• Feb 22, 2019

Destination Gold Coast

Paul Donovan is Chair of the Gold Coast Tourism Corporation Ltd trading as "Destination Gold Coast". It is an organisation based on paid memberships that historically has received funds from the Gold Coast City Council's (GCCC) 'Tourism Levy'. According to its most recent Annual Report, Destination Gold Coast received $14.8 million in 2018 from the GCCC.

Since the Qld LNP changes to the Local Government Act in 2012-15, Queensland Mayors have been given huge control over drafting Local Government budgets rather than being discussed, debated and drafted by Council Finance Committees and qualified Council Officers.

Gold Coast Tram

One could argue that Mr Donovan's support for Mayor Tate's desire for the Light Rail (LR) 'transport system' to extend the entire length of the Gold Coast may be strategic given he would not want to jeopardize his organisation's $14.8 million per annum Council funding by opposing or upsetting the Mayor over the LR issue. Donovan has also accompanied Mayor Tate on several overseas Trade Missions and trips.

However, there are three other possible reasons for Donovan's strong support for the proposed Light Rail route south of Broadbeach to the Gold Coast Airport. Being the Chair of Destination Gold Coast, Donovan appears to argue that the LR will provide important transport infrastructure for tourists. Contradicting this suggestion are the Councillors who promote the LR as a way of taking the cars of Gold Coast residents and workers off the roads by providing public transport to their place of work.

The reality is that tourists already have an excellent bus service from the Gold Coast Airport that delivers them right to the door of their accommodation catering for all their luggage, surfboards, children's pushers etc. Alternatively, tourists hire vehicles from providers at the airport.

However, Donovan would have us believe that tourists will get on the LR (heavy tram) at the airport to be dropped off at an LR station that could potentially be one to 2 kilometres away from their accommodation and then walk that distance with all their luggage, children, surfboards etc. Those who book accommodation right on the Gold Coast Highway along the proposed and existing LR routes may still find that their accommodation is up to 800 metres from the nearest LR station.

The 'Light Rail is for tourists' argument is easily defeated but it must sound good in Destination Gold Coast's PR spin and reports.

The second reason for Donovan's support for LR all the way to the airport may be influenced by his other position as General Manager Business Relationships for Queensland Airports Ltd  (who own the GC Airport) - "a role in which he leverages his significant experience, extensive knowledge of, and contacts within, the tourism and aviation industries". He was formerly the CEO of GC Airport.

In our opinion, it would be beneficial for the Gold Coast Airport, a private corporate enterprise, to have an LR system delivered right to their front doors and totally paid for by rate and taxpayers rather than having to contribute anything to the construction and operating costs of the LR themselves.

It's not difficult to imagine (given the high leasing costs that bus co's and car-hire co's must pay to GC Airport to have a presence at the airport) that the GC Airport may even charge the GCCC (ratepayers) a huge amount under a 99 year lease arrangement for the 'privilege' of having LR tracks and an LR station located on Airport premises.

If you were the 'General Manager Business Relations' for Queensland Airports wouldn't you expect a big financial bonus for helping to 'engineer' the outcome of a publicly funded major transport system to be delivered to the door of the Gold Coast Airport at no cost to your employer and with the potential for a constant publicly funded revenue stream by charging the GCCC/State for the LR's presence on Airport land?

However, even this may not be the true reason for Donovan's unwavering support for Tom's trams. The third possible reason will be revealed shortly.

The Property Group

Let's turn our attention to Roland Evans, Managing Director of Canford Property Group.
Roland Evans worked in real estate for Knight Frank on the Gold Coast before founding Canford Property Group around 2014.

Evans claims he began visiting China in 2011 spending 'weeks at a time building relationships' and setting up a Shanghai Office. Canford's website hosts the logos of companies with which they have had dealings. They include:

ASF China Group
Wanda Group
Forise Investment Australia
Aquis - Tony Fung
Ho Bee Land

The property deals that Evans and Canford claim to have completed include:

