An advantage of having a blog is the scope to push topics dear to the blogger. Such is the case with the ensuing paper, written in August 2004, chronicling in detail what communities challenging speculative development proposals in Queensland have to endure. Be warned, the paper contains over 6,000 words. The development was a proposed cable way to Tamborine Mountain from Willow Vale, an acreage community on lower ground west of the Pacific Highway and north east of Tamborine Mountain. The paper is in the form of a submission to the then Attorney General, Rod Welford MP. The Appendices which accompanied the paper are not included here. I was the paper’s instigator and lead author. Jean Campbell was a key committee member from Willow Vale. Mercifully, the cable way was not built.


Attorney General and Minister for Justice


This submission is concerned with major speculative development proposals for which a formal planning application has not been lodged. As a preliminary to presenting a detailed case history of one such project, it is appropriate to make the following general points.

1. General Points

1.1 At present, proponents of major developments are not obliged to provide hard and fast information in the form of a planning application, before going public with their plans. As a result, individuals and communities affected by such a development, find themselves in an intolerable situation, facing a real but unquantified threat to their way of life. It is demanding enough for objectors to come to grips with the complexities of a planning application, but then they are at least in a position to know what they are up against both in terms of the proposal and the planning process.

1.2 Proponents of major speculative projects have enormous freedom of action to promote their cause at the expense of all and sundry. They are able to avoid the constraints and costs of a formal planning application. They are free to say whatever comes into their head about their project – precisely because they do not have to provide reliable data or adhere to the legal requirements of the planning process – in order to win the hearts and minds of decision makers, opinion leaders, communities and individuals. In essence, what engages everyone’s energy and attention is a chimera, not something real and substantial. It is easy to see how this state of affairs can cause so much distress to large numbers of innocent people besides wasting the time of decision makers.

1.3 The situation is made worse if a proponent succeeds in persuading a major local media organisation to champion the proposal at every opportunity, and thus exercise power irresponsibly by largely shutting out objectors to the project. A task made easier if the organisation is avowedly pro-development. For whatever the idea at the heart of a proposal, it is not in the public interest for the idea to be untested by reliable fact. Moreover, a proponent may be able to place stories through a PR/marketing consultant – an option usually unavailable to a community organisation – and in any case is in a position to drag out the issue for years.

1.4 Dealing with planning applications can be a harrowing experience, particularly for the uninitiated. But people are willing to expend a great deal of time, energy and money to protect their environment and way of life from inappropriate development and may experience considerable heartache along the way. Generally, the bigger the project, the more voluminous the planning application, the more demanding it is of social capital, which is a finite resource of great value. To deplete social capital on a purely speculative venture which gratuitously harms people’s working and domestic life, is an unacceptable burden on society. The cost to the economy of a less productive work force within affected communities is no laughing matter.

1.5 To engage bureaucracies on speculative ventures is also a drain on the economy, tying up qualified staff in a fruitless endeavour, when they would be better employed on something more productive. Opponents of such a proposal are likely to pay twice, firstly through taxes and secondly through having to fund a fighting campaign.

1.6 One unseemly reason for floating a speculative proposal is a proponent’s desire to make a quid without providing the money needed to lodge a formal planning application. The chances are that the proponent simply does not have the money. So there is likely to be an air of desperation about the venture from the outset, causing the proponent to behave recklessly. That is bad enough. What makes it worse is the willingness of vested interests to turn a blind eye to this behaviour, lured by the unsubstantiated claims of the project’s commercial benefits.

1.7 At least the proponent of a major project who has lodged a formal planning application has shown a measure of respect to anyone affected by it and to decision makers. This cannot be said of the speculative operator who as often as not is a desperate blow-in on the make. In this context desperation is hardly conducive to feelings of respect. Add ignorance of the planning process to the mix and the scope for mayhem is greatly increased. A planning application offers anyone affected by it valuable protection from a proponent who may be ignorant about the planning process.

