugging of boats – where whales congregate and hang around to closely investigate vessels and their occupants.

Swimming with the minkes does seem to have some advantages over the constraints associated with the larger humpbacks, and they have shown a patient and sustained interest in sharing the water with people so far, says Dr Meynecke.

“The dwarf minke whales are fast swimmers when they choose to move, but at the aggregation site we use they seem to more often rest and socialise,” he said.

Dr Meynecke explains how approachable humans must be for the minkes. “Almost all of the pods are often larger than six animals per pod and they actively approach the boats and swimmers.

“Their swimming speed around us was exceptionally slow, and at times they even had their eyes closed when swimming by,” he said.

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Dr Meynecke is excited when he tells us just how amazing the experience is, explaining that the curiosity of the animals is evident, spending as much as several hours at a time peacefully alongside the boat and swimmers.

He admits that, of course, each visit is not a predictable encounter, and like most nature-based experiences, you have to wait at times.

“It does require some good patience and a calm attitude from the swimmers’ end of things – to wait patiently in the water until the minke whales decide under their own terms to come closer … then all of a sudden they seem to be almost within reach and you are really up close with them and sharing the ocean,” he tells us.

Dr Meynecke reveals the humpback whale experience is often very different, citing that even when the humpbacks are curious, it’s not common to see them hang around a boat or people for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time. He says a lot of humpback-watching experiences off the South East Queensland coastlines end with one brief visit from a pod or two, and then the humpbacks move on.

“Only in breeding areas where the humpbacks are staying for longer times and don’t move on as much – in places such as Tonga or Hawaii – is there a chance to really swim for periods of time with them.

“The downside at these places is that the boats still have to approach the whales and more often than not place the people in the whales’ path or nearby. At times it is safe to assume the interaction is not necessarily mutual or chosen by the humpback whale,” he said.

Dr Meynecke’s summary is one of caution and optimism combined – he believes that applying the minke whale methodology to the much larger and less predictable humpback whales is not appropriate. He is joining with others and calling for tighter regulations and limits on it.

“I don’t think it is practical and I support my colleagues’ statements from a recent article in The Guardian – that there is a considerable risk associated with swimming with humpback whales. This is particularly when people are put out on a line from a boat in the coastal waters we have around here,” he said.

“I also do not see how this can be consistently achieved other than for operators to actively breach the enforceable regulations requiring a 100m distance.

“The proper interaction can only happen if the whale approaches the swimmers but I am afraid it will tempt operators to deliberately place their vessels and swimmers in the path of the whales – these whales are migrating, not resting.”

The scientist then laments, “Leaving this emerging industry unregulated and unsupervised is calling for trouble.” //

Catch up with and follow the adventures and science of Dr Olaf’s team at www.hhr.org.au or follow their FACEBOOK page HERE

Rasta Calls For Shift Away From Shark Nets To Sustainable Solutions

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A stark image as shark net protestors wade out in front of the crowd at the Quiksilver Pro during the finals this week to spread their message, whilst just beyond the takeoff zone at Snapper Rocks behind them the Queensland Shark Control contractor boat checks and re-baits the drumline hooks // Photo Luke Sorensen
Well-known marine conservationist and free-surfer Dave Rastovich will lead a paddle out at Snapper Rocks tomorrow, Friday 18th March 7am QLD time, to protest against shark nets and drumlines being used along our coastline.

The message is simple – they are pushing for change by way of a better system that could reduce or eliminate the loss of non-target species and marine life (bycatch) by using the latest smart buoy technology to warn surfers about the proximity of sharks.

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Dave Rastovich reckons we should ditch the nets and get serious about better solutions that protect marine life // Photo Luke Sorensen

Rasta, a former World Junior Surfing Champion, has dedicated himself to many environmental causes including his role in the award winning documentary The Cove, which focused on the plight against the regular entrapment and slaughter of dolphins on the shores of the seaside Japanese town of Taiji, in the Wakayama Prefecture.

Rastovich has also been a strong advocate for action on climate change climate issues, joining Al Gore on the Inconvenient Truth campaign.

He will be joined by other surfers opposed to the use of shark nets and baited hooks on drumlines, and will paddle out to the shark nets and perform a ceremonial ring.

