I point out that I, as the writer of this article, have no financial interest in The Island and Surrounds Local News. My work is all pro bono; I do this because I want to, not because I have to.
The Moreton Bay Regional Council is a democratically-elected Local Government body operating legally under various statutes of Queensland State Law.
The Council is entitled, indeed, required, to allocate ratepayers’ funds, collected from Moreton Bay residents, in a manner required by the Local Government Act.
The Council may allocate those funds entirely as it sees appropriate; that is not the matter at issue.
But where a considerable portion of these funds is being directed is a concern which may well warrant some open public discussion.
Late last year Mayor Peter Flannery said “We are not just a pit stop on the way to the Sunshine Coast…” And I agree. Indeed, we are not!
We who live here do so under the auspices of the fastest-growing local government body in Australia and, according to some reports, the third-largest local government body in Australia. That makes us a very big deal.
Now, being a very big deal can be good, or it can be challenging.
Why? How does that work?
In local government, if you are a very big deal, you will attract attention from other levels of government, from the media, from local business groups, from local charities, from groups of organised ratepayers, etc., the list goes on.
This attention is based upon the size of the local government body and the amount of finance it generates. Moreton Bay Regional Council generates a large amount of money from ratepayers and other legal means available to the Council. This, in turn, attracts the kind of attention mentioned above. And there is nothing wrong with that. The Moreton Bay Regional Council operates across a vast range of residential, recreational, industrial, commercial and geographically challenging areas of land.
My observation and experience, having lived in the region for over twenty years, is that the Council does an outstanding job in managing the assets of the community, developing the infrastructure, planning strategically, supporting local small businesses and, generally, making the place work,
Which is why the matter of the launch of what appears to be a ratepayer-subsidised local newspaper is a puzzle.
By its actions and policies, developed over several years, the Council is quite clearly in favour of private enterprise. It also encourages community groups to become involved in pro-active activities, and its attitude to this specifically, and to business development generally, is refreshing and encouraging.
From 2016, the Council has allocated large amounts of ratepayer funds to a not-for-profit organisation, Moreton Bay Region Industry & Tourism (MBRIT), which, according to its website “exists to promote, benefit and grow the Moreton Bay Region”. Thus, MBRIT is charged by the Moreton Bay Regional Council with the responsibility of promoting tourism in the Moreton Bay Region, which it does by conducting a series of events, exhibitions, festivals, and other functions related to enhancing the image of the region on a national basis.
MBRIT receives millions of dollars of ratepayer funding from the Moreton Bay Regional Council, and, according to accounts from a number of different sources, I believe that MBRIT discharges those tourism-related activities and responsibilities effectively.
But consider this. The newspaper you have in front of you, The Island and Surrounds Local News, is locally-owned and in six years has grown from nothing to a quality product, due to the skills of local business people who provide the graphic art and compilation, talented local writers, editors and podcasters, and the support of the local business community who purchase advertising space in the paper.
The paper owes its existence to these people alone. It has never received any funding from outside sources, and it does not seek any external funding from local, state or federal governments; it is a proper private enterprise operation.
Like any local newspaper, information about local tourist activities is provided in the editorial content – fishing reports, tide times, local restaurants, local businesses available to service tourists and holidaymakers in the regions covered by the newspaper and various other local and community issues and matters which are relevant to tourists in this region.
Late last year, this newspaper became aware that MBRIT was going to produce a local newspaper that would be in direct competition to this newspaper in the regions it covered, plus some areas around Redcliffe, Deception Bay and Narangba.
“Fair enough”, you say! And so does this newspaper – we don’t shy away from fair competition. That is the essence of private enterprise – which is what this newspaper is about.
We are confident of our product, we know it is good, and we welcome competition in the marketplace.
But, as we have said earlier on these pages, we are puzzled why a heavily ratepayer-funded body, MBRIT, has decided to use some of these ratepayer funds to initiate direct competition to a local private enterprise business.
We have seen reports that MBRIT has recently received up to $15 million ratepayer dollars to carry out its work over some time.
We believe that small local businesses should not have to compete against a competitor which receives millions of dollars of ratepayer funds to operate their business!
We have contacted the Moreton Bay Regional Council seeking some clarification on this issue and were advised that financial matters of this kind were “commercial-in-confidence” and therefore could not be released.
Most people reading this will know what “commercial-in-confidence” means – I certainly do, having owned and run several businesses of my own. In my opinion, what this means is smply that “we don’t want to tell you, and we won't.”
We have also seen reports that senior executives of MBRIT have stated that no ratepayer funds are being used to fund their new newspaper.
Well, strictly speaking, that may well be the case. But any sensible person in business these days is fully aware that if you make claims about the financial structure of certain companies, you need to back up these claims with irrefutable facts – not statements without evidence.
Particularly, when your business receives millions of dollars of ratepayer funds.
What I am actually saying here is that if we ratepayers are funding a newspaper, albeit indirectly, in direct competition to an existing private enterprise newspaper, then as ratepayers we should be aware of that!
Conversely, if we ratepayers are not funding the MBRIT newspaper, we should know that!
I find it difficult to understand what the veil of secrecy is about; if it was their own money - fine, they could claim confidence. But it is not their money – it is ours – the ratepayers, and we should know what we are funding.
Simple as that.
This is not the end of this matter….