1.8 Because there is no legislated protection against major speculative development proposals, government becomes part of the problem by default. There is nothing to stop a proponent of such a venture from seeking in-principle approval from state or local government. Proponents may misrepresent their dealings with government. They may offend public morality by seeking to exploit a public asset for private financial gain. A proponent may exhibit conspicuous greed in utilising an inordinate amount of a valuable resource such as open space. The relationship between proponents and government can become a further source of angst to those opposing the venture, particularly if government appears to be turning a deaf ear to the concerns of affected communities and individuals.

2 The Ecotrans Cableway Project – First Word

2.1 Ecotrans first announced itself to the world in the Gold Coast Weekend Bulletin of May 25-26, 2002. The project for a cableway from Pimpama to Tamborine Mountain, was a reinvention of the failed Naturelink cableway. It was breathlessly announced as the Gold Coast’s much needed next big tourism thing. An editorial sang its praise mentioning a promise of hundreds of jobs, and then tourism minister Merri Rose gave it her qualified imprimatur, being quoted as saying “it looks like they’ve done a good job of making sure they’ve consulted with people”. This remark caused a deal of disquiet on Tamborine Mountain because the Bulletin article was the first that the mountain community knew of the project. The feeling on the mountain about the minister was that she didn’t appear to care about the local community or its priceless natural assets.

2.2 On May 27 a further lengthy article on the cableway appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin, which included a favourable initial response by Lois Levy of Gecko and a 50/50 call on the views of a small number of mountain residents, according to local councillor Vanessa Bull. The paper’s editorial was again devoted to the project, its support qualified this time by recognising potential obstacles.

2.3 The next day the Gold Coast Bulletin carried two more articles on the cableway. One contrasted the Ecotrans proposal with Naturelink and incorrectly and irresponsibly stated that “The people of Mount Tamborine, even at this early stage, have given the project their in-principle support.” The smaller article reported that green groups on the mountain required more information before commenting further on the project.

2.4 Subsequently the Bulletin carried 2 letters on the cableway indicating concern at the project. One was from a mountain resident challenging the Bulletin’s claims of local support for the project and roundly objecting to it. The second letter was from Gecko denying that it had given the cableway unqualified support.

2.5 On May 30 the man behind the project, Billy James, addressed a packed public meeting at the Vonda Youngman Community Centre on Tamborine Mountain. The information presented to the meeting was based on the Ecotrans Preliminary Proposal and was at best sketchy. The overwhelming feeling at the meeting was against the project. The Proposal made extravagant claims about conserving the 2,000 acre land-holding at the core of the project, much of which is degraded, is of little conservation value and, given scarce resources, would not be a high priority for such lavish attention. The employment figures were unsubstantiated and, compared with those for Sky Rail, wildly excessive. On employment Billy James tried to have it both ways, claiming increased employment from increased visitor numbers, having previously asserted that there would be no increase in visitor numbers, but an environmental bonus with fewer cars travelling to the mountain, because people would use the cableway instead. The Proposal also claimed the possible involvement in the research component of the project of Griffith University and the Smithsonian Institute. The projected annual figure of 500,000 cableway users, though unsubstantiated, clearly could not be ignored. Based on these claims and statistics, the Proposal flagged considerable benefits for Tamborine Mountain & Coomera. (Appendix 1 Item 1) At the meeting, Billy James declared: “If you people don’t want it (the cableway), we’ll bin it.” Billy James was not articulate in his presentation and showed his ignorance of the planning process. He also showed his ignorance of Tamborine Mountain. This was corroborated in The Proposal which listed Ecotrans’ benefits for Tamborine when it should have been Tamborine Mountain and incorrectly went on to refer to the business and tourist precinct of the Tamborine – Eagle Heights Area. There is no place so named.

