Gold Coasters are copping a combo of low blows over the oceanside cruise terminal pre-election promise by Mayor Tom Tate, with LiQUiFY able to exclusively reveal a staggering $500 million cost blowout that could sink the terminal.
EXCLUSIVE by the LiQUiFY Team
The unexpected new cost of almost half a billion dollars tops the list of a range of critical issues which have the potential to render the oceanside terminal concept as unachievable.
A source close to the proposed project has revealed exclusively to LiQUiFY that a looming Gold Coast City Council meeting by the Economic and Major Projects committee, scheduled for Thursday this week (May 25), is going into closed session over hundreds of pages of a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report commissioned by council. The report is said to contain the findings of recent engineering and feasibility studies, and according to the source, is expected to explicitly shut down any option of a port-of-call or transit port due to serious risk factors and the concept’s failed business case.
The report also suggests that a large-scale and expensive industrial home port is now the only remotely conceivable option.
A home port would require a full range of services including large-scale refuelling and sewerage facilities, dedicated customs and passport control, food and water supply as well as other potential infrastructure components like shore-to-ship power – all items that the mayor vocally shouted down as unnecessary when campaigning with his proposal.
LiQUiFY can also exclusively reveal that the confidential report estimates the cost of this new ‘home port’ to be in the vicinity of the half-billion-dollar mark, an inconceivable leap up from the clear election promises of Mayor Tate who told voters his proposal would cost a ‘modest $70 million’ to build and make operational.
This new and unannounced price tag would make the Gold Coast oceanside cruise terminal easily the single most expensive stand-alone cruise terminal on the entire planet, and one of the least equipped home ports in the world, having no direct or nearby access to heavy rail or airport infrastructure, having significant traffic and transport restrictions and almost there being limited land available for the vast network of storage, supply, sewerage and other standard home port operational infrastructure.
At a press conference last Monday, Mayor Tate labelled the home port option that his council applied to the Federal Government for approval as ‘the worst case scenario’.
“they’re estimating it’ll cost about half a billion to build … it’s pure madness”
– Council source
“They are also trying to tell councillors that they’ll be getting over 200 ships a year from the moment it opens, but that just flies in the face of everything we know about the industry and the local conditions here. They’d be extremely lucky to get a quarter of that – surely the councillors can’t be that stupid?” added the source.
Mayor Tom Tate has long sold the city on the very glamorous and enticing idea of a port of call – as a place where ships simply turn up, passengers get off and spend up big in the city. At the last election the voting public backed those themes and ideas, and the mayor was re-elected with a majority first-preference vote showing support for his various promises, including the official election policy for a modest and less-intrusive port-of-call option.
“This will be a port of call only, so that means no refuelling, and it’s mainly for people to get on and off,” said Mayor Tate on Channel 7 news, ahead of the last election.
As recently as March 23rd this year, Mr Tate reaffirmed his commitment to the Gold Coast terminal only ever being a ‘port of call’ and not requiring all of the invasive components that a full home turnaround port would deliver.
“My position hasn’t changed — a ‘port of call’ is what I want and if it doesn’t tick all the environmental boxes, I’ll be the first one to vote it down,” Tate told the Gold Coast Bulletin in a conversation lambasting Australian surfing icon Mick Fanning, who had made his views public in opposing the proposal.
“This will be a port of call only, so that means no refuelling”
– Mayor Tom Tate before the leaking of council’s oceanside terminal feasibility report
Mayor Tate is now backing the two-ship berthing option and continued boasting about the double berth capacity on his Facebook Page yesterday, without acknowledging to rate payers the true cost estimations of his choice.
The two-berth option is understood to cost even more than the half billion already estimated for a single berth terminal.
Council sources told LiQUiFY that the likelihood of a private investor taking the project on would be next to nil, and that the only option left may be for tax and rate payers to cough up their hard-earned cash for Mayor Tate’s pet project dream.
Other options suggested to LiQUiFY about funding the half-billion-dollar bill have included:
- Get rate payers to pay for it
- Hold a massive ‘fire sale’ on city parks and public assets
- Beg the state government to pay for it even though sources close to the Premier’s Department have told LiQUiFY they are not at all interested
- Ask ASF and their Chinese-Government-owned developer partners to fund it, and offer them a huge plot of free public parkland on The Spit in return
- Sell the 16,000 square metres of public land known as Bruce Bishop car park and Neal Shannon Park in Surfers Paradise, which was cooincidentally approved to be sold by council last week to fund Tate’s pet projects
Mayor Tate stumbled through questions at a press conference held on the subject last week. When asked specifically about how the terminal will be funded, he couldn’t elaborate on any type of funding source.
When asked if the initial cruise terminal would be a home port or not, the mayor gave unclear responses that failed to specify particulars.
With the now-exposed cost blow-out and the only proposal left on the table being for a half-billion-dollar full home port with associated infrastructure, it would appear that the rate payers and voters of the Gold Coast have well and truly been fed half the story at twice the price again.
SUSPICION MOUNTS AFTER FEDERAL ENVIRONMENT APPROVAL FAILS TO STACK UP
Despite Mayor Tate’s promise and pledge that if the terminal didn’t tick the environmental box he would abandon it, a controversial decision from the Federal Government’s Environment Department last week to rule the proposal as not a ‘controlled action’ did in fact leave a few environmental boxes unticked – at least for now.
LiQUiFY can also exclusively reveal that a major step in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) process has potentially been skipped, and that the reasons as to how this may have occurred have left opponents of the proposal dumbfounded.
Speaking today to a spokesperson from the Save Our Spit group, LiQUiFY learned that a crucial standard component of the process which would have allowed the resubmitted application to be opened to a second round of public submissions and scrutiny may have mysteriously been skipped over.
