Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 May 1985
Page: 1482

Senator REYNOLDS(10.30) — This evening I want to place on the public record yet another example of the Queensland Government's malpractice in favouring a privileged few foreign investors at the expense of ordinary Queenslanders. It has been well known, since the days of the handover of land to Iwasaki at Yeppoon, that the Queensland Government has absolutely no scruples in regard to giving away, or virtually giving away, considerable parcels of valuable real estate to foreigners. While the National Party of Australia opposes genuine land rights for Aborigines and Islanders, it openly endorses a fairly open season when it comes to land deals for an assortment of foreigners.

The latest land deal scandal that I wish to raise tonight concerns an American investor, Richard Rand, who has manoeuvred his way into controlling a sizable slice of north Queensland on Cape York Peninsula-a property known as Silver Plains, which is a 700,000-acre property with a 50-mile beach front along the Great Barrier Reef. This property is also adjacent to the McIlwraith Range National Park, which has prompted concern from Dr Mosley of the Australian Conservation Foundation. It is, in fact, the largest slice of north Queensland ever proposed for freeholding and it has been the subject of some significant and contradictory actions by State Government departments, which suggests that senior Government figures have dictated that this prize should be awarded to some unknown American in return, we can only presume, for his support of the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation.

Serious questions surrounding the management and financial affairs of the Silver Plains pastoral station on Cape York Peninsula have been raised by former employees, senior Government officers and company public records. Since the station was taken over by American property developers, the Rand family, in 1971, there have been claims for non-payment of wages and bills and persistent specific allegations that cattle operations have effectively collapsed due to lack of interest and adequate financial input. Despite this, the State Government has recently offered the Honolulu-based Richard Russell Rand and Californian interests a package deal on pastoral and Crown lands 200 kilometres north-west of Cooktown at an annual rent of 30c per square kilometre for the leasehold and a maximum of $5 a hectare for the freehold at two choice coastal locations. The Government says that the package is to assist pastoral development, which sounds plausible enough, and has imposed development conditions, which it values at $900,000, mainly relating to cattle yards, fencing, water, improved pastures and employee accommodation.

Four former employees have made claims indicating that at least one major condition relating to the maintenance of improvements on the existing 30-year pastoral lease, due to expire in 1993, has been flouted for almost the entire period of the Rand interests. The employees claim that over the past 12 to 13 years a number of anomalies have been allowed to exist. For example, they claim that Aboriginal stockmen were once asked to work for fancy clothing instead of wages. Furthermore, two truck loads of cattle had to be specially mustered to raise money for a month's wages owing when the first manager and his wife resigned. A windmill which broke down and yards and fencing built by the previous lessee, the Tipperary Land Corporation and its Australian agent, Sir William Gunn, fell into disrepair. Richard Rand Jnr and his Californian partner, John Parten, were much more interested in fishing and swimming on their trips from America than in the actual maintenance of the property or building up the cattle pastoral property as such. It has been claimed that a substantial works program in 1983 was, in fact, a dress-up operation to fool the Queensland Lands Department that development of the property as a cattle station was proceeding satisfactorily.

One former employee said that when he arrived on Silver Plains it appeared that absolutely nothing had been done to maintain the property. Improved pasture cleared and sown during the Tipperary days had regenerated into tea-tree growth, and fences and yards had 'just been let go'. While he was there the windmill fell to bits and he had to organise a pump to get water to the house. It appears that every time the employees went out to muster they had to repair the outstation and the homestead yards. While this employee was on Silver Plains no pasture improvement work was done. He estimated that a maximum of $10,000 worth of repairs was actually undertaken. Stock could get through other paddocks and boundary fencing. Another employee reported that an estimated 15 to 20 prospective buyers visited Silver Plains during his period of employment. One guy, he claimed, wanted to buy the property for a bunch of jewels. He had the idea of harvesting the kelp from the ocean to make fertiliser.

The financial management of Silver Plains appears to have been no more efficient that the half-hearted attempts to run a cattle property. A significant bill was run up in the name of the Silver Plains station at a north Queensland supermarket and hardware store and was settled out of court for $US5,000 in early 1981. Wages owed to a former stockman on the property, accumulated during a three-year period from 1976 to 1978, were not paid until three years later, after intervention by an industrial inspector based in Cairns. Records at the Corporate Affairs Office in Townsville show that the Princess Charlotte Pastoral Company Pty Ltd, which controls the Silver Plains lease as a tenant in common with Richard Russell Rand, had accumulated losses of in excess of $80,000. Furthermore, there had been no company returns lodged for the last two years.

