The airport – are ratepayers being treated like mushrooms?

At last Thursday’s Council meeting a motion was put asking that Council “interrupt negotiations with any potential lessee until approval is given by that entity to allow Coffs Harbour City Council to provide to the Coffs Harbour community some meaningful information as to the length of lease and lease option being proposed.”

By the Editor*

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Apparently the term of the lease for the Coffs Coast regional Airport is currently ‘commercially sensitive’

On being told by Council Executive that “approval had not been given” the motion was lost as follows;

For:          Crs Amos and Arkan

Against:  Crs Knight, Adendorff, Cecato, Rhoades, Swan and Townley.

Leaving aside some of the wording in the motion, which may be problematic, debate around the motion featured Cr Amos venting frustration with what he described as a “culture” of confidentiality during a highly impassioned speech to fellow Councillors and the chamber in general.

Cr Amos stated he was “very disappointed. This is not about whether we sign up to an airport lease or not – it’s about the culture of how we do things around here,” he said.

According to a report in The Coffs Coast Advocate by Jasmine Minhas Cr Amos went on to say; “We’re dealing with the community’s money here … why wouldn’t we get our community involved and on board?

“Transparency and community confidence needs to be bolstered.”

It is believed that Council is negotiating with one potential lessee and in early October a motion moved by Cr Amos had been passed asking the company for their permission to make the proposed length of the lease public.

The company replied that they ‘respectfully declined’ to reveal the length of the proposed lease. Council Executive also apparently cited issues around ‘commercial sensitivity.’

“I’m really, really astounded something so benign has been looked at by our potential lessee and they have refused” Cr Amos said, ” I’m thinking are they the sort of people we’re needing to do business with? What’s the catch? Why can’t they come out and do it?”

Cr’s Cecato and Rhoades spoke against the motion with Cr Cecato stating it was known “from the beginning it was required from us to be confidential.” Cr Rhoades twice moved to stop debate and move to a vote, the second time successfully.

It is understood the results of the lease negotiations are expected to be brought back before the council in coming weeks.

CCO comment

Cr Amos is right the term of the lease is not a matter that normally should be highly sensitive. In fact there is many a public tender document at all levels of government out there that actually states unequivocally what the term of any lease will be prior to any tender bid and/or negotiations.

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he point Cr Amos makes about a “the culture of how we do things around here” is absolutely spot on and it is way past time it was highlighted.

In fact one wonders why permission had to be asked for? It is not a breach of contract to release what is on the table as apparently there is no contract yet.

There is supposedly an offer but so far there is no acceptance or consideration if Council Executive are to be believed.

And would release of the lease term really be terminal to negotiations? (Pun intended).

And we all know that ‘commercially sensitive’ is just another weasel word term for ongoing opacity. So sensitive apparently a simple term of a lease is being treated as if though it were a ‘state secret’.

Could it be that there is some nervousness over this issue in relation to the term of the lease because it is shorter than what many in the public may be expecting? Say 50 years instead of 99 years for example?

And if it is shorter might it be that the overall ‘deal’ is not as good as one that could have been obtained post-Covid in a more normal aviation market? And might there be caveats on what follows if the term is in fact a 50 year one or similar?

Not that giving monopoly airport management rights to an organisation to run a regionally significant profit making asset is in any way a good idea anyway as we have said before.

But the point Cr Amos makes about a “the culture of how we do things around here” is absolutely spot on and it is way past time it was highlighted.

Transparency has gone out the window in many levels of government as story after story of impropriety recently attests.

It seems to CCO that those who are paid to answer to Councillors, the Council Executive, believe transparency is something that is to be avoided as much as possible.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Coffs Harbour City Councillors and the community are often being treated like mushrooms.

You know as in being fed bullshit. And kept in the dark.

Transparency quotes;

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.”
― Joseph Pulitzer

Tomorrow: The original deed of gift for the airport. Is it still legal? If so what might it mean?

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