Renee Cluff

Tropic Now Editor

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Local businesses fuming as Council favours Sydney company for Cairns Festival


The matter of favouring a Sydney-based company over a public tender process for the 2021 Cairns Festival Reef Lights was withdrawn from this morning’s Council General Meeting, after locals put the pressure on Councillors following Tropic Nows investigation.

Division 9 Councillor Brett Olds told Tropic Now that Councillors unanimously agreed before today’s meeting that the light show be put to a public tender process.

“A few of the local guys reached out to us and said their production could match or would beat the proposal,” he said.

“We’re accountable to the locals and we’ve got to listen to what they’re saying.

“There were no arguments (between Councillors) – we were all in agreeance that this should go to a public tender.

“Let’s give them a shot and see what they can do.

“Every dollar spent in Cairns flips over six of seven times before it heads down south or overseas.”

The production is expected to go to public tender in a matter of weeks.

Cairns Regional Council is being accused of not supporting local suppliers over a plan to procure a light show for the Cairns Festival.

A report to be voted on by Councillors at tomorrow’s General Meeting recommends that a public tender process be rejected in favour of employing a Sydney-based company.

Officers have recommended Councillors adopt a Tender Consideration Plan, which is a legislative exemption from the requirement in the Local Government Act to accept written quotes or tenders.

The Tender Consideration Plan involves a proposal by Sydney company Laservision Pty Ltd to develop and present a laser and light show called ‘Reef Lights’.

“This is a bespoke presentation designed for this region and for Cairns Festival,” the report reads.

“Reef Lights is a highly technical and artistic event which will also develop local technicians and artists in this skill set.”

The officers cited a number of reasons for their recommendation, including tight timeframes in developing and hosting the Cairns Festival, successful grant funding linked to the preferred presentation partner, competitive pricing and an alternative supplier unlikely to be able to develop a comparable presentation given the short time frame.

The Cairns Festival begins on August 27th, nine months after the Council announced the 2021 event would be going ahead.

In all, the show from the Sydney company would cost $296,000 and the Council has received a $79,000 grant from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications through the Festivals Australia program.

Michael Jaeger from Smithfield-based Jam Productions has told Tropic Now it’s an instance of Cairns Regional Council not supporting local suppliers at a time when the local industry has been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions.

“We have been trying to get Council to do a large interactive installation and light show for years,” he said.

“We’ve submitted the proposal to them a few times now and usually get told they don’t have the money.

“It seems that they have no faith in local suppliers that are more than capable of executing at this level.

“I’m dumbfounded that they would just send their money south without even attempting to engage local talent.”

The Tender Consideration Plan states that going to public tender would be a ‘manifest waste of time, costs and resources’ because ‘the existing suppliers in the local marketplace and their capacity are already well-known to Council’.

Mike Newman from Xplosive Art told Tropic Now local suppliers, including his business, are among the best in the world.

"In 2019 we won an international fireworks competition in Dubai," he said.

"We choose to live here because it's a great place to live but we have the skills to work in any capital city anywhere.

"We've got in-house specialist Indigenous laser designers that do first-rate designs.

"The Council hasn't even tried."

Mr Jaeger also rejects any assumptions that his business isn’t qualified for the job.

“We are one of the suppliers for the Halo festival in Townsville,” he said.

“Justin, my business partner, has worked for some of the largest lighting companies in Australia and has a vast number of relationships that we could tap into to get any extra gear we need.

“Designing the show is what they are saying we not capable of.

“This really has me furious, it could and should 100% be a local engagement.”

A spokesman for Cairns Regional rejected Tropic Now’s request for an interview with the officers involved in writing the report, saying it’s against Council policy to provide public comment on agenda items ahead of Council meetings.

Last year, the Council granted $40,000 to the Cairns Chamber of Commerce's Keep It In Cairns campaign which encouraged people to support local businesses.