2.6 On June 2 a meeting was convened at the Zamia Theatre, of representatives of the 3 main organisations on the mountain concerned with environmental protection, namely the Friends of Tamborine Mountain, (FOTM), the Tamborine Mountain Progress Association, (TMPA) and the Tamborine Mountain Natural History Association, (TMNHA). The idea was for common concerns to be identified, based on the Preliminary Proposal and on what had been said at the public meeting so that letters could be sent by each organisation to federal, state and local government. (Appendix 1 Items 2 & 3) Grave misgivings were expressed about the conservation and employment claims contained in the Proposal. The references to Griffith University and the Smithsonian Institute were considered to be opportunistic purloining of the good name of highly respected institutions. Not surprisingly, it turned out that neither institution had given permission for their name to be included in the Proposal – the Smithsonian had not even been approached by the proponents – and both subsequently took action (which failed at the first attempt) to have their name removed from all Ecotrans publicity material, including the website. (Appendix 1 Items 4 & 5) What most concerned those at the meeting was the predicted mass influx of visitors to the mountain, which was seen as placing an unsustainable burden on the mountain’s ecology, given the existing problems with water supply and effluent disposal and the strain current visitor numbers impose on the under-maintained national parks. It was also felt that the cableway would give rise to an unacceptable increase in traffic and concomitant pollution on the roads on and leading to, the mountain.

2.7 References to the cableway starting in Pimpama or Coomera were confusing, given that the base station was actually located in Willow Vale; not that Billy James appears to have told the locals about his plans. It was only at the end of July that Willow Vale residents became aware of the project (which gives the lie to early claims in the Gold Coast Bulletin about the proponents having consulted the people). Some concerned residents called a public meeting in the CWA Hall in Upper Coomera on July 30, citing lifestyle issues (noise, traffic, pollution, safety).

2.8 This meeting gave rise to a more complete mail-drop of the affected area, announcing a second public meeting at the same venue, on August 13, under the auspices of the then Coomera Valley Progress Association (CVPA) – with the intention of forming a fighting committee (in reality a sub-committee of the CVPA) to oppose the development. The first committee meeting took place a week later. Subsequently the CVPA became the Coomera Valley & Hinterland Residents’ Association Inc, to allow for the greater geographical spread of its membership. The committee adopted the name Willow Vale Residents Action Group (WRAG). The Ormeau Progress Association, whose president and particularly vice president, were extremely active during the campaign, also joined the fray.

3. Focus on State Government

3.1 As long as Tamborine Mountain was the key battleground, the attention of the proponent and the mountain community was directed overwhelmingly at state government. For example, Weathered Howe, acting for Ecotrans, lodged an application with the EPA dated August 16, for permission to access across a national park, (in respect of 3 sections of Tamborine National Park). Fortunately FOTM received a copy of the application and was given 4 weeks to prepare a submission on it, for consideration by the EPA. The application was largely based on the Ecotrans Preliminary Proposal and contained insufficient information on which to base a decision. Some of the information was conflicting. The application also contained the thinly veiled threat that if approval was not granted, subdivision would give rise to edge effects on adjacent national park land. Other organisations also sent in submissions.

3.2 The EPA’s request for additional information in a letter dated October 8, was met with prolonged silence, until a follow-up letter was sent to Weathered Howe by the EPA on March 3, 2003 declaring an intention to close the file on the application pending further advice. (Appendix 2 Item 6) On March 10 Weathered Howe wrote to the EPA stating that the file could at last be closed as the cableway was no longer coming to Tamborine Mountain. ( Appendix 2 Item 7) [1]

3.3 The Community around Willow Vale, although only belatedly alerted to the cableway project, stole a march on the mountain community by forming an organisation solely dedicated to fighting Ecotrans. A public meeting at the Pimpama School of Arts on September 17, attended by 180 people, was addressed by Billy James, with a similar outcome to the meeting he addressed on Tamborine Mountain more than 3 months earlier. A show of hands revealed the vast majority of those present were against the cableway. The chair then asked Billy James if he would now honour his pledge to “bin” the project, but he declined, citing, but refusing to identify, other meetings where he had received support.

3.4 Though the initial mountain response was swift, a number of concerned residents felt there was a need for the mountain community to rally behind an organisation solely dedicated to the overthrow of the cableway project. Thus, to a full house, on October 13, The No Cableway Campaign (NCC), sponsored by the TMPA, the TMNHA and FOTM, came into being as an incorporated association, with a representative from each organisation on the management committee. The NCC very quickly achieved a membership of nearly 400.

