Foreign company given our beach for free

  • Nov 16, 2021

Beach Bar Update – And the Winner is (drum roll please) ...

Just don't ask the locals.

As reported last month, the City of Gold Coast in its haste to promote new tourism products as the city emerges from covid restrictions, has pushed forward a proposal for the trial of a beach bar which will destroy primary sand dunes on Kurrawa Beach, at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, commencing in December 2021. A review of the project revealed massive failings in terms of social, environmental, and financial impacts to the local area, it's residents and businesses (especially established Broadbeach hospitality venues that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic border shutdowns)– you can read about its many failings here.

Last week the City of Gold Coast announced Melbourne-based company Australian Venue Co as the winning proponent for their upcoming Beach Bar trial at Kurrawa. The Australian Venue Co. owns over 5,000 pubs and venues around Australia, including the Exchange Beach Club on the shores of Port Melbourne, a pop-up venue that opened on November 6, 2021, adjacent to one of their Melbourne hotels. On the surface it may appear the tender has been given to an Australian company that has some experience with this type of venue, however, an investigation into the Australian Venue Co itself has confirmed that there are very few rewards for locals in this project.

Tourism Australia Chair linked to successful proponent

The Australian Venue Co's board of directors is chaired by Bob East (formerly of Mantra Hotels). Mr East also is the current Chair of Tourism Australia and the Chair of The Experience Co., the company that operates Skydive Australia. Skydive Australia is a business operating tandem skydives from a helicopter taking off from Seaworld with the divers landing on the sand adjacent to Philip Park north of Main Beach, on the Gold Coast. The company commenced operation in July 2021 amongst heavy opposition from residents angered by the increasing noise from helicopters taking off and landing from nearby Seaworld, at all times of day and the restrictions to public access to a section of the Philip Park public surf beach that will be used as the skydiver landing zone. This project was also rushed through council as being needed as “new tourism product” without any engagement with the local community.

Dinner anyone?

There are multiple instances on the record of Mr East and City of Gold Coast Mayor, Tom Tate, meeting publicly. However, in relation to the Beach Bar Trial, Billy Cross (another potential Beach Bar proponent), held a dinner for 10 local identities in his Restaurant 19 at the Star Casino (another potential Beach Bar proponent) on Saturday May 16, 2020, to celebrate the first round of Covid restrictions easing in Queensland. As reported by the Gold Coast Bulletin at that dinner with their partners were:

  • Mayor Tom Tate
  • Bob East Chair of Tourism Australia (Australian Venue Co/successful Beach Bar tender)
  • Jessica Mellor, COO of The Star Gold Coast(potential Beach Bar proponent)
  • Billy Cross, Cross Entertainment (Host/potential Beach Bar proponent)

Private Dinner
Source Gold Coast Bulletin

After the dinner, Mr East was quoted by MyGC as saying

"this is an absolutely symbolic start"
to the road to recovery and encouraged Australians
"to engage with others in a socially responsible way".
"It's really important on so many fronts," he said.
"Incredibly important for the economy… and for your own wellbeing."

Make of that what you will, however, Mr Cross and Star Casino recently distanced themselves from the Beach Bar trial stating that they supported the concept, but it needed more time to plan and set up to be a success.

It must be noted here that while Mr East may be operating within the terms of his role as an Executive Director on the Board of Tourism Australia, and there may be no actual conflict of interest with companies that he chairs being granted these special deals to operate on public land by the City of Gold Coast, the perception of a conflict of interest could be construed as real.

Following the money

Supporters of the Beach Bar have been consistent in claiming the increased benefits of destroying the primary dune system, coastal vegetation and local amenity to sell alcohol on the beach at Kurrawa. These visionary claims include "we need new tourism product to attract visitors" and "there will be more jobs for locals". These claims of course are valid, however, just who will this project attract and how many jobs will be provided, have not been revealed by either the successful proponent or the Mayor's Office.

Similarly, how exactly this project will benefit the city has not been revealed either, particularly in terms of financial leakage.

City of Gold Coast has confirmed that none of the usual Council fees will be charged to the trial proponent in relation to water and waste services, food services nor rent on the use of public property (beach and park). So exactly how will it benefit the local economy?

Enter the Americans

As stated above The Australian Venue Co is based in Melbourne, however the company itself is 80% owned by giant USA Private Equity firmKohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co LP (KKR), a company that also owns other Australian brands including Arnott’s Biscuits and Campbell’s Soup, amongst others.

According to the Ethical Consumer Guide (2021), KKR scores an "F" on their company ratings due to turning a blind eye to sweatshop indiscretions in China by their companies, their involvement in multiple breaches of fiduciary duties and lawsuits in the US, and KKR received a score of 15/100 in the Diversified Financial Services and Capital Markets category of the S&P Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment (last updated 7 Feb 2021).

The Government Gravy Train

A report by journalist, Georgia Wilkinsin March 2021, also revealed that under funding from the highly controversial 'Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority':

...a company chaired by the head of Tourism Australia are among the beneficiaries of a $3.2 million scheme to "monitor" the Great Barrier Reef during the COVID-caused tourism slump. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's website says the money is being used to pay tourism operators to monitor the health of the reef. But there is little detail about how much monitoring they have to do and how their performance will be measured.
Tender documents reveal the biggest chunk of funding — $776,000 — has gone to ASX-listed Experience Co, whose chair Bob East is also the chair of Tourism Australia. The company’s chief executive, John O'Sullivan, is also the former managing director of Tourism Australia. This prompted questions yesterday in Senate estimates about whether there is a potential conflict of interest…
But without a clear explanation of the benefits for workers in the region — and the health of the reef — is this just another case of corporate welfare in the name of COVID?

https://www.crikey.com.au/2021/03/23/great-barrier-reef-covid-funding/

It would appear the position of Chair of Tourism Australia provides all sorts of private business advantages and special opportunities to jump onboard the lucrative 'government gravy train' at all levels of Government, despite unanswered questions regarding 'potential conflicts of interest' between one's role at Tourism Australia and one's private business interests.

Who is Tourism Australia?

Tourism Australia is the Australian Government agency responsible for promoting Australian locations as business and leisure travel destinations. The agency is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Scott Morrison served as Managing Director of Tourism Australia from 2004 until 2006, when his three-year contract was prematurely terminated

So, let's get this straight.

A section of public beach has been allocated to a company based in Melbourne, to sell alcohol.

The company from Melbourne is chaired by the boss of Tourism Australia, and is 80% owned by a large US Private Equity firm.

All profit will be shipped to Melbourne, before 80 cents in each dollar is shipped off to the US.

And the City of Gold Coast, gave them this land FOR FREE.

Again, how does this benefit local residents or local permanent businesses given the unfair business advantage granted to the Australian (sic) Venue Co.?

Beach Bar Awarded to Melbourne Company

At the time of writing relevant questions have been sent to the Qld Minister for the Environment and Science, Meaghan Scanlon, and to City of Gold Coast Division 10, Councillor Darren Taylor.

Update

Cr Taylor has replied:

"Thank you for your enquiry about the proposed Gold Coast Beach Club Trial at Kurrawa.
Given no permanent infrastructure is required to host the trial, theDepartment of Resources advised the trial could proceed.
As the trial is temporary and involves only minor work, the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning advised the trial is excluded work and therefore a planning application is not required." (19/11/21)

Cr Taylor has also offered the chance for SOSA to meet with him to discuss the State Government's response in detail.

Deputy-Director General from the Department of Environment and Science replied on behalf of the Minister, Honourable Meghan Scanlon MP

SOSA will update readers after reviewing the correspondence.

 

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