“It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before and it’s got a lot of people talking,” said the spokesperson.
Save Our Spit added that they had been in contact with an EPBC applications expert to learn more, telling LiQUiFY, “It’s clear that this proposal fell into the ‘Not Controlled Action – Particular Manner’ bracket according to the Government. It is standard then for the Government to call on the proponent (council) for more information, and they did, but they must also then publish the updated conditions and specific controls – the ‘particular manner’ in which the approval is granted – so that the public is granted another ten-day period to make submissions to be considered by the minister. There’s been nothing published, they just skipped ahead and said, ‘here Tom, here’s what you wanted.’
“The due process was completely abandoned by the Federal Environment Minister and his department. Our guy who had been doing these applications for years says he’s never seen anything like it and is quite shocked.”
The Save Our Spit spokesperson was adamant that the EPBC process had been totally abandoned by the Federal Government and that the due process in the handling of the application appeared to have been modified to benefit the proponent.
“We’ve crunched all of the possible reasons the Feds would just skip such a crucial and fundamentally necessary part of the legislated process – we’re left with only one thing and that’s political interference,” they told LiQUiFY.
Further to the mayor’s repeated claims that if the proposal didn’t ‘tick all the environmental boxes’ he would be the first to scrap it, it appears the conditions imposed by the Federal Government have highlighted environmental concerns for marine wildlife in the area, acknowledging that both the construction and operation of the terminal could impact protected species.
“They’re not going to be able to see turtles or grey nurse sharks that may be at the Scottish Prince … are they going to stop work? We doubt it”
– Save Our Spit Alliance
The Government’s own EPBC flow chart (displayed here) calls for a ten-working-day period where the public can make submissions regarding any controls or conditions they have imposed on an application.
In a statement from the Federal Government’s Environment Department, it was admitted that the project would be, ‘subject to certain requirements to protect nationally significant listed species’.
The Federal Government has recommended spotters be stationed on the structure to alert workers to any approaching marine life, and enact a mandatory 30-minute stop work period.
Save Our Spit says that the measures are laughable and will do very little to protect marine life.
“They’re not going to be able to see turtles or grey nurse sharks that may be at the Scottish Prince, or whales and dolphins from that structure, and are they going to stop work? We doubt it,” said the Save Our Spit spokesperson.
TERMINAL’S STRONG LINK TO ASF CASINO PROJECT
It has also been revealed that the new oceanside terminal feasibility report commissioned by the council and paid for by rate payers has been produced by the same three firms that are listed as ‘project partners’ in the ASF China Consortium, which is proposing five highrise towers and a casino development directly across the road from Tate’s proposed terminal site.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Aecom and MacroPlan Dimasi, which have completed and supplied the latest report into the feasibility of the oceanside cruise terminal idea were also involved when the original studies into the earlier plan were investigated for a multi-billion dollar private city and cruise terminal to be built inside the Broadwater at Wavebreak Island.
The clear relationship the three firms have to both development proposals calls into question claims by the mayor that the ASF Casino Resort and Cruise Ship Terminal are not linked.
Both proposals will require the State Government to give the proponents large sections of Crown public land on The Spit – something that the current Labor Government campaigned strongly against and vowed never to do.
Original terms set down by the previous LNP State Government stated that ASF would not be granted a casino license until they produced a functional and successfully operating cruise terminal.
Then Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Jeff Seeney, was explicit that the government terms would be to only grant favourable development options to ASF after the ‘prior establishment and ongoing operation of a successful cruise ship terminal’ by the foreign developer.
It is understood that these conditions reflected the fact that ASF were only ever invited to develop on The Spit or in the Broadwater so that the city may get a cruise terminal at no cost to ratepayers.
Under the new Labor Government the Wavebreak Island project has been abandoned, however, ASF have still been invited to submit a proposal for an integrated resort and tower development on The Spit and apply for a casino license. This time around they are not require to provide for the construction of a cruise ship terminal.
Mayor Tate has repeatedly denied that the proposed ASF casino development and his own oceanside terminal project are in any way linked, despite being across the road from each other and featuring the exact same companies undertaking feasibility studies for both projects.
Last Monday Mayor Tate spoke at a media conference and said, “And be clear, this cruise ship terminal project is separate, and it’s a project of its own, nothing to do with any other project nearby.”
CREDIBILITY OF ASF CHINA CONSORTIUM IN QUESTION
ASF China Consortium’s main construction arm and likely financier, should it get approval for any of its Broadwater or Spit development proposals, would be the China State Construction and Engineering Corp. According to a report in The Australian, ‘the World Bank refused to grant a $232 million loan to another member of the ASF Consortium, China State Construction Engineering, over concerns it had engaged in corrupt practices on a different road project in The Philippines. The World Bank investigators suspect the company had also attempted to rig bids and had worked in a cartel with firms on other contracts’.
Separately, another ASF China Consortium member previously listed on their website is CCCC Guangzhou Dredging, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company.
In 2011 the World Bank also announced it had debarred CCCC ‘and all of its subsidiaries’ from participating in World Bank projects over bid rigging and other corrupt practices of an entity it acquired in 2006. The five-year ban and debarment was lifted early in 2017.
Both companies – the CCCC and CSCEC – are state-owned (government) Chinese companies which stand to secure a prime parcel of public Crown public waterfront land on The Spit if the state government proceeds with and grants them land and approval for their casino and tower resort plan.
The outcome of Thursday’s council meeting may not be known for some time and the reports into the feasibility and potential risk factors of the oceanside terminal are being withheld from the public for the time being, but it is likely the council and mayor will face significant public backlash once the reports are made public.
LiQUiFY will be following the issue closely.