3.5 Billy James, seemingly in a vain attempt to forestall the creation of the NCC, sought to have a statement read out to the meeting, which appeared in the subsequent issue of the Tamborine Times, declaring that the relevant State Government Departments had been informed that the cableway was not coming to the mountain. The amended route still showed the cableway terminating on the mountain rather than north of the mountain as claimed in the statement, which was signed by Billy James and dated October 11. (Appendix 2 Items 8,9 &10)

3.6 Subsequent contact with the EPA cableway project team revealed that neither they nor the Department had been so informed. Enquiries to the Department of State Development confirmed that no-one in the Department was working on the Ecotrans project. [2] Indeed the NCC wrote a letter to the CEO of the QPWS (with a copy to Minister Wells) drawing attention to the true state of affairs as the NCC had established them to be. ( Appendix 2 Item 11) The NCC made the reasonable request that, taking into account community moral standards alone, state government should not reward someone who has behaved in this way.[3] With committees in Willow Vale and on the mountain dedicated to thwarting the Ecotrans project, effective co-ordination and co-operation was now possible. An early instance was the eye-catching display of the route and impact of the cableway at the QCC State Conference in October 2002, in support of a resolution objecting to the cableway, presented to and adopted by the delegates. Because the mountain community has had to deal with any number of inappropriate development applications over the years, there was a wealth of experience for the NCC to call on, whereas the Willow Vale committee and community had less experience of planning issues.

[1] In our view the entire procedure surrounding the application amounts to an unsatisfactory and disquieting state of affairs, not least because the fact that the application remained on the table until March 2003 made a mockery of repeated and widely publicised claims made by Ecotrans and Billy James since October 2002, that the cableway was not destined for the mountain. Also, we feel that if an application contains a threat along the lines of approve or else, the public interest requires that the threat be resisted.

[2] We find it difficult not to conclude, as did the NCC, that Billy James deliberately misrepresented his dealings with state government.

[3] We find it a matter of disquiet and dismay that this issue was entirely ignored by the CEO, the Minister, his political advisor and the Director General, in spite of further correspondence by the NCC on this matter. (Appendix 2 Item 12) It should be possible for discretionary powers to be available to prevent the blatant misdemeanours of an individual or company from being rewarded. All the more so when a pattern of such behaviour can be shown to have occurred.

3.7 Thus, the NCC sought to maintain pressure by a combination of letter-writing, media releases, an issues paper (Appendix 2 Item 13) and, above all, by a vigorous campaign to get mountain residents to respond to “a for or against” the cableway survey by local councillor Vanessa Bull in December 2002. The survey result which was published in January 2003, showed 95% of those who voted opposed the cableway, (Yes – 57, No – 1170). Declaring themselves to have been shouted down by the people of Tamborine Mountain, the Ecotrans proponents turned their attention away from the mountain, but as long as their application remained with the EPA, the mountain was still a named destination.

3.8 Representatives of both committees attended the Community Cabinet Meeting in Burleigh in March 2003 and with the help of Margaret Keech, MP for Albert, were able to meet Tom Barton (Minister for State Development), Steve Bredhauer (Minister for Transport) and Dean Wells (Minister for the Environment). Steve Bredhauer was reassuring about the People Movers Act not being an option for Ecotrans. Dean Wells accepted an invitation to visit Tamborine Mountain to find out what was at stake. The visit occurred a few weeks later. The NCC’s representatives were fortunate to have a meeting with Rod Welford (Attorney General & Minister for Justice), which inspired this submission. Rod Welford confirmed Steve Bredhauer’s view of The People Movers Act. Billy James was also at the Community Cabinet Meeting and had a meeting with Tom Barton. His meeting followed that of delegates from WRAG, during which Mr Barton indicated that he had not previously met or spoken with Mr James.

