International airport for Whitsundays? Debate takes flight

TAKE OFF: Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Jennifer Whitney opens the special meeting to discuss the Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine today. Photo Matthew Newton / The Guardian
TAKE OFF: Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Jennifer Whitney opens the special meeting to discuss the Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine today. Photo Matthew Newton / The Guardian Matthew Newton

AFTER rigorous debate around the boardroom table, Whitsunday Regional Council accepted a shortlist of four applicants each interested in becoming a partner in its venture to establish an international airport.

The decision was made unanimously in the confidential section of a special meeting held in Proserpine yesterday.

Details of the individual applicants are considered "commercial in confidence" and have therefore not been revealed.

There was considerable interest from the public gallery.

A band of protesters, led by former deputy mayor Rogin Taylor were asked to leave their signs saying "don't lease our assets" and "save our airport" at the door.

Interestingly and not for the first time, the spectre of what was or wasn't done in the last term of council again entered the room.

Council's CEO Scott Waters said in 2010 the then council entered into an Expression of Interest Process Deed with the then State Government that "committed our council and our community… to have an operator take over the operations of our airport".

And just to throw another grenade into the room, "This document from what we can see has not been before a council meeting," he said, adding it did make it to a meeting in 2011 for the purposes of being revised.

Councillors Dave Clark and Peter Ramage, both of whom were part of the last term of Council, took umbrage at the suggestion any part of the airport could have been up for sale.

"It was just to grow the business and put in an operator and a manager," Cr Clark said.

Mayor Jennifer Whitney responded by saying, "I think if you go back to the previous Council there was a whole hearted effort to sell the airport for about $1million".

Cr Ramage was furious.

"I want clarification from you mayor - where on record does it say that we were going to sell the airport in the previous administration - because that is just wrong," he said.

With public consultation still ongoing and a meeting scheduled in Bowen tonight, Cr Ramage said he felt like voting on the issue was "putting the cart before the horse"

Mr Waters reassured the councilors that "Today doesn't commit Council to anything at all other than a shortlist of four and putting a structure in place should we go to the next stage of the future."

Cr Willcox said he wanted to go on record as saying "I'm prepared to have a look at the EOI's but that's all".

"It's very early days... (and) if the numbers don't add up, the deal doesn't add up and it's not right for our community then I'm out."

While the vote to consider the shortlist of applicants was unanimous, a motion to outline the creation of a "vehicle" for moving forward was not.

In the end it was carried four votes to three, with Crs Willcox, Ramage and Clark voting it down.

Topics:  mackay airport whitsunday airport whitsunday regional council

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