OPINION: Financial train wreck Gympie's ongoing burden
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Looks like we've got a tiger by the tail
OTHER readers were probably as shocked as I was by the revelations in Scott Kovacevic's article, "More comfort for train?”(The Gympie Times, August 27).
The heading was in reference to a second "letter of comfort” to the Rattler Railway Company from the Gympie Regional Council.
The previous letter is apparently only 10 months old, but it has already resulted in the transfer of $150,000 from the council to the RRC.
I was never top of the class in bookkeeping, but isn't that three-quarters of $1 million dollars on the debit side? Something of a financial train-wreck!
And the council is apparently obligated to provide ongoing financial support to sustain the operation of the Rattler.
We appear to have a tiger by the tail.
We have invested so heavily in the Rattler that we can't afford to let it fail.
But it looks like being an ongoing financial burden on the council and the community that will inevitably have (and may already be having) a detrimental impact on the essential services and maintenance operations that council should provide.
And there was no comfort in Mayor Curran's column, "I stand by the Rattler, Volunteers”, the following day. What was that comma doing there - with the implication that the Mayor was going to defend both the Rattler project and the volunteers?
There was no further mention of the Rattler.
What followed was an all-embracing tribute to the Muster volunteers as well as those at the RRC. So the Mayor is there behind them with the rest of us.
Luckily there was some light relief in the Andrew Bolt column, "Go Harvey, Don't Let Them Win”.
Andrew Bolt to the rescue of his mysogynist mate, Alan Jones, who has lost some advertising sponsors as a result of his latest display of hatred for women of power and influence - especially those who don't call the far right "home”.
Julia Gillard, among several others, he would have had "put into a chaff bag and towed out to sea.”
And Bolt's champion in the "Save Alan's money” campaign is retailer Gerry Harvey (Jones's horse racing buddy).
Apparently Harvey passed judgment on the companies that withdrew their advertising, saying that they were "fundamentally wrong”.
Perhaps in terms of economics Gerry, your field of expertise, but most decent Australians will applaud their ethics.
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PRE-MUSTER PARTY DOWN THE GURGLER
I WOULD like to give you my opinion on the Mary Street Muster Party being stopped this year over insurance for the buskers.
I really think it is awful and as a busker myself, it's a happy day down the gurgler.
It was a bad thing for Mary St shops as the muster party brings in revenue for the shops and at the moment it's just what they need.
All this commotion about insurance, it's a load of rubbish.
If the local council can't cover this, well it's a sad state of affairs.
If that's what they think of our Mary St, well, I do not know the answer to this. Mary St has chemist shops, banks and a lot of other shops that the general public rely on. Not everyone wants to go the big shopping centres.
If council does not like our little Mary St, then perhaps they wouldn't want to get collecting rates every year from Gympie locals.
Well done whoever stopped such a happy event for the Gympie people.
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GUN RANGES ARE WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES
IT WAS very informative to read the two letters to the editor which discussed shooting sports on page 12 on Saturday, August 24.
Thank you to Ron Owen for setting out the issues so clearly and logically.
Concerning the issue of wildlife and gunfire, it is interesting to note what really happens at gun ranges.
When the shooting starts at the Kilkivan gun range, there are often cattle, kangaroos, and wallabies resting up in the shade of the trees.
The wallabies often lie there awhile, just a few metres away, watching the proceedings before leisurely moving off. They don't give the impression of being stressed from the noise, nor indeed from the presence of shooters with guns.
Wildlife are smart, they know where they are in danger and where they are safe. It is almost as if they understand what a wildlife refuge means - strictly no hunting allowed.
At the Imbil range, the sound of the bellbirds is often very loud, with hundreds of the birds calling out non-stop.
When the shooting stops, the bellbirds are still chiming away uninterrupted.
The sound doesn't seem to worry them or interfere with their version of Twitter.
The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia has its Ipswich range at Stewartdale.
It is also a wildlife sanctuary, with a lagoon full of waterbirds, and thousands of koala-friendly gum trees which have been planted and nurtured for the resident koalas, with advice from government departments and conservation groups.
Alan Goddard stated that the sound of a barking dog can stress out a koala to the point of catching chlamydia, and that gunfire which is much louder, must then cause more stress and hence suffer more disease.
However, it is not that simple.
Other factors come into play, other than outright noise levels. For example, a dog is a predator, and this alone would induce great stress, not so much because of the noise level, but the aggression which indicates danger to the koala.
The truth of the matter is, shooters have long been lovers of wildlife, as indicated by the fact that all rifle ranges are wildlife refuges.
The SSAA even started a wildlife conservation organisation, which was instrumental in the reintroduction of the spotted quoll into the Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia.
Along with helping out the rangers in many other ways, the main help from shooters came by culling wild goats to allow revegetation, and the destruction of wild cats which had decimated the quoll population.
The revegetation has also helped the population of endangered yellow-footed wallabies.
While it may seem to be a contradiction, shooters, and especially hunters, are animal lovers.
