It's been just over 4 months since Tony Fung of Nazareth entered the Cairns tourism market with an enormous project - the >$4.2 billion Aquis Great Barrier Resort and Casino Project.
The Cairns community is now dividing into two camps. Not "pro-Aquis" and "anti-Aquis", as some insist they be described. Better descriptions would be the Gavin King "we're drunk, it's OK to rape us" group, and the "tell us more" side.
Let's look at the current state of the project, and these two groups and see if we can discern what's really going on.
The Aquis developers have obviously been getting very poor advice on public relations and their dealings with the Cairns public. It reminds us of the lies told by CEC Group thru mouthpiece Andrew Griffiths as the company was collapsing. Cairns is a city that has attracted highly educated residents from around the world - residents who can sniff out bullshit from 50km. The public has the right to accurate, timely, and complete information. The Fung's are apparently thinking that they can get away with the Andrew Griffiths "mushroom treatment" - a strategy guaranteed to backfire.
Look at the Aquis Facebook page. They expect us to believe that they went from 300 "Likes" to over 20,000 likes in a few weeks. 20,000 Facebook members is over half the total number of Facebook users in the Cairns area. How is this possible?
Well, one way is fraudulent. There are literally dozens of services offering to load up your business site with "purchased" likes. $135 gets you 20,000 likes. Fung wouldn't be the first business promoter to buy "likes" for his project. We've previously outed others. . . . think water park. And if these had been legitimate "likes", the project would have received far more "yes" votes in the Cairns Post poll. It was the Chamber of Commerce email blasts to its members that loaded up the Cairns Post poll with "yes" votes. The Cairns Post is now a community irrelevancy.
Aquis and the Fungs clearly are conducting a poor and increasingly damaging campaign to promote this project. Rookie mistakes that give even supporters little confidence in the team.
None of this is consultation. The Cairns public is ENTITLED to consultation, that's how our democracy works. Just because this is a "Chinese" project doesn't give them the right to bully the public as is done in China. We're not entitled (nor in the position) to make demands on the developer. But we ARE entitled to insist they respect those that built Cairns into this world-class position that has made their investment possible, and do no harm to the future of our home. It is disrespectful to call the Cairns public derogatory names for expecting an honest consultation. The 500 Cairns residents who jammed the Serbian Cultural Centre meeting hall were not "naysayers". Many at this meeting are recognised as community leaders who want honest consultation and discourse, in order to ensure the future of our city. This is the moral high ground. Those who attacked these residents like Michael Trout and Gavin King have raised more questions as to the veracity of this project and their LNP government. This kind of attack is to be condemned.
The most recent similar project is the Singapore Marina Sands. The Singapore Government had open, public, internet-accessible hearings on the project before it was approved. And two years after the opening, the government re-opened public hearings in order to review the performance of the project, and solicit changes to regulations making the project even more responsive to the community.
All Cairns has received is a handful of pretty pictures and vague promises to respect Cairns business and workers. The promises vis-a-vis workers are especially spurious, as it's clear with 1800 on-site worker apartments that huge numbers of staff will be from overseas.
The Chamber of Commerce has been especially unhelpful in the process. Business leaders attacking the public about a project for which THEY also have no information is wrongheaded and unAustralian. CofC CEO Deb Hancock has predicted over 26,000 jobs will be directly and indirectly produced by this project. This would suggest Cairns will grow by 60,000 residents - an almost 50% increase. Where is the infrastructure to support such a massive increase in population? Hancock should be organising her membership to produce a list of infrastructure requirements that will meet the needs of existing Cairns business. Clearly at this population level Cairns should be demanding from the State work on rail transit, additional water capture and storage, planning for the additional schools, libraries, fire and police services, and other notional support this population will need. But instead what we're getting is attacks on those who dare to meet and discuss the project openly.
Ironically, the most cogent comments have come from lawyer
and Ports North CEO Brett Moller, who is quoted as saying "it is irresponsible to negatively prejudge the Aquis development prior to the Environmental Impact Statement assessment and approvals process being completed". . .No shit, Brett.
But Mr. Big Thinker, it is also irresponsible for our business leaders to POSITIVELY prejudge this project when the developer has provided virtually no detail to the community nor has the government provided any commitment to provide the needed infrastructure to support Cairns relative to the impact of this one project. Moller, ostensibly a lawyer, would have the community sign a "blank contract" with the Fungs. This is his considered legal advice? Many would consider it malpractice.
We're all well aware that FNQ falls off governmental radar between elections, and that Cairns is already far behind the Brisbane region and even Townsville in needed infrastructure. It's the LNP government weasels that the CofC should be concerned with. . . . .not the citizens asking the same questions.
Recently in an radio interview, Justin Fung was asked about his personal engagement with the Cairns lifestyle. He said he "prefers to retreat to his (million dollar) oceanfront condo and make his own dinner", shunning the 120+ restaurants at his doorstep. Is this a harbinger of things to come?
We also await the Fung's explanation of how they're going to operate this resort under the name of "Aquis", when there already exists a five-star hotel company with the same name for over 30 years in Greece. Of course they haven't bought themselves 20,000 "likes" on Facebook. . . .