Straddie confusion: ‘Where has the money gone?’
A corporation tasked with growing tourism on Queensland's picturesque North Stradbroke Island faces mounting questions over its cash management amid auditors' concerns about the taxpayer-funded corporation's financial viability.
CEO of the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation Cameron Costello denies the organisation is in trouble, but concerns about the future of the southeast island's tourism industry has deepened in the past weeks as Indigenous owners keep facilities closed despite businesses desperately trying to recover from COVID-19.
Business leaders say tourists have been driven away with several of the island's most popular campgrounds remaining partially closed and its whale-watching ship tied to the jetty.
Calls are mounting for the QYAC, which was appointed in 2011 to manage the tourism facilities and fill the economic void left by the end of sand mining, to explain how it has used State Government funding.
Since 2016 taxpayers have handed $8.1m of a $25m total investment to help QYAC complete 23 projects on the island.
However, only a handful have been started despite a 2021 completion deadline.
Its most controversial project - a shelter housing a 15-metre humpback whale skeleton at Point Lookout - was due to begin in late 2019 however no sod has been turned.
The closure of Minjerribah Camping, a business entity run by the corporation, during the busy June/July holidays, was the final straw for many of the island's business owners.
Stradbroke Island Chamber of Commerce President Colin Battersby said leaders were "frustrated" with the management of the corporation.
He was concerned the corporation hadn't delivered larger tourism projects.
"Where has the money gone and why isn't anything happening?"
"I don't begrudge them getting a whole bunch of money and righting the wrong (of the past) … but they need to be accountable."
QYAC's 2018-19 annual report reveals PKF auditors raised concerns about its ability to continue, with the corporation's liabilities outstripping its assets by $1.66m.
Mr Costello shot down suggestions the corporation was in financial strife and said he was working in the interests of the island.
"The silent majority of the community are with us and I will not take a backward step in going forwards," he said.
"I have to chuckle at this 'we're in trouble' claim."
Mr Costello claimed the chamber was spreading rumours about the corporation's plans, including one to charge visitors to access the Point Lookout Gorge Walk.
"That's never, ever, ever been talked about," he said.
The CEO defended his controversial closure of the campgrounds and QYAC's whale-watching business - blaming the risk of contracting COVID-19.
"The risk might be low but the actual consequence could be catastrophic," he said.
LNP Oodgeroo MP Mark Robinson echoed concerns about the transparency around how QYAC spends public cash.
"The government is not reporting what the financials really are … they're not providing the detail for there to be scrutiny," he said.
Originally published as Straddie confusion: 'Where has the money gone?'