4. Focus on Local Government

4.1 The Ecotrans project underwent numerous changes, not only in terms of its route, but also what was in the mix as far as facilities were concerned, which in turn affected the capital cost of the scheme. The rhetoric now flagged a cableway from Willow Vale to the Darlington Range, still with its conservation and research components, its resort variously described as having 200 beds or 200 units and a plethora of other attractions. But all the published routes, both long and short, showed the cableway traversing GCCC land acquired because of its high conservation value through a ratepayer funded green levy. The route maps failed to identify the special status of this land although they clearly showed areas of national park land. On November 15, following a briefing meeting 4 days earlier, Weathered Howe submitted an application to the GCCC for access to the Wongawallan Conservation Area on behalf of Ecotrans. Weathered Howe cited 3 options for the cableway to traverse council properties, including a land exchange. Fortunately word of the application reached the NCC in time for concerted action to occur in advance of the matter being considered by council.

4.2 The application was discussed at a Coordination Committee meeting on 17 January 2003. Ahead of the meeting, more than 600 pro-forma letters objecting to the Ecotrans application had been sent to the mayor by Gold Coast and some mountain residents. (Appendix 3 Item 14) It is interesting to note that these letters were not tabled at the council meeting. Ecotrans also undertook energetic lobbying of councillors through their lawyers Minter Ellison. The meeting resolved to defer a decision.

4.3 With a week to go before a full council meeting, the Willow Vale and mountain organisations combined in an intense lobbying of councillors, culminating in a jointly funded ¼ page ad in the Gold Coast Bulletin and a group of 80 placard waving citizens lobbying councillors at the January 24 Council meeting. The issue before council was the granting of permanent, private, commercial tenure to land using Open Space Preservation Levy Funds. (Appendix 3 Item 15) All but the mayor voted against granting such tenure, among other things he was concerned that land should not be “completely locked up throughout the city.” Insofar as the land in question was one of the city’s prized environmental holdings and given that the total amount of protected open space within the city’s boundaries is a meagre 17% compared with a bench mark 25-30% for large population centres, the mayor’s remarks beggar belief. The council also called for policy clarification on managing such land subject to legal advice. Relieved as the cableway objectors were by council’s decision, Billy James, while acknowledging he had received a set-back, vowed to fight on.

4.4 The strain on the respective chairs of the Willow Vale and mountain organisations was such that at the first NCC AGM on January 19, the President resigned due to pressure on his day job, but remained on the committee and after the January 24 meeting, the Willow Vale chair shocked everyone by resigning from its committee completely, also citing pressure of work.

4.5 It came as no surprise to the cableway’s opponents, but was still discouraging that, following Minter Ellison’s letter to Billy James on February 25 ( Appendix 3 Item 16) challenging the legal basis of the council’s decision, Weathered Howe submitted a fresh request to access council land on March 6 – for the purpose of carrying out scientific and other investigations. (Appendix 3 Items 17 & 18) Minter Ellison had the temerity to submit a draft licence agreement to accompany the request. Council’s decision on tenure was susceptible to two broad interpretations of the law, namely on policy or on the issue of breach of trust. The Willow Vale committee decided to lobby councillors with a pro-forma letter urging them to uphold their January 24 decision.

4.6 At the same time Ecotrans submitted a Weed Assessment Report of the Wongawallan Conservation Area based on a “visual assessment from nearby gazetted roads and the adjacent privately owned land” which came up with a cost of $900,000 for weed eradication.

4.7 This was a sucker punch for an unrefusable offer contained in Ecotrans’ latest full-colour prospectus or Project Summary, dated March 2003. (Appendix 3 Item 19) The land now bearing the name “Jenkins Lyrebird Conservation Flora & Fauna Reserve” seemingly to quell any doubts about the environmental bona fides of the project. The offer, contained in the Executive Summary, was worded: “additionally, a budget of AU$2 million per year for rehabilitation and maintenance has been approved”, without stating by whom. An article appeared in a local paper claiming that the cableway project would help to save the rare Albert Lyrebird. The same paper ran a follow-up article roundly refuting the claim, as the northernmost lyrebird population is on Tamborine Mountain which is south of the Ecotrans holding, moreover, the bird does not need “saving” just yet. For some conservationists, councillors and especially the mayor to be swayed by the annual AU$2 million offer in the absence of any indication by Ecotrans as to how the money would be guaranteed was alarming, since the offer was really in our opinion no more than a cynical headline grab, designed to divert attention from the damaging impact a mass tourism development would have on the Wongawallan Conservation Area.

4.8 Besides the offer, the Project Summary also touted numerous jobs and a host of new attractions and activities along with the old favourites, all listed under the modish, but mistaken guise of eco-tourism. One thing eco-tourism is not is mass tourism. One thing Ecotrans is about is mass tourism. The Summary’s maps showed the position of the GCCC land. The Summary listed alternative uses of the land including subdivision were the project not to proceed. Finally, the Summary contained letters of support. Two were of particular concern. One from the Mayor of the Gold Coast, (Appendix 3 Item20) the other from Landcare Australia seeking an Ecotrans/Landcare Australia long term relationship on a financial basis yet to be established. (Appendix 3 Item 21) Following representation to Landcare Australia from the newly formed Tamborine Mountain Landcare group at the behest of The NCC, Landcare Australia issued a media release on 16 April refuting any support for the Ecotrans cableway. (Appendix 3 Item 22) The North East Albert Landcare & Catchment Group (NEALCG) also wrote to Council expressing their objection to the proposed Cableway as well as issuing a media release to that effect.

4.9 Council took its time to consider the latest Ecotrans application, having had to wait for its own legal opinion on the January 24 decision. This was not to Ecotrans’ liking and a story appeared in the Sunday Mail during May, mentioning a threat to scrap the cableway. Also in May, there was a flurry of press articles concerning a land swap involving Ecotrans buying state government owned land and giving it to council in exchange for the Wangawallan Conservation Area land. Ecotrans’ offer was refused, much to the ire of Billy James. (Appendix 3 Item 23)

4.10 About the same time there was a claim made by Ecotrans that they had surveyed residents of Willow Vale, Pimpama, Kingsholme and Ormeau (the areas most effected by the proposal) and that their results had indicated 95% in favour of the proposed development. These results were tabled at a council meeting. Being disturbed by this and because they were well aware of the feeling within the community WRAG then proceeded to do a survey in those same areas. This survey unlike the one conducted by Ecotrans, included a door-to-door survey incorporating the majority of the residents that would have their rural amenity diminished if the project were to proceed. More than 230 residents participated in the survey and 98% were against the project. It was also discovered that those claiming to have conducted the Ecotrans survey had approached only 4 of the 230+ residents.

4.11 The city solicitor appeared to side with Minter Ellison. Council officers prepared a report which recommended that council bring forward its flora and fauna surveys for the Wongawallan Conservation Area, that the work be done by a consultant appointed by council, that the applicant bear the cost and that the findings form the basis for council to consider the application. Apart from being concerned at this apparent breach of the January 24 decision, the cableway’s opponents feared that the surveys would be rushed (council surveys on high conservation value land would normally be conducted over a 12 month period). Also, there was no mention of preparing a management plan, which would require community consultation, as per council’s policy concerning green levy acquired land. In the event, at its meeting on June 20, council voted in favour of a resolution that the flora and fauna surveys for the Wongawallan Conservation Area affected by the cableway be brought forward; the costs to be borne by Ecotrans. An amendment that the surveys be undertaken over a 12 month period was lost. (Appendix 3 Item 24) Given the city solicitor’s advice, the result of the vote was to be expected. A consultant was duly engaged to undertake surveys over 2 seasons.

4.12 The ball was now in Ecotrans’ court and true to form, Ecotrans kept everyone waiting, which, given the pressure they had exerted on the council for a speedy conclusion to the surveys, was a bit rich. Ecotrans received a significant set-back in a letter dated July 4 from the Department of State Development stating that Tom Barton had decided not to declare the cableway a Significant Project.