Yesterday at the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro two activists staged their own protest against shark nets during the finals at Snapper Rocks. The issue has been in the forefront of much debate following a spate of shark encounters and injuries along the Northern NSW coastline over the last 18 months.

Shark nets more than often do not hit their mark and ensnare a large number of non-target species such as rays , turtles, dolphins, pelagic fish, and in more recent years, whales // Image supplied

The NSW government has been actively seeking solutions with a wide rage of considerations included, from the full blown nets and drumlines of Queensland fame, through to so-called eco nets and passive means such as electronic deterrents.

There is no easy and simple solution the the problem of sharks and people crossing paths, however the statistics relating to shark encounters, the impacts of shark bites along with the figures of bycatch and loss of marine life often set the fuze alight at both ends.

Tonight, at the Rainbow Bay Surf Club, Dave Rasovich will join a surfing rockstar lineup to play live music at the  from 6.30pm Qld as part of a charity fundraiser.

Well known GC surfing photographer Simon ‘Swilly’ Williams has put up 11 of his poster size prints signed by the world surfing professionals such as 11-time champion Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Steph Gilmore, Rasta and others for the fundraiser.

The organisers are billing it as the ‘Surf Party of the Year’ – it is a free public event although it’s first in best dressed as the Surf Club can only hold a maximum of 350 people.

Spitfire And The Dawn Of The Developers | Tate’s Terminal That Won’t Die

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It was the busiest day of the spring so far as thousands of locals and visitors took to the Gold Coast’s last remaining undeveloped coastal reserve – The Spit.

It’s a pretty busy place these days, but wow, when you step off that road into the dunes or the surf, into those blue waters – you can be worlds away within seconds. Never has there been a greater need for open coastal space, park land and uncluttered amenity than today – and that need is only growing more critical as our population climbs. The Spit was certainly delivering on all fronts that morning, it was magic.

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November 21st 2015 was a perfect day, until the unexpected erupted // Photo Luke Sorensen

For the past few decades there has been a relentless stream of white-shoe-wearing developers and politicians who have eyed the place off, glaring down from their lofty self-entitling positions with a sort of jealous gaze whilst scheming up ways they could possibly dupe the community and seize the lands here for massive developments and private terraformation. Seeing people rejoicing freely in recreation by the sea seems to strike a nerve with this lot, I mean, where’s the profit in that, right?

Earlier this year, plans initiated by the city’s mayor for a Broadwater cruise ship terminal and massive private development again failed to get up, with the incoming state government sinking the controversial and divisive proposal. The development would have seen the bulk of the southern Broadwater become a private city within a city – a sort of concrete enclave for the benefit of private residents and investors.

The local community rallied and voiced their anger in scenes rarely seen on the apathetic Gold Coast. Thousands upon thousands took action at protests, on air, online and in person to prevent the development on Crown public parks and waterways. And they succeeded.

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Arguably the biggest public rally of its kind in the entire history of the Gold Coast, this day saw thousands turn out to demonstrate their opposition to Tom Tate led plans for the Broadwater. The mass protest and vast online backlash further cemented the community view that massive foreign megadevelopments and cruise ship terminals are not welcomed for the Broadwater and Spit // Photo Luke Sorensen

The dust from this fight for public beaches and waterways was beginning to settle when on Saturday the 21st of October this year, just after 9am, large ‘plumes of thick black smoke’ suddenly erupted and belched skyward at the northern end of the Federation Walk Coastal Reserve – from within the beating heart of The Spit. By day’s end, hectares of precious bushland were destroyed, along with hundreds of hours of community-volunteer planting work. The final toll on the established wildlife habitat and ecosystem in the area will probably never be fully determined.

TOM TATE’S TOP TEN SURF QUOTES

Conversations quickly turned from the safety of people to suspicion, as eyewitness accounts described unusual black smoke, unlike scrub or bushfire smoke, at the start of the incident. They also reported the ‘strong smell’ of petrol or diesel in the first few minutes of the smoke crossing the beach. Historically the Gold Coast is no stranger to suspicious fires surrounding property that is contentious in terms of developer motives.

