AN INCONVENIENT ISLAND TRUTH
Recