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  • Gavin King

    Tropic Now editor

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    City's leadership meltdown as Mayor, politicians and Advance Cairns wage war

    Cairns is today in the grip of a leadership crisis, with Mayor Bob Manning, Advance Cairns and local politicians waging a bitter war of words including accusations and concerns over governance, independence and the future direction of the city.

    TropicNow has obtained a confidential letter written by Cr Manning to Advance Cairns, demanding the economic lobby group fall into line with council's public positions and views, while also requiring the group to consult on executive appointments, including the next Advance Cairns CEO.

    It is also understood Mayor Manning has concerns about governance by the board of Advance Cairns and the dumping of former CEO Kevin Byrne, a close friend of Cr Manning. 

    The council has called an emergency meeting with the board of Advance Cairns for 3.30pm today to discuss the future of their partnership amid suggestions council will cut its $300,000 funding contribution to the group.

    Cr Manning's demands on the lobby group has sparked furious condemnation from a range of local politicians.

    Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch labelled the council's "non negotiable" conditions as akin to a "dictatorship", while Kennedy MP Bob Katter said the council was attempting to "muzzle Advance Cairns and turn it into a puppet".

    It's understood Mulgrave MP Curtis Pitt is also deeply concerned by the Mayor's letter, while Division 5 councillor Richie Bates has called for council's funding to Advance Cairns to be maintained. 


    Cr Manning's letter to Advance Cairns chair Trent Twomey, dated October 9, states:

    "As the elected Government of the city it is 'black and white' that Cairns Regional Council must lead, and others must take their step and timing from Council. This is a given.

    "This does not mean that Council will always be right, and there will be times when CRC will defer to other views. It will not always be easy to define 'back off moments'.

    "Whilst the Resource and Performance Agreement will be the prime reference document in terms of the relationship between our two entities there are two non-negotiables. These are: 

    "(a) Advance Cairns cannot promote a view/position which directly opposes a public position/view promoted by council.

    "(b) Advance Cairns must meaningfully consult with Council in relation to Executive leadership of the organisation - Council has no issues with the current arrangement".

    TropicNow posed a number of questions to Cairns Regional Council and is awaiting a response.

    Cr Manning declined to respond to TropicNow's questions until after council receives a review being conducted into Advance Cairns' funding arrangements.


    When TropicNow asked Mr Entsch about the apparent leadership crisis, he threw his support firmly in the Advance Cairns corner.

    "The Mayor needs to realise he is not running a dictatorship," he said.

    "If you look at the successes around Cairns in the past few years, they have been 100 per cent driven by Advance Cairns.

    "The Cairns Ring Road, Southern Access Road (Bruce Highway) upgrades, Hann Highway upgrades, Nullinga Dam, the Innovation Centre at JCU and the Marine Precinct.

    "Advance Cairns comes to Canberra regularly and organises lots of meetings. There is not a single Federal minister that won't see them and I even have ministers coming to me seeking advice from Advance Cairns.

    "Advance Cairns is the must successful business development group we have had in the city in years and is one of the strongest advocacy groups in Queensland.

    "It is highly respected and works with all politicians irrespective of their political colours."

    Mr Entsch described the breakdown in the relationship between council and Advance Cairns as "very damaging" for the city.


    Outspoken Federal Kennedy MP Bob Katter is "incensed" by Mayor Manning's attempt to control Advance Cairns and threats to withdraw council funding for the organisation if he does not get a say on executive appointments and decisions.

    “Not in Mackay, nor Townsville, nor Mt Isa has there been the slightest whiff that the local booster organisation should be muzzled and turned into a puppet.

    "Advance Cairns have shown the first, and only, dynamic leadership that the town has seen in 20 years."

    Mr Katter echoed Mr Entsch's view and said he and state members of the Katter Australian Party had worked closely with Advance Cairns to promote economic development in TNQ.

    “The horticulture industry, which is a bigger employer than tourism for the Cairns region, derives a massive benefit from the sealing of the Hann Highway," he said.

    "Advance Cairns was one of the major pushers of this initiative.

    “The dredging of the Cairns port, the upgrade of HMAS Cairns - the place has started to live again with bright, aggressive leadership."