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The fires on The Spit have been relentless over the years, coming with an almost unnatural and calculated frequency of timing and positioning, suggesting to some that something more sinister is behind it all // Photo Luke Sorensen

In 2004, also on The Spit, the famous Humphry’s Boatshed was almost entirely torched to the ground amidst developer and media lobbying for change on the site. The boathouse and slipway were pioneering cornerstone icons of the area, with history dating back to the 1940s, however at the time of the fire, pro-development agitators and neighbours had been driving a campaign to have the site levelled, the building removed and new development eventually in its place. At around 2am on the morning of the blaze, a man was seen running from the building moments before it went up. The asbestos-laden building was destroyed but police were unable to locate the person of interest and the culprit was never caught.

The boatshed site had been earlier suggested as potential land offered to developers as part of a cruise ship terminal deal at the time. Former local councillor and realtor Max Christmas claimed in the Gold Coast Bulletin the State Government wanted to demolish the boatshed as part of a revamp of the area. Also, the commodore of the neighbouring Southport Yacht Club, Nev Ferguson, told the Bulletin it was a, “fire waiting to happen” and that the more disrepair and damage the building endured, “the more chance of the building being demolished,” to make way for developers.

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The famous Humphrey’s Boatshed at The Spit being built (left) in the 1950s and again in the 1990s before eventually falling to disrepair, deliberate fire vandalism and ultimately demolition // Photos GC Libraries and supplied

Ferguson’s theory appears to have been ironically predictive. A day after the fire, despite its near destruction, a Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told the Gold Coast Bulletin, “the future of Humphrey’s Boatshed is being considered within the broader context of the future land-use planning for the entire Spit precinct”. The spokesperson reportedly added that a cruise ship terminal might be part of that future. Shortly after the fire, State member for Southport Peter Lawlor, called for the remnant heritage-listed building to be demolished. He came out swinging saying, “I think that the western side of Seaworld Drive will eventually be developed … all that site is good for is a bulldozer.”

Federation Walk was also subjected to a series of highly suspicious fires that were reported to have been systematically lit in the lead up to 2004. As many as seven unusual fires were sparked in that time, burning out parts of The Spit reserve. The fires began in the northern part of the area, and one by one, they appeared southward towards Seaworld over the course of several years.

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The November 2015 Spit fire was a potential disaster in the making, however the quick and strong response from multiple fire services including two state-of-the-art water bombing helicopters prevented any major loss of property or injury to any persons. Vast sections of the reserve’s vegetation and wildlife were however lost // Photo Phil Hoile

“The word is it was done to ravage the place and make it more amenable to development,” a local resident reportedly told media at the time. It was also reported that the fires were most likely deliberately lit.

With each successive fire, those pushing for development lined up to lament that The Spit was a ‘wasteland’ that needed to be built upon to save it from itself. The ruse itself was so obvious, yet without catching the culprits in the act, the community was left with no vector for recourse.

It’s a recycled theme all over the world – be it a heritage or cultural impasse, community opposition or an environmental road block – mystery fires have long been the weapon of choice for those wanting to steamroll the immovable and further their private agendas.

Right now we see a plethora of private interests circling over The Spit, with the ASF China Consortium, Breakwater Group, Sunland and the Aquis Group all planning massive developments on public land that defy the city’s height limits.

The 2015 Spit fire has again breathed life into what locals are calling the ‘zombie proposal’ – a highly contentious plan to build an international shipping port in the shallows around The Spit or Broadwater. For decades the plan, in its various mutations, has been killed and dismembered time and time again, if not by voluminous community uproar, then by the pure technical constraints and idiocy of the idea itself. It keeps rising from its grave.

HOW GOLD COAST CITY COUNCIL WANTS YOU TO PAY TO SURF

Shallow sand-drift sea floors and narrow estuarine entrances coupled with direct exposure to the oceanic wind and swells have not only proven to be critically restrictive, these factors have raised significant concerns from industry experts who have noted neither Carnival (P&O) or Royal Caribbean have been willing to offer any commitment to a future cruise schedule on the Gold Coast.

