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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1932

Senator WOODLEY (7.20 p.m.) —Tonight I want to speak on the Port Hinchinbrook development in North Queensland. I want to raise some concerns that are not connected with the environment, although that was one of the issues which have brought on this debate. Other colleagues I believe will cover that this evening. I want to talk about an issue related to this development which deals with the ability of big business to destroy small business operators. I refer to the tour operators in Mission Beach, which is a little beach area just north of the Port Hinchinbrook development.

  I advise the Senate that, when the Mission Beach Tourism and Development Authority first heard of the Port Hinchinbrook development, it supported that project—until it read the fine print and, in particular, the applications which the developer, Mr Keith Williams, made. Now that the authority understands what he has in mind, it is totally and unanimously opposed to that development. I have permission to mention Mr Jim Whitehead, who is one of the tour operators from Mission Beach, who operates the Quick Cat tourism business. He takes visitors to the outer Barrier Reef.

  The Mission Beach Tourism and Development Authority and Mr Whitehead have raised with me a number of concerns that I want to place on the record. The first concern is the threat to the reef of increased visitation. He points out that Mr Williams, in his various applications, has applied to visit every current site covered by present permits: Mission Beach, Dunk Island, Hinchinbrook Island, Beaver Reef, Zoe Bay, Brook Island, Ramsay Bay. As Mr Whitehead says, it is very much like a giant spider's web waiting to catch everybody else.

  The problem is that the present permits allow the maximum possible density of visitors to the reef. Mr Williams could fulfil his wish only by taking out new permits, which would allow increased visitation, or by taking over the permits of the present operators. His primary objective seems to be to take over the operation of Quick Cat to Beaver Reef. If he does this, he will be given a six-year permit. It seems that he will then build his own pontoon on the reef, which would take about two years, much closer to Hinchinbrook Passage. Eventually, he would close down the Beaver Reef operation. The concern that Mr Whitehead expresses is: how will he be able to operate, and other operators continue, if Mr Williams's applications are granted?

  Another problem is the development of the Clump Point jetty at Mission Beach. This has been projected for some time. A boat harbour feasibility study for Cardwell Shire and nearby areas indicates that the Clump Point development is regarded by the Department of Harbours and Marine as a very suitable site. The interesting thing is that the Oyster Point development is regarded as a most unsuitable site. So Mr Williams is flying in the face of the very best advice.

  It is strange that the Queensland government has continued to allow the development Mr Williams has proposed in the light of the advice of its own department. The advice reads:

The site at Oyster Point would be expensive to develop and would provide only limited areas for future expansion and development. Maintenance costs would be high. It also suffers from the disadvantage that it is close to a naturally protected area—the Hinchinbrook Channel—where safe anchorage is available without the need for high capital expenditure.

The report concludes:

The area at Oyster Point should not be developed as a boat harbour.

Yet Mr Williams is continuing. The problem for the Mission Beach operation is that, if he is granted his wish, the development of a very small marina at Mission Beach will not proceed.

  A more serious allegation which Mr Whitehead makes concerns the way in which Mr Williams operates. Mr Whitehead discovered some months ago that his own fuel supplier, BP, to whom he had a debt, was approached by Mr Williams and, some time after this, Mr Whitehead received a wind-up summons. He managed to retrieve the situation, but from this he began to learn the way that Mr Williams operates. He discovered that Qantas has had pressure put on it to limit the Mission Beach service, and he understands that Mr Williams wants to upgrade the airport near Cardwell for his own operation.

  Even more serious is the fact that Mr Whitehead's financial adviser in Melbourne, who advises him on the very large debt that he has on his operation, was rung by Mr Williams, who put pressure on him. The question is: how did Mr Williams know who Mr Whitehead's financial adviser was? How did he get hold of the phone number? Mr Williams seems to have that kind of power. As Mr Whitehead has said, he seems to go for the jugular.

  To follow up my concern about the way Mr Williams operates, I have before me a letter published in the Bulletin of May 1994. It is headed `What's a mere 85 grand?', and it reads:

I refer to "Resorting to type" in which the statement is made: "Williams can claim that to the best of his knowledge nobody lost money as a result of his last project, Hamilton Island Resort, going into receivership."

  As [Sydney-based printing company] Hannanprint is a creditor of Hamilton Island Enterprises . . . I do not understand how Mr Williams can make such a claim.

  At the time of writing, Hannanprint was an unsecured creditor of Hamilton Island Enterprises in the sum of $85,936.78, which claim has been admitted by the Scheme Trustee.

  To date it has received no payment whatsoever and is still awaiting a determination by the Scheme Trustee of the total quantum of all the unsecured creditors' claims to enable shares to be issued on a pro rata basis.

So honourable senators can see that my concern is to do with not only the environment but also the way in which Mr Williams, as a very large operator, is operating and the way in which he is attempting to crush many of the small tour operators in that area.

  Mr Williams has said, of course, that he will provide employment for the township of Cardwell. It seems as though such employment would be provided only by transferring the employment which is already provided at Mission Beach. Again, it is destruction of employment in one place to provide it in another. That seems to be a very short-sighted way of doing things. I would like to close this brief analysis of what is going on in North Queensland by quoting Mr Whitehead, who said that to support this project depends on other people and the environment suffering.