FORG­ING FOR­WARD

Coun­cil takes on 100% of new air­port com­pany

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE -

THE first in­ter­na­tional flights from New Zealand into the Whit­sun­day coast are on track to touch down later this year.

At a spe­cial meet­ing of coun­cil held in Proser­pine yes­ter­day, a new com­pany – Whit­sun­day Coast Air- port and In­fra­struc­ture Pty Ltd was formed.

Sit­ting on the in­terim board as ini­tial tran­si­tional di­rec­tors are coun­cil’s cur­rent act­ing Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Barry Omund­sun and McKay’s Solic­i­tors prin­ci­pal Su- zanne Brown.

Coun­cil CEO Scott Wa­ters, who has been lead­ing the charge to turn the air­port into an in­ter­na­tional trans­port and ex­port hub, has been named as the in­terim CEO.

No­tably ab­sent from the com­pany was a pri­vate part­ner.

At the end of last year, coun­cil an­nounced it had whit­tled its list of po­ten­tial can­di­dates for a pub­lic / pri­vate part­ner­ship ven­ture down to one.

Yes­ter­day, due to con­fi­den­tial­ity con­straints, Mr Wa­ters was un­able to say more than that the bind­ing bid process was still in ef­fect.

Oth­ers around the board­room were not so tight-lipped, with divi­sions called come de­ci­sion time.

“You can’t half tell there’s an elec­tion around the cor­ner”

Some coun­cil­lors said the steps taken yes­ter­day to drive the Whit­sun­day Coast Air­port for­ward were “a great start to the year 2016”, with a range of mea­sures passed in­clud­ing not just the for­ma­tion of a cor­po­rate en­tity, but re­solves to ob­tain the free­hold land, and a num­ber of pro­vi­sions for mov­ing for­ward with air­port users such as the Whit­sun­day Ae­ro­club and Mackay Whit­sun­day Taxis.

Oth­ers how­ever said they hadn’t been able to prop­erly con­sider the 600-page agenda re­port and there­fore couldn’t make an in­formed de­ci­sion as per the Lo­cal Govern­ment Act.

“You can’t half tell there’s an elec­tion around the cor­ner,” Cr Dave Clark said.

“We’ve been a num­ber of months deal­ing with an­other pro­po­nent as a joint ven­ture and, as late as yes­ter­day, we were told that had fallen over,” he said, adding when cau­tioned about con­fi­den­tial­ity by Mayor Jen­nifer Whit­ney: “I know you wouldn’t want any of this to get out be­cause that would be em­bar­rass­ing for you”.

Cr Whit­ney called a point of or­der, say­ing: “You are re­quested to re­frain from men­tion­ing any con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion – and what you are say­ing is to­tally in­cor­rect, so keep to the task in front of you”.

“Tell me what part of what I’ve said is in­cor­rect so far,” Cr Clark chal­lenged, to which Cr Whit­ney replied: “I will when you get into a con­fi­den­tial meet­ing”.

Cr Clark con­cluded by say- ing he wouldn’t sup­port the cor­po­ra­tion, call­ing it a “knee-jerk re­ac­tion” – an opin­ion to which Cr Whit­ney said he was en­ti­tled.

Cr Peter Ra­m­age said while he sup­ported an in­ter­na­tional air­port in prin­ci­ple, “we’ve got a small rate-base that we’ve got to an­swer to... and I’m very con­cerned that our 30,000 ratepay­ers are go­ing to in­cur a huge cost some­where down the track if we don’t get it right”.

“And Cr Clark is right – it’s all be­cause there’s an elec­tion com­ing up and peo­ple need some­thing to hang their hat on.”

Both Cr Whit­ney and Mr Wa­ters main­tained this was not an elec­tion is­sue, with yes­ter­day’s res­o­lu­tions sim­ply an en­act­ment of the res­o­lu­tion of Oc­to­ber 22, 2015, when coun­cil ini­tially re­solved to take the air­port fur­ther.

Mr Wa­ters, while no­tice­ably dis­ap­pointed by the hi­jack­ing of what should have been a mo­men­tous day for the de­vel­op­ment of the fa­cil­ity by political divi­sions, went to great pains to out­line ex­actly what it was that coun­cil was set­ting out to do.

He said the air­port was an im­por­tant piece of in­fra­struc­ture be­yond the realms of coun­cil’s core busi­ness to op­er­ate.

He ex­plained that by mov­ing to a cor­po­ra­tion, the air­port would no longer be con­strained by coun­cil pro­cesses, and this was a way whereby the coun­cil and the com­mu­nity ul­ti­mately re­tained con­trol.

With­out giv­ing too much away, he said the door was still open in re­spect to a pub­lic / pri­vate part­ner­ship with mile­stones ex­pected on that front in late Fe­bru­ary and April.

He said the CEO po­si­tion would be mar­ket tested once a full board was es­tab­lished and he stressed: “No, coun­cil has been very clear that it is not sell­ing the air­port”.

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