After Gold Coast MP Ray Stevens’ outrageous behaviour this week to avoid questions about his conflict of interest in the Gold Coast Skyride development, fellow Mermaid Beach candidate Gary Pead (ALP) recounts his long opposition to the cableway and its massive problems.
Talking, laughing and the chinking of glasses could be heard at the Courtyard Café after the 2001 election of the Beattie Government in Queensland. Then Environment Minister Rod Welford had joined us at our celebration, confirming that the proposed Springbrook cableway would not go ahead.
Everybody was ecstatic at the announcement, but also overwhelmingly relieved after the months and years of hard work by the Cableway No Way campaign workers. Finally we could get on with our lives knowing that Springbrook National Park was in safe hands.
Our café, which we purchased in Mudgeeraba when we moved to the Gold Coast in early 1998, quickly became the meeting place of the Cable Way No Way campaigners. We organised protests, campaigners lobbied minsters; we worked hard, for years to try and put this issue to bed.
The local counsellor of the time, Peter Armstrong was felt by the campaign workers to be vacillating in his support of the Naturelink project (the cableway). So, my wife Jill ran against him in 2000 as an independent, with a clear undertaking that if she were elected to council she would not support the cableway.
As it happened, an independent affiliated with the LNP, Ted Sheppard, did agree to back the project if elected and won his bid to become division 9 councillor, with the obvious support of Ray Stevens, who had a personal financial interest in the Naturelink Cableway project.
Fast-forward 15 years and here we go again — only this time, Ray Stevens is using his almost unassailable position as the MP for Mermaid Beach to guarantee the success of this Skyride project, in which he has a major financial interest. To ensure the project’s success, he voted in parliament to change legislation that would allow commercial developments in national parks. Additionally, he voted to weaken the Crime and Corruption Commission’s ability to investigate the dealings of members of parliament. This is a clear breach of the trust that his electorate has placed in him to act with integrity and honesty, and to act in their best interests, not his own.
In a presentation at our café, well before the “reconciliation actions”, we learned from esteemed local Aboriginal elder, the Reverend Graham Dillon. It was the country of Graham’s grandmother’s Dreamtime stories. We learned the correct pronunciation for the area was “Ma-ji-ri-bah” not “Mud-ger-ra-ba” and was reputed to mean “a place where lies were told”. This is because of an alleged aboriginal massacre by settlers in the area of today’s Somerset College.
The lies, though perhaps not the bloodshed, appear to have continued to the present day.
The cable project was rejected 16 years ago due to a list of reasons – financial, environmental and safety – as long as my arm.
Gary Pead speaks at an anti-cableway rally 16 years ago (Image via cablewaynoway.com.au)
In terms of the environment, unlike that of the Skyrail Kuranda Rainforest Cableway in tropical Cairns – to which the Natureline project was often wrongly compared – was inappropriate for development. At the time, I was involved in an array of community committees and groups, including the volunteer local Rural Fire Brigade. From my time with them, I have the most vivid memories standing amongst the dry, blazing brush in Springbrook at 2am, fighting intensely hot bushfires right on the site of the proposed cableway. Springbrook has the second highest average rainfall in Queensland, meaning the project would not be viable in the wet season, with the poor visibility in the mountains and likely frequent cable car stoppages. In addition to this was the Indigenous significance and uniqueness of the ecology informed our protests. We were supported by the local community, as well as personalities such as gardener Don Burke and singer John Williamson, who also stood with us in solidarity.
Financially, the cableway was found inappropriate because the completed project was allegedly to be sold immediately to an overseas company so that the developers could make a windfall profit but not have to battle the suspect viability and ecological impact. I suspect this is the end goal of the latest version of this project also. Furthermore, it was likely the local businesses would not be served either, with buses of tourists driving straight past them to and from holiday accommodation on the coast.
The arguments against this plan have not changed and are equally valid after 16 years. This venture lacked imagination then as it does now and is generated by those with vested interests rather than holistic, sustainable approaches to tourism projects across the entire Gold Coast area that better serve the community’s prosperity.
With this snap election, we (me, my wife, the rest of the anti-cableway movement, and frankly the entire electorate) find ourselves in a powerless position. After careful manoeuvring, Ray Stevens’ stars have finally aligned and, if he is successful at this election, the fate of this project could be sealed without any consultation with the community. It seems a travesty of justice that all our hard work over so many years may go up in smoke — perhaps literally.
I am standing as the Labor candidate for Mermaid Beach because, morally and ethically, I cannot allow Ray Stevens’ actions to go unchallenged — on this issue and a dozen others, if not more.
The electorate of Mermaid Beach has been poorly served by Mr Stevens. Issues of spiralling costs of living, youth unemployment, seniors unemployment, the lack of sustainable job creation and the potential sale of assets – which is likely to include the sale of valuable land, including Miami State High and Broadbeach State School – have not been addressed in any way by him. He does not care about his constituents, only the money they can make him.
I implore the Mermaid Beach electorate to put LNP last on the ballot paper next week. The LNP and Ray Stevens will denigrate our society and our environment. We must vote them out to stop the Skyride in Springbrook. We must get rid of Ray Stevens.
Gary Pead is the ALP candidate for Mermaid Beach at the 31 January Queensland election. You can follow Gary on Twitter @commonsencrisis. Find out more about Cableway No Way here or on Twitter @cablewaynoway.