  •  "A Chinese fund manager has swooped on a blue-chip Chevron Island tower site in a deal that could be richly rewarding for the man who has patiently controlled it for the past 20 years, lawyer Tony Hickey."
    "Mr Evans said that before Christmas the height of the tower was lifted to 19 levels under the city council's delegated authority and the number of apartments was lifted from 60 to 65."
    "The Canford Property Group principal said the buyer was a fund operating out of Hangzhou, a steel city in north-east China, and the Chevron buy was its first on the Gold Coast." (GCB 21/01/16)
  •  helped secure Wanda investment in Jewel to assist Ridong out of financial difficulties.
  •  assisted in the Wanda sale of Nerang floodplain land to Songcheng for an "Australian Legend World" theme park and 2000 apartment development proposal.
  •  is the Australian spokesperson for Songcheng.
  •  is the agent for the Norwell Valley sugarcane 6117ha land deal for a 'high end Gold Coast city and theme park' which Tate claims will create 100,000 jobs and require Council and State Govt. support and assistance.
  •  handled the Forise $65 million purchase of the Iluka site in Surfers Paradise.
  •  handled the International Beach Resort sale (June 2016) to a buyer from "southern China in his 40's" after Tony Fung-Aquis pulled out. "The resort will be demolished in a few years and a tower constructed on the site."
  •  involved in Tony Fung-Aquis Surfers Paradise bungy site purchase for a 750 apartment development (April 2015)
  •  brokered a deal for David Fang - ASF Group Director for a re-development site on Park Lane, Southport (next to the bowls and tennis club and mooted as a potential second-casino site (Aug 2016).
  •  is marketing the high profile "Star of the Sea" site, Southport. The site owned by Garuda GC - Huixm Real Estate Group who demolished the convent after its $27 million purchase. Also mooted as a potential second-casino site.
  •  "Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate and wife Ruth are selling their vast Gold Coast amalgamation. The Tates paid $3.3 million in 2015 for the Sorrento riverfront on 4,425 square metres, shortly before securing the vacant 835 square metre neighbouring block for $1.7 million. Now they're selling the combined 5,200 square metre estate. It has been listed through Roland Evans, of Canford Property Group in conjunction with Ray White Surfers Paradise agent Matt Gates". (
  •  Evans also offers 'Canford Client Services' - personalised concierge service and luxury vehicles. Clients using these services are listed on the Canford website as:
    Gold Coast City Council
    Gold Coast Tourism,
    Gold Coast Airport,
    Study Gold Coast &
    Brisbane City Council.

Putting Out Fires

"Evans claims that as the face of multibillion dollar investors on the Gold Coast, he has been putting out fires since the State scrapped the ASF Spit proposal in 2018" for a mega-highrise foreign resort, cruise ship terminal and casino on more than 100 hectares of Gold Coast public parks, beaches and waterways.

In November 2018, Evans was accused by his former business partner, Greg Harris, of misusing $700k of Canford Property Group's funds. (GCB 29/11/18)

This brings us back to the Light Rail and Paul Donovan.

The Third Reason

It is clear that Mayor Tate, several other Councillors and elements within the GCCC are using the LR overlay; a theoretical 800 metres either side of any LR route (or even non-approved 'potential' LR routes), to approve high density, high-rise and unreasonable plot ratio constructions in areas that have previously been protected by the City Plan and other local and State planning laws as areas for houses and low-rise buildings.

Chevron Island Protest Placards

Often these development approvals are made through 'Delegated Authority by three people'; that is, Mayor Tate, Chair of Planning Committee (Cllr Caldwell) and the Councillor from the Division in which the proposal is located. This (possibly abused?) process bypasses full Council debate on proposals and denies the community opportunities to respond to or provide written opposition to the developments.

The Chevron Island deal mentioned above is the perfect example of this practice. The huge financial benefits are obvious for the owner and their 'associates' if they can find the right buyer with the value-add of height increases and a ratepayer funded 'green bridge' passing right by the development site by means of Council 'delegated authority' approvals.

Bridge Too Far

Palm Beach seems to be taking the brunt of the most recent development approvals under the supposed 'LR Overlay' ruse, even though no official approvals or funding for the Light Rail to be constructed through Palm Beach have yet been established.

As seen above, Canford Property Group has been aggressive in their attempts to broker high density development deals and the value-add of a 'pedestrian bridge' using the 'delegated authority' approvals of Mayor Tate and 'like-minded' Divisional Councillors.

In our opinion, the third reason Paul Donovan may be so supportive of the LR extending to the Airport is because of the huge opportunities for property and development deals the entire length of the Gold Coast for companies such as Canford Property Group through the GCCC's use (or misuse) of the LR overlay to allow massive 'reinterpretation' of the current planning laws.

Donovan is after-all, the CHAIRMAN of CANFORD PROPERTY GROUP ADVISORY BOARD as listed on Canford's webpage under the heading 'Corporate Governance'.

Donovan appears in the Canford 'Team' photo in the row below Roland Evans and just above Canford Sales Executive, Sherry Zhao.

Canford site Roland Evans Donovan Zhao

Project Dragon

Zhao was a prime focus of the recent ABC 4 Corners investigation, "Project Dragon" (ABC TV 18/02/19), into alleged Chinese money laundering using the purchase of Gold Coast properties to illegally park large amounts of public money that has allegedly been secreted out of China.

At the same time as being an employee of Canford Property Group, Zhao was also one of three directors of the company 'CAP Chevron' that paid $11.5 million for the St Thomas Place property on Chevron Island owned by GC lawyer, Tony Hickey. The other two directors are Chinese Nationals based overseas. Canford Property claims to have brokered the deal.

Evans also maintains that he introduced Mayor Tate to the Vietnamese PM leading to possible investment opportunities in Vietnam and sister city arrangements with the Gold Coast. Evans has also claimed publicly that he introduced Mayor Tate to the Chinese city of Chengdu which resulted in a trade mission and sister city arrangement between Chengdu and City of Gold Coast.

Coincidentally, a 'Mayoral Mission to China' has been announced for 16-21 May 2019. The GCCC advertises the mission as:

designed to support the capabilities, products and services of the city's export-ready businesses and promote the Gold Coast as 'open for business'.

*Please note: Destination Gold Coast and Study Gold Coast will both lead missions to China at this time. If you are from the tourism, business events or education sector, please express your interest directly to these organisations.

(GCCC online brochure - )

Destination Gold Coast and Study Gold Coast both have past associations with Canford Property Group, having been listed as organisations that use 'Canford Client Services'. (see above)

Shannon Willoughby Article

Study Gold Coast

Tate's first trip to China in his official role as Mayor took place in 2012. Shannon Willoughby, a GC Bulletin journalist, accompanied Tate and others on this 2012 trade mission to Taiwan and China, famously describing herself as Tate's 'scribe'.

Willoughby's 2012 trip to China followed glowing reports she had written in the local paper regarding Tony Hickey's intention to build a "boutique 15-storey apartment block on Chevron Island" and "an art district plan created by the group delivering the Hickey project and in cooperation with council…" (Willoughby. GCB 17/08/12)

Soon after the China trip, Willoughby was offered employment at Study Gold Coast, an educational service provider promoting Gold Coast tertiary institutions in order to attract potential students and assist them in their move to the Gold Coast.

Previously a private organisation, Study Gold Coast entered an agreement with GCCC when Willoughby departed News Ltd and was appointed CEO of Study Gold Coast.

In addition to membership fees, GCCC minutes reveal that Study Gold Coast has been receiving annual 'recurrent funding' in the order of $1.25 million from the GCCC since Willoughby's appointment in what has been described by the GCCC as "the first joint promotional effort of the city's major tertiary industry stakeholders and the Gold Coast City Council."

In late 2018, Willoughby left Study Gold Coast to become CEO of Study Queensland.

Chinatown Movie click image to view Trailer


Rated as one of the all-time great movies, CHINATOWN (1974) stars the actors Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Set in 1930s Los Angeles and directed by Roman Polanski, the plot is loosely based on real events that occurred in LA during the early 1910s known as the 'California Water Wars'.

Nicholson's character Jake Gittes, a private investigator, begins to unravel an intricate scandal involving LA's fresh water supply. Despite a serious drought and an expensive proposal to build a new dam, the Water and Power Department is dumping fresh water into the ocean at night. Disgruntled San Fernando Valley farmers in the rural areas surrounding LA are being forced to sell off their land at bargain prices because their farms are being starved of irrigation water.

Gittes informs Dunaway's character, Evelyn, that her father (an engineer) and his partners are the ones who have been forcing farmers off their land so they can buy it cheaply, after which a newly-built (and controversial) dam and water system would start redirecting much of L.A.'s water supply to that land, dramatically increasing its real estate subdivision potential and value.

The real estate revenues from the sales of the land will generate many millions of dollars for the corrupt engineer and officials who are promoting the construction of a new dam using taxpayer's money. Gittes discovers that the farm land has been bought in the names of elderly people in a nearby aged-care home and in one case by a dead person, to conceal the names of the real buyers.

Could the push for the construction of Heavy Trams (Light Rail) the entire length of the Gold Coast be our equivalent of the unnecessary dam and real-estate scam in the Chinatown film plot? What properties are being sold to whom and in whose names? Which officials are potentially conspiring to ensure development approvals are being given to these buyers and sellers using Light Rail as the ruse? Or are we barking up the wrong highrise? Is it all just water under the Chevron Island Bridge?

We shall watch with interest as the Gold Coast's Chinatown 'storeys' unfold.

Let's hope Queensland legal authorities do not take the same attitude as the 'cops' at the end of the movie when it becomes clear they have no will to pursue the crooks and tell Nicholson's character, Jake Gittes:

"Forget it Jake. It's Chinatown."

Related: ABC 4 Corners All that Glitters

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