State Government department correspondence covering several departments reflects ongoing dissatisfaction with the 10-year experiment to build up and manage Silver Plains as a viable cattle station enterprise. Three senior sources within the Department of Lands and the Department of Primary Industries have expressed disappointment with development and management of the station. A Lands Department source said that when the Rand family took over it seemed to get worse and worse, to the stage where it seemed to be not working at all. In 1983 the Land Administration Commission refused an application for the leases to be changed on the grounds of poor management. Yet apparently this recommendation was overturned at Cabinet level. One source in the Department of Primary Industries has said that so little branding and general cattle work had been done on the station that he believed cleanskin beasts were running wild on Silver Plains and were being rustled. Another Department of Primary Industries source said that major cattle improvement works initiated in late 1982 and which stopped just a year later, had not reached the first phase of a proposed long term three-phase development program.

If experience is any indication it appears that there is little justification for assuming that the Queensland Government's recent generosity will result in Richard Rand suddenly acquiring expertise to manage successfully and develop Silver Plains as a cattle station. He and his family have not managed to establish a viable enterprise over the last 10 years, so why should the Government imagine that these new and very generous conditions will bring results? Why is there such an interest in assisting Richard Rand? Could it be the prospect of lucrative future benefits if the area is promoted in the future as a tourist development? The Minister for Lands, Forestry and Police, Mr Glasson, has publicly denied that there is any tourist proposal for Silver Plains. Yet the text of his speech to the Queensland Parliament on 27 February this year merely reads:

I point out that although there has been talk about the possibility of establishing some type of tourist development on part of the aggregate no such firm proposal has been put to the Department.

One may excuse the Minister's naivete as he obviously does not know the background to any such tourism proposal. In the early 1970s, on the first occasion that Richard Rand Snr, an architect and property developer, arrived on Silver Plains, he had with him plans already drawn up for a tourist time share resort. A Women's Weekly article of 14 June 1972 headlined Rand as 'The Man with a Fifty-Two-Mile Beach'. It reported him as saying that he planned to turn it into a high class resort for those who want to get away from it all. He said:

I don't see Silver Plains opening up in my life time. This is very much a long range program, maybe another 25 years.

For at least the last three years tourists arriving by plane and four-wheel drive vehicles have been accommodated either at the homestead or in bush camping areas by the streams on the property. A large power boat has been available for hire for fishing and diving trips to the nearby Great Barrier Reef.

The Minister and the Lands Department may not have a firm proposal about future tourist planning at Silver Plains. However, I have a copy of a brochure in Richard Rand's name proclaiming the potential of Silver Plains. He does not call it a mere cattle station; he calls it a cattle station and resort. He describes the cattle station in rather odd terms for a cattle property. He says, for instance, that Silver Plains is a concept for better living. Does he mean better living for the cattle? We might wonder. He says that it has 52 miles of ocean frontage backed by fertile land. I suppose the cattle would enjoy the fertile land, but I wonder why they would be interested in the fact that they are 200 miles north of Cairns where a $30m international airport has just opened. How many cattle and stockmen will be attracted by those unique facilities?

The Queensland Government must be aware that there is more to Mr Rand's cattle venture than he cares to detail. Is the Lands Minister, Mr Glasson, really so naive when he claims-he has done so in Parliament-that it is ridiculous to suggest that the land will be used for tourism? Yet his colleague the Minister for Tourism, National Parks, Sport and the Arts, Mr McKechnie, is a little more honest. He admitted on another day in the Queensland Parliament that his Department had corresponded with Mr Rand about conditions for tourist developments on and adjacent to national parks. Is the Queensland Government genuinely convinced that the advertisement placed by Rand in the Australian Financial Review on 20 February 1985 valuing Silver Plains at $4,500,000 is really just an attempt to seek equity in a cattle property? Mr Rand has strange notions about advertising his intentions with respect to cattle. As in his brochure about his apparent cattle property and resort, so too in his advertisement in the Australian Financial Review he emphasises the sandy beach front on the Great Barrier Reef, the freshwater rivers and lake and, finally, the great location north of Cairns with development potential. Those Silver Plains cattle certainly must be extremely classy creatures to be so interested in such a lavish description of their environment! It appears that their owner is a pretty slick operator, too. According to the 1982 annual report of the Princess Charlotte Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd, the value of the property under the existing leases, before the recent generosity of the Queensland Government, was in the vicinity of $136,000, yet in 1985 Mr Rand can seek $4,500,000 as the value of this remarkably flexible property.

Many north Queenslanders are extremely angry about the preferential treatment given by the Queensland Government to Mr Rand. Numerous petitions have been lodged and letters have been written to the Minister and to the newspapers, all to no effect. The Queensland Government is obviously out of step with the Returned Services League, which has a policy in relation to foreign control of rural land of which, apparently, the Queensland Government is not aware. I trust that the Foreign Investment Review Board will closely scrutinise any proposal relating to Silver Plains. Obviously, Queenslanders cannot rely on their minority State Government to protect their interests in this regard. It is apparent that a special agreement on Silver Plains has been reached at Cabinet level, despite the reservations of several government departments. Once again, ordinary Queenslanders will be denied special privileges, and even access, because of Cabinet's ruling. We can only assume that this is because Mr Rand may be generous to the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation.