I was shocked to hear a story over the weekend involving a local Business, and the Moreton Bay Regional Council (MBRC).
After hearing the story, I searched online for corroborating evidence. From my understanding, this is the story of how a local business was treated by council, how millions of dollars of Rate Payers money was spent, and Council’s reticence to disclose what was spent on litigation.
A lot of what follows is drawn from an article reported in the Courier Mail on 18th June 2015.
Click here to read that article.
A local Business, Toorbul Marine, has had more than its fair share of legal battles with the MBRC. In total, it adds up to around 11 years worth.
After purchasing the business in 2002, and adhering to the same and even better Environmental Practices and Requirements as the previous owners, the MBRC decided that 5 years after taking over the business, the Environmental Approval issued and transferred to the new owners was done so in error. Not 6 months, not 1 year, 5 years!!!
Since that time, Toorbul Marine has been engaged in legal battles with the MBRC. Some say that it is at an estimated cost to rate payers of around $4 Million. Council denies this, but they are also unwilling to disclose the amount. So in effect, the MBRC is denying the right of Rate Payers to know where their money is being spent, and how much.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Toorbul Marine, and awarded costs against the MBRC. The Council clearly wasn’t satisfied with the umpires decision, because in 2015 they again launched legal action via the Planning and Environment Court.
So what has happened since 2015?
These are the sequence of events as I understand them.
After the win in the Supreme Court in 2015, there was a lull in action by the MBRC. But then in 2013/14, things began to heat up again.
An Environmental Protection Order (EPO) was slapped on the Business, which was subsequently “stayed” after a successful appeal, allowing the Business to continue operating.
Then in 2016 it was back to the Planning and Environment Court, where proceedings continued until 2018. The Planning and Environment Court came down on the side of Toorbul Marine, but it was a hollow victory. I have been told that restrictions were placed on the Business, specifically regarding the size of the boats they were allowed to work on. Now I don’t know about you, but on hearing this, I immediately questioned why the size of the boat on the slipway had anything to do with environmental impact.
So here is the background as explained to me.
Boats that are to be worked on are brought up onto the slipway. When they are cleaned or repaired, any runoff of chemicals and materials are captured and stored in a Collection Point, they are not washed into the creek. An argument was put that boats over a certain length would overhang the slipway into the creek, and chemicals and materials would enter the creek. The owners of Toorbul Marine say this is untrue.
But that’s not the only restriction that was placed on the Business.
In addition to a maximum boat size, the Court also decreed that hammers were not to be used for more than 10 minutes at a time, and a forklift could not be operated for more than 10 minutes in a day, or 5 minutes at a time. So what started as an effort to shut down the business due to environmental concerns, appears to have turned into finding other reasons. Bear in mind that this was an established Business that had been operating in this location for decades. During this period, the new owners also undertook measures at their own volition to not use banned chemicals (and in fact never did), and they rebuilt the slipway by re-concreting it in its entirety.
But with the new conditions imposed upon the Business, the owners say it has become unviable, and only time will tell whether the Business survives.
We can only guess as to why the MBRC was so driven to pursue this, and to spend what is suspected to be Millions of Dollars taking this to Court several times while engaging multiple Barristers and Expert Witnesses. Especially after it lost in the Supreme Court.
What is most concerning to me is the apparent desire to win at all costs at the expense of the Rate Payer, and the refusal to disclose the real costs of litigating.
In my opinion, the Council is secretive. It should have transparency and allow scrutiny of what is spent and on what.
Timeline of Events
The MBRC state that the environmental approval (transferred to the owners when they bought the business in 2002), had been issued in error.
Costs are awarded to Toorbul Marine.
This time it’s the Planning and Environment Court.
Council gets an EPO approved, but it is “stayed” in the Planning and Environment Court.
Although the Planning and Environment Court comes down on the side of Toorbul Marine, it is with restrictions. Mainly that boats over a certain size are not permitted on the slipway.