A hunter spends many hours observing the wildlife around them, for clues to the whereabouts and behaviour of animals, both of their intended prey, and of other animals. Even when we don't get to shoot anything, time spent watching wildlife is not time wasted, it is fulfilling.
As Ron Owen has mentioned in more than one letter, the koalas are there because of the gun ranges and their wildlife sanctuary status.
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SPORTING SHOOTERS NEED TO BE TREATED FAIRLY
IS THERE a more divisive subject than guns?
I hate them. They scare me, if I'm honest.
I don't want to fire one and I absolutely don't want one in my house. But so what?
I also don't think much of footballs, knitting needles or cricket bats, but I'm quite accepting of the fact other people in my community like these things and enjoy the sports or activities they're associated with.
So that being said, I don't feel I need to holster a six shooter to think the various gun clubs around Gympie are on the cusp of being poorly treated.
Here's things boiled down to some really simple concepts:
Gun clubs are a good thing. They serve a purpose, providing safe areas for shooters to enjoy their sport, train, congregate and make friends with people who share a similar interest.
For the rest of us they mean we're less likely to stumble into a stray bullet if shooting was practised in areas not set up to keep everyone safe.
The clubs aren't asking to be moved.
Instead, council is considering moving them, citing residential encroachment, the new highway or some such (Google 'GRC Ross Planning shooting' for a pdf of the report council commissioned).
The actual club members are, for the most part, quite happy where they are, having spent years building ranges, clubhouses and even roads.
Can you imagine the uproar if council tried to shut down, for example, Jack Stokes Oval and not only expected Gympie Junior Rugby League to walk away from their existing facilities with empty pockets, but to find and fund a new location, including earthworks on the new ovals, clubhouse, night lights, fencing and parking?
Or if council then additionally insisted the club be financially responsible for returning the old ovals - again, which they didn't choose to leave - to their original state.
What about a Scouts club? The bridge club? Soccer? Hockey? Pick your club and slot it into this scenario and I think, like me, you might see things from a different perspective.
The gun clubs developed their leased land in good faith they'd be left to enjoy their sport.
If council wants to renege on that promise then it's council, and not the region's shooters, who should be responsible for footing the bill. Including the clean-up.
While guns (including gun licences and regulations) might be polarising, I genuinely think gun clubs and ranges should be something the whole community can reasonably get behind. And once you put your own preferred club or sport in their place, I think you'll also find you agree any costs involved should be met by those insisting the shift happens at all.
Yes, I hate guns. But so what? Like any other sport, training or hobbyist group, the members of these clubs deserve to be treated at least as fairly by our council as, say, the people who enjoy cricket, soccer, rugby or, indeed, hanging around old steam engines.
The cost of comfort
IN COUNCIL this week I supported a motion that provides for a "letter of comfort” for the Rattler as required by the auditor. This ensures funding from ratepayers for the operations of the Rattler, should the need arise.
I voted this way because in my opinion the Rattler needs to be given time to show it can succeed financially. There is also a new manager in place, and I think he will make a difference.
Sure, there is some bad history and sure, we desperately need some answers about the massive cost overrun.
But should we stop the train? No. There is no way that I could condone about $20million of investment being flushed away at this time. And there are indeed some benefits, although I am not at all convinced about the amount claimed.
In the meantime I am seeking support for a project to convert the rail line connecting Amamoor and Kandanga and Imbil to a rail trail for walking or riding.
The Mary Valley is perfect for this.
Put your vote where your mouth is
FOR the record, I would have voted against the letter of comfort. Current council had no right to vote on something that a new council would have to manage and commit ratepayer money into.
I am extremely disappointed with all current councillors except Hilary Smerdon, who was the only one with enough fortitude to put his future position on the line.
We don't need any more fence sitters in council.
Don't go criticising the current Mayor if you're not willing to put your vote where your mouth is.
If you had any concerns about the viability of the Rattler, now would have been your chance to express it before the election.
Fisheries review failings
PRIVATISING the Queensland people's fish with fish quota. Do you know, what's really going on with your fish?
Around 83 per cent of inshore N1 N2 net fishers' endorsements have been removed since 1994. Past fish plans have assured fisheries' sustainability.
Most Qld commercial fishers believe individual transferable quotas within these fisheries are manifestly unfair and privatises the consumer's access rights to local crab and fish stock.
ITQ systems have failed worldwide, destroying small scale independent fishers, allowing consolidation of local fish by multinationals.
The governments ITQ fish quota plan is fish privatisation.
ITQ will lead to extensive wastage of inshore prize table fish like whiting, barra, threadfin and lesser mackerels.
There are no rights of appeal against allocation of ITQ.
There are no special circumstance conditions.
There is no structural adjustment assistance available.
There will be no compensation for devalued licences.
There will be no buyout for older fishers wanting to exit because of the extra bureaucratic red tape and complexity needed for this type of fish management.
ITQ will lead to increased targeting of other species.
ITQ will give instant cash, golden handshake, to those who have caught the most fish and destroy those who have caught the least fish. No logic.
Many commercial fishers will have reduced access to catch fish, bills keep coming.
ITQ discriminates against the older fisher who may have 50+ years of fishing history and little catch history in twilight years.
No ITQ system worldwide has been able to prevent fish share consolidation.
Qld painted crayfish is consolidated and exported; most coral trout quota now owned by limited few and exported; most spanner crab quota is owned by a few and most crab is exported, leaving little quota for smaller leased crab vessels.
It is manifestly unfair that many fishers will not be allocated the fish caught by them if they leased a licence. That fish/crab will be allocated to a licence owner even though they didn't play any role in catching the fish/crab.
Catch history can be allocated to some who have never participated in that fishery. This could even be fraudulent.
Many fishers in the southeast Queensland will have to throw local whiting back, possibly dead, as they will not qualify for quota symbol regardless of past fishing history or environmental parameters.
Differing net length and mesh sizes are regulated across symbols which disadvantage many in quota allocation and species.
Other options, like nights/days allocations were not progressed or discussed. Many areas already have 104-day closures, given weekend closures plus hundreds of other closures.
No evidence that ITQ is needed over existing management.
A competitive Total Allowable Commercial Catch could have been used, if necessary.
Even new fish sizes and/or net mesh size adjustments were not considered.
Commercial fishers question the motive of going straight to local fish privatisation.
Countries worldwide have shown the negative impacts of ITQ which drives the cost of leasing quota up as much as 50-80per cent of the landed fish price, increasing costs across the board, including to seafood consumers.
This proposed Qld fish/crab privatisation plan, rewards some, destroys others and leads to offshore fish consolidation/ownership of your local fish stock quota. It all needs to go back to the drawing board.
Tin Can Bay
Our rubbish, our problem
RECENTLY our PM chaired a COAG meeting of state and territory leaders who agreed to set in train banning the export of our recyclable waste to other countries, correctly identifying that it's our problem to deal with.
There doesn't seem to be any real plan as yet to fix this problem, which was exacerbated recently with the collapse of recycling companies in Victoria, leaving many councils there with little choice but to send a resource to landfill.
It will be interesting to see what the collective leaders actually come up with but it's a problem which may present great opportunities for forward-thinking populations, perhaps even Gympie.
For many years our council put off meaningful decisions on dealing with our rubbish in the hope of building a superdump which was seen as viable if we could work with nearby councils.
That was never successfully negotiated and required Gympie to come up with another method, but as yet no real long term solution.
Now leaders of all political stripes at higher levels have identified a need for stronger action. With Gympie desperately needing industry and jobs, I wonder if our local 'leaders' can see their way to investigating using our new highway, nearby rail, and space we still have, to become a major recycling and garbage destination for the northern part of the southeast Queensland sprawl?
Nobody wants a garbage-burning electricity generator near their house and they aren't the cleanest of things but modern such facilities put out much less greenhouse gases than landfill.
With recycled plastics being used elsewhere for things such as road asphalt, railway sleepers, park furniture and a variety of other public infrastructure, would Gympie not be ideally placed to produce such things, powered by garbage? I can't speak for others but I'd rather burn rubbish than take the nuclear power risk, as has been proposed for us recently.
There'll hopefully be money available following the country's leaders identifying a need to act on waste.
While we're growing in population we still have comparatively plenty of space to 'hide' such a facility. Surely it has to be worth considering but I guess we'll face a couple of typically Gympie problems, inward thinking, and without any sensible reasons much of the population being bound to be against anything 'green', or part of a sustainable future.
With a change of attitudes we could gain from this move by higher leaders, otherwise we'll likely end up paying others to deal with our rubbish. One thing's certain, to gain we'll have to move a lot faster than normal.
Battle for Australia Day
ON WEDNESDAY, September 4, we recognise a period of the Second World War when the Australian mainland came under attack for the first time in the history of European settlement.
The Battle for Australia recognises the service and sacrifice of thousands of Australians who defended against Japanese attacks on mainland Australia.
On February 19, 1942, the first Japanese air raids were launched against Darwin, killing around 250 people. Raids on northern Australia would continue through until November 1943, when Darwin was attacked for the final time.
The Battle of the Coral Sea, the action described by historians as the battle that saved Australia, took place between May 4-8, 1942 in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and east of New Guinea. While no Australians were killed during the naval battle, the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington was sunk and hundreds of Americans killed or wounded.
Nineteen Australians and two British sailors also died when Japanese Midget submarines launched a surprise attack on Sydney Harbour in May 1942 and sunk HMAS Kuttabul.
We commemorate the Battle for Australia each year on the first Wednesday in September, which also coincides with the period of the Battle of Milne Bay, the first time a Japanese amphibious landing was defeated in the Pacific theatre.
We should pause as a grateful nation for the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who defended our nation, and say 'thank you for your service'.
Darren Chester MP,
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel