On 2 October 1991 the Federal Government and the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) signed a deed of gift wherein airport management and control was ceded to council subject to the terms and conditions in the deed.
By The Editor,
The deed was signed by R.S. Elder on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia and then Mayor, John Smith, on behalf of the CHCC.
The Deed spells out what the Council needed to do in this regards along with details of monies the federal government would give the council so as to improve the airport within two years of the date the deed was signed.
Clause 2 (k) of the Deed spells out that the Council may lease or license the whole or any part of the aerodrome so long as the lessee complies with all terms as set out within clause 2.
Separately Clause 6 states;
“The local authority on and from 1 October 1991 shall have the right to determine and collect charges for aerodrome operations, other than those imposed under the Civil aviation Act and Regulations made thereunder, as are necessary to cover the cost of developing, operating and maintaining the areodrome.”
The Deed of Gift appears to be silent as to how this clause would apply to a lessee as is currently being proposed.
Inquiries made by CCO would suggest that this deed has not been varied by the parties to it.
The 1995-96 debate
Clause 6 later became the centre of a contentious council debate in 1995-96 when a proposal was put forward to divert monies from the airport to be used to advertise a job creation scheme called Jobs North.
An article from the Coffs Coast Advocate of Tuesday July 25 1995 by Michael Secomb covered this debate wherein then Cr John Essex-Clark stated he would oppose the motion stating; “I want to ensure money is spent on the airport to create real long term jobs…..”.
The issue continued to simmer and came to the fore again a year later on July 12 1996 when a report on page 3 of The Independent ran a report wherein it was stated; “according to a deed Agreement with the Commonwealth Government, profits made by the Airport are collected under the proviso that they are used on the airport.
The 1991 agreement states that any money raised by the facility is to be used for maintenance and improvement”.
What does this mean today?
It would seem the debate in Council over 1995-96 was found in favour of airport profits not being able to be used for general Council expenditure other than for reasonable administration expenses related to airport governance.
We say this as we have seen internal National Party correspondence written just prior to last year’s federal election in May 2019 wherein branch officials drew the attention of then National Party Cowper candidate and current member, Pat Conaghan, to this issue.
In this letter it is stated;
“It is common knowledge among ratepayers that Coffs Harbour City Council has, for at least the last two decades, regarded the Airport as a huge source of revenue (Cash Cow) for its own activities when, ethically, the Airport should only be called upon to remunerate Council for its administration function. All profits for the airport should flow back directly into Airport facilities, improvements and maintenance.”
The letter then also goes to state among numerous other issues we will cover in coming weeks that;
“There is a very wide and very strong suspicion among thinking Coffs Harbour Citizens that Coffs Harbour City Council wants to either lease or sell the airport to some large business organisation such as Macquarie Bank which already owns Sydney Airport. Our citizens are doubtless well aware of how they would be ruthlessly exploited by such a lease or sale given the enourmous increases in user costs to the public which followed the sale of Sydney Airport.” (Emphasis in above two quotes as per original letter).
What if this scenario is ‘horrendously correct’?
If the Deed of Gift has in fact not been varied by the parties to it then does this mean that the CHCC may have to perversely return any profits from the airport lease/privatisation straight back to the lessee so as to ensure ongoing airport maintenance and improvement?
And, if this is the case, does this not mean any profits would not return to the ratepayers?
Has Council obtained legal advice in regards to this? If so might not it be a good idea to release it so as to clarify this issue?
And if the above scenario is in fact ‘horrendously correct’ then what is the current point of the whole privatisation/lease exercise?
Here is a story published yesterday by CCO relevant to this; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/?p=37266