It has been reported that Carnival Australia boss Ann Sherry has indicated Carnival’s focus is for a new Brisbane home port, and has gone so far as to suggest that they would be willing to invest in a consortium to see it happen.

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Both major cruise companies have been less than enthusiastic of a Gold Coast possible terminal, with both citing Brisbane as their main focus and failing to make any commitment whatsoever to any future Gold Coast destination. A letter from a senior Royal Caribbean executive went so far as to indicate they would not support a ‘way port’ on the Gold Coast and were committed to Brisbane for their company’s future cruising operations

A senior executive from Royal Caribbean has also said it would be unlikely the company would support a ‘way port’ on the Gold Coast, as they are seeking the kind of infrastructure only a fully equipped home port can provide.

This indicates they are not looking for the kind of ‘way port’ that Mayor Tate is proposing for the Coast ahead of the 2016 local government election. Industry experts agree that the Gold Coast proposal’s proximity to Brisbane would be prohibitive in securing economically viable visits – that no ships would leave Brisbane to stop again just 70km away.

It came as a shock, but also not surprisingly, that Mayor Tom Tate, fresh from licking his wounds over the earlier failed Broadwater proposal, literally appeared within hours of the latest fire, standing on the burnt out reserve and announcing yet another plan for a cruise liner terminal to be built on The Spit.

A day later, a member of the public commented on the Mayor’s Facebook page, “The site looks cleared ready for building. Can’t wait. Keep up the great work Tom,” to which Tate, perhaps inappropriately, ‘liked’ the post.

Such was the overt chutzpa of his rushed announcement, it sparked a week-long war between himself and a significant proportion of the community – led by community research and advocacy groups such as Save Our Broadwater and Save Our Spit, as well as impassioned locals.

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Tom Tate’s bold and provocative attempt to divide the community once again saw him standing on the still-smoking ashes of Federation Walk the very next day, announcing he now intends to build an ‘offshore’ terminal from the site, despite spending much of his term telling the community the offshore option was not viable and should be ‘killed off’ and terminated.

Days after the fire, Mayor Tate launched into a wild and baseless personal attack live on ABC radio, levelled at a Save Our Spit member who had simply asked him how he could consider spending even more public money on another questionable idea, given the evident reluctance of the cruise companies to commit to a new Gold Coast terminal. His tirade was brief but perhaps also as revealing as it was unsubstantiated. In the end, he did not answer the question, unable to support his position with any tangible retort. Tate had also broken a sacrosanct unwritten rule of breakfast radio – swearing live on air – much to the astonishment of the host whom he had already boisterously shut out of the conversation as well.

Tate’s anger at these matters being raised was audibly evident and he appeared to refute the existing reports and correspondence from the major cruise companies. In another strange episode, he later took to social media and continued his attack, again without any supportive evidence. If the Mayor truly believes the major cruise companies are serious about the Gold Coast, they’re certainly being strangely tight-lipped about it.

In his post, Tate claimed that he does not tolerate “profanity, bullying and/or personal attacks”, despite he himself, just a day earlier, swearing on live radio and branded a listener as a jobless liar after they simply questioned him over already-published facts regarding cruise ship companies and the Gold Coast – a spray which left many bewildered.

TOM TATE TELLS SURFING COMMUNITY TO SHOVE SURF MANAGEMENT PLAN UP THEIR…

Nonetheless, Tom presses on with his pet project ambitions. One thing he has got right so far is that the cruise ship industry is growing fast, really fast. A glaring omission though, on his end, is that these companies very much seek surety, facilities, centralisation and safe reliable passage, which multiple industry experts contend is unlikely to be possible from any Gold Coast terminal.

It is reported that Tate’s new proposal would see a large rock wall barrier, or rather breakwater island, built out to sea opposite Seaworld on The Spit. It would be connected to the mainland via a long jetty, which would be the conduit for passengers and supplies between ship and shore. Tate has yet to mention that the onshore base facilities and infrastructure would likely have to resume a large section of the Federation Walk Coastal Reserve and it would have to be forfeited for terminal infrastructure.

It is understood that ports and terminals for major ships, even way port and transit port locations, require significant associated infrastructure ranging from huge bus corrals, secure car parks, office and commercial buildings, loading warehouses, emergency facilities, ticketing, transit spaces and of course customs facilities if you wish to receive or send ships from outside of Australian waters. That’s not even beginning to take into account the obvious environmental impacts these ships would deliver as well.

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This is almost the exact spot Mayor Tom Tate now plans to build his new reincarnated pet-project cruise terminal, gutting the last remaining undeveloped coastal reserve on the Gold Coast and forever altering the last isolated beach in the entire city. Whilst there’s no doubt some waves would likely be altered, damaged or even lost, it could possibly also create new surf breaks, although the old adage of ‘if it aint broke then don’t fix it’ could be more true than ever in this instance. No matter how it is dredged and built, it would have a significant change effect on the famous South Stradbroke break just to the north // Photo Luke Sorensen

No doubt such a structure would have an impact on the swell and currents, sand and seas of the surrounding areas – one can only speculate which famous beach breaks would have their south swells blocked, and perhaps which new surf breaks may in turn be created.

The infrastructure and development costs for Tate’s plan is no small amount, and in fact even the cost of investigating and proposing such plans will be notably significant. Tate has already indicated he plans to use ratepayers’ funds to pay for his investigation into the matter, should they provide him a ‘mandate’ at the next election – however doubts have already been raised to the validity of such a mandate, if it is derived by providing a truncated and skewed presentation of the facts.

So, like a morbid and writhing undead beast, the same set of circumstances manifests yet again, as has time and time before and before that. The worse the proposal is, as in the greater the cost and the poorer the potential for economic return, then the more public land can be offered to private interests so that they may subsidise or pay for the terminal infrastructure in exchange for receiving priceless and irreplaceable public coastal lands for their own private developments. This method of relieving the people of their assets has been well and truly exposed time and time again, however it refuses to die.

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The Spit was mapped out and marked to be ‘public reserve’ by the city’s earliest forefathers however this doesn’t seem to register with the current mayor Tom Tate as he has spent much of his term seeking ways to facilitate the privatisation and development Crown land, waterways, parks and reserves on the last bit of remaining coastal reserve on the Gold Coast // Sourced from GC Libraries

Ideally, The Spit in its entirety has been earmarked as ‘public reserve’ since the mid to late 1800s. Admittedly it was a little shorter then and was a dynamic and changing natural sand spit. Since the shortening of The Spit and the placement of the seaway rock walls in 1985, the land has stabilised to become one of the most significant public green spaces in South East Queensland, with an immeasurable value to the community provided it remains undeveloped and not slowly privatised.

The wetland, abundant bushland, dunes and waterways are now ingrained and established as one of the most ecologically rich and vibrant locations in the city – a place of true natural wonders.

The fires have averaged about one a year for the last decade and endured a prolific period of ‘systematic’ flare ups between 2001 and 2004, with it widely understood they were deliberately lit. Award-winning Courier Mail journalist Matthew Condon wrote in his 2006 much-revered investigation into The Spit events, “The fires were never officially investigated, although the Gold Coast City Council, local fire fighting crews, and police always believed they had been deliberately lit.”

Nobody is suggesting that Tom Tate would resort to such measures – not at all – but would he seize on the opportunity that such fires may present? He certainly wasted no time in catheterising the emerging situation, lurching down to the burned area of The Spit to pose for photographs and announce his development plans after the recent fire.

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Thanks to the hard work of firefighters, much of The Spit was saved from the recent fire and has already exploded with new green life in recent months // Photo Phil Hoile

Never has there been a greater need for the preservation of our great open spaces than today, in 2015. The Gold Coast and indeed the South East is growing rapidly – expanding and consuming like an unrestrained bulldozer with a broken autopilot setting. Thanks to many outspoken members of the local community, a lot of facts and information that would have been missed or lost along the way, have been brought to the surface of this debate – and it appears, judging by his outbursts, this displeases the mayor.

Despite the success of the mysterious fires, and the pro-development lobby continually striving for a disenfranchised community, many believe those who dream of developing The Spit may be waging an unwinnable war. History tells us that it is the truth that will set things free – and that lies will tether like an iron anchor, to the feet of those that preach them //

Words: Trent Stapleton

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