Business groups oppose oyster project

Noosa Chamber of Commerce president Ralph Rogers.

Associations across Noosa Shire have called on Noosa Council to end its ‘alliance agreement’ with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on the Noosa Oyster Ecosystem Restoration Project.

In a joint letter to Noosa councillors six associations state the project “has not achieved agreed milestones, the legally binding contract between the parties is flawed and does not represent value for the community”.

With the future of the project on Council’s agenda this month, the associations have expressed “great concern about the project” and requested Council not approve an extension of the current three-year contract beyond its end date of 30 September 2022.

“Council documents show that the Council has already paid more than $230,000 to the project and there is nearly a million dollars still to come of the total $1.2 million grant,” said Noosa Chamber of Commerce president Ralph Rogers.

“As representatives of the business and residential community, we are greatly concerned that the agreement does not disclose sufficient detail of how this money is being spent and that it has failed to achieve major contracted milestones.

“Despite more than $1.4 million already expended on the project by TNC, it has not achieved the deliverables required under the original agreement,” he said.

“Now the project administrators are seeking an 18 month extension of an agreement that we believe was legally flawed from the beginning and is not in the Shire’s interests.”

Mr Rogers said the six associations are determined to see ratepayers’ funds used wisely for projects of the greatest benefit to Shire residents and ratepayers.

“We are also firmly committed to the principle that all Council financial dealings be open and transparent,” he said.

“The original intention was that Noosa Council form a legal partnership with TNC, under whose auspices the project is now managed.

“However, this arrangement was later varied to take the form of an ‘alliance agreement’ that prevented the Council from having in-depth knowledge of expenditure and hindered any influence it might have over project management and expenditure.

“The agreement now in place requires the Council to grant ratepayers’ funds to the project without having any ability for proper oversight of their disbursement and acquittal.

“The six-monthly reporting schedule provides only high level information and not sufficient detail that would have been available to the Council was the contract more specific.

“Such a poorly worded contract does not meet today’s public expectations of open and transparent government nor does it meet commercial norms.

“It in no way justifies to ratepayers that the Council is spending their money with the required productivity, accountability and fiduciary responsibility. Councillors have moral and legal duties to spend ratepayers’ money in the best interests of the entire community.

“It is known that Noosa Shire has significant socio-economic needs that are presently not being met.

“The agreed grant of $1.2 million, which was just for the first phase of the project, diverts funds away from matters of much greater priority including affordable housing, climate change adaptation and economic development and diversification.

“It is of great concern to us that key milestones have not been met. It seems there has been little progress and we believe it is time the Council opted out of this project.”

The six associations have requested Noosa Council to terminate the current three-year contract on its original end date of 30 September 2022 and to instruct the Council CEO not to negotiate any extension.

They have also requested the Council to determine that no further periodic instalments be paid to The Nature Conservancy as the project has not achieved agreed milestones and is not in the community interest.

The letter was authorised by representatives of the Noosa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Noosaville Business Association, Hastings Street Association, Peregian Family & Friends Association, Sunshine Beach Association and Eastern Beaches Protection Association.