4.13 On September 17 Ecotrans broke its silence following the June 20 resolution by submitting a proposal signed by Billy James, for council to provide owner’s consent to an IDAS application. (Appendix 3 Item 25) After an 8 weeks silence he had the gall to complain that the schedule for the site investigation was too long and too expensive. The application was a slap in the face for many who had helped to advance Ecotrans’ cause from the unanimous January 24 council vote. To maintain pressure on council, stories appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin, condemning council for its failure to clearly support Ecotrans and business and development interests, declaring the Gold Coast as a place not to do business in. The Courier Mail ran an article stating that proponents of the cableway could abandon the project and that Ecotrans, according to Billy James, “would fund the $55,000 study only if council agreed to consider a full development application for the cableway.” [1] [2] [3] [4]

[1] What a nerve! We find Billy James has more front than Harrods and Grace Bros combined. We also wonder how someone could make so free with $2 million in March and be seemingly unable to come up with $55,000 the following September

[2] Seemingly at every turn Ecotrans sought to advance its cause by demanding that established policies and practices be put to one side, only to keep officials waiting for information and treating decision makers with disdain while generally confusing the issue in an effort to wear everyone down. Ecotrans was responsible for skilled and dedicated public servants devoting their energies to a chimera instead of being engaged on work useful to the community.

[3] Another recurring view of Ecotrans’ behaviour was the feeling that Billy James lacked the money to spend much more than the very minimum, preferring to lead one and all on a far from merry dance and that the delay in signing up for the surveys was because he did not have, or possibly did not want to spend the money. Billy James’ apparent lack of money would seem to lie at the heart of the entire, sorry Ecotrans episode.

[4] It should also go on record that Ecotrans threatened litigation against 2 parties, one a community organisation which was given a Christmas Eve deadline to respond.

4.14 For an IDAS application to proceed, the June 20 resolution would have to be rescinded. (Appendix 3 Item 26) By now Ecotrans’ welcome was beginning to wear a bit thin with some councillors. When such a motion, having been tabled for the requisite period, was duly proposed at council’s October 17 meeting, it was easily lost. Its backer had another try at the October 31 meeting. (Appendix 3 Item 27) This time the result was perilously close, tied at 7 all, but the mayor was not empowered to use a casting vote for this kind of motion, and in the absence of a majority vote, the motion was again lost.

4.15 Here the matter appears to rest. The festive season, the state election and the local government election, which may yet have a bearing on the future of the project, have commanded attention. Signs have recently appeared at either end of the Jenkins land offering it for sale. The council’s scheduled, year long flora and fauna surveys of the Wongawallan Conservation Area, are under way in keeping with council’s policy which involves public consultation over a management plan for the land once the surveys have been completed.

5 The Work Load

5.1 The above chronology reveals the main ploys by both sides with some of the twists and turns encountered as events unfolded. The initiative in any controversial development project lies with the proponents in their effort to see it through. The project’s opponents are always condemned to playing catch-up. What is not sufficiently revealed in this chronology is the day to day grind endured by the cableway’s opponents in countering the moves of its proponents.

5.2 First there were the numerous meetings, primarily committee meetings, which at the height of the campaign were weekly, with joint steering committee meetings in addition. Then there were the public meetings to organise or attend, plus meetings with experts, bureaucrats, journalists, politicians. Opponents had to be present at crucial council meetings. The travel component alone was time-consuming and costly.

5.3 In order to conduct as effective a campaign as possible, opponents had to wade through numerous applications, reports, submissions, minutes, newspaper articles, faxes, letters, emails. And when not reading the above material they had to draft minutes, letters, faxes, submissions, emails, media releases, news letters, reports, fill in forms.

5.5 To make all the arrangements, check information, report back to others, follow up correspondence, entailed innumerable phone calls, emails and many faxes.

5.6 Banners and graphic displays were required during the campaign; at times stalls had to be manned.

5.7 Funds had to be raised.

6 Summary

6.1 All the above amounts to a huge investment of time, energy and emotion plus a sizeable financial cost on the part of ordinary Queenslanders trying to protect their lifestyle and the natural environment from the depredation of an individual and organisation bent on exploiting both for private financial gain. It is quite legal to initiate major development proposals on a purely speculative basis, but the above submission we trust, makes the case that it is likely to be damaging to society. The damage extends to the demand on the time and effort of ministers and public servants who would be far better engaged on work beneficial to the community. Thus, we argue that society must be afforded a measure of protection from such speculative proposals.

6.2 While the cableway’s proponents were the primary cause of distress to its opponents, they were not the sole cause. At times the lack of response by Dean Wells and Merri Rose added to our woes. However, Margaret Keech, MP for Albert, was most supportive and helpful at all times. At local government level a letter dated 30 July 2002 by Clr. David Power could hardly have been more inappropriate, suggesting that Willow Vale residents need not worry about the cableway when on that very day the first residents’ public meeting had been called as a prelude to all that followed. Subsequently, the mayor’s blatant and sustained support for the cableway proved a far greater aggravation. Given Clr. Max Christmas’ association with Billy James, the fact that he voted on the cableway issue suggests a possible conflict of interest.

6.3 It should be recorded that we received excellent co-operation from certain state and local government bureaucrats.

6.4 Finally, the role of the print media at times compounded our difficulties. The cableway’s proponents had the largely uncritical support of the Gold Coast Bulletin; the paper directing its criticism at council or the cableway’s opponents who were given few opportunities to present their side of the argument. The Courier Mail was more measured in its view of the cableway, presenting both sides of the argument, but it and the Sunday Mail gave more space to the cableway’s proponents than to its opponents. Just to make the point; early in 2003 a big splash was made in the Courier Mail that 2 high profile business identities had become directors of Ecotrans. When a few months later, both resigned, it was the NCC who alerted the Courier Mail, which ran a brief story in its City Beat column. In other words, Ecotrans had no problem getting a big splash, the objectors had to make do with a short gossip column item. Television appeared if anything to favour the cableway’s opponents.

7 Our Recommendations

7.1 What possible remedies or sanctions can be introduced to offer the protection we request. It is one thing for a developer of a multi-million dollar project to have unpublicised meetings with politicians and bureaucrats as a preliminary to lodging a planning application, quite another to blazon the project all over the front page without having taken this step. Accordingly we recommend that: 1 There must be a requirement for a developer of a major project to lodge a formal planning application before being able to go public about it, or he must lodge a sizeable non-refundable bond if he goes public without lodging a planning application. 2 If a speculative developer is shown to have misrepresented the support his project has received or misrepresented his dealings with government, the project should be declared void. Such sanctions should apply whether the assessor is state or local government.

7.2 The morality of a public asset being exploited for private financial gain is of real concern to us, particularly if the asset is a national park or land of high conservation value acquired by a levy on rates. We feel that the two levels of government in Queensland should be extremely wary of permitting such exploitation and therefore we recommend that: 3 The two levels of government in Queensland should not approve large scale, private development applications (other than applications for strategic basic infrastructure projects) utilizing public assets acquired because of their environmental conservation value.

Peter Kuttner and Jean Campbell, August 2004



Supporting Material

APPENDIX 1 – First Word

Item 1 – Preliminary Proposal

Item 2 – FOTM letter to Premier Beattie

Item 3 – List of other recipients of the letter

Item 4 – Letter  from Smithsonian Institute

Item 5 – Letter from Griffith University

APPENDIX 2 – Focus on State Government


Item 6 – Letter from EPA to Weathered Howe

Item 7 – Letter from Weathered Howe to EPA

Item 8 – Billy James Signed Statement

Item 9 – Original route map

Item 10 – Amended route map

Item 11 – NCC letter to CEO of QPWS

Item 12 – NCC letter to Dean Wells

Item 13 – Local issues paper (10 Good Reasons)

APPENDIX 3 – Focus on Local Government 

Item 14 – Pro-forma letter to Mayor Baildon

Item 15 – GCCC January 24 Resolution

Item 16 – Letter from Minter Ellison to Billy James

Item 17 – Letter from Weathered Howe to CEO GCCC – 5.3.03

Item 18 – Letter from Weathered Howe to CEO GCCC – 6 3.03

Item 19 – Project Description from Ecotrans Project Summary

Item 20 – Letter from Mayor Baildon to Billy James

Item 21 – Letter from Landcare Australia to Ben James

Item 22 – Media Release from Landcare Australia

Item 23 – Letter from Billy James to Margaret Keech MP

Item 24 – GCCC June 20 Resolution

Item 25 – Letter from Billy James to CEO GCCC

Item 26 – Notice of Motion by Clr Bob La Castra, 9.10.03

Item 27 – GCCC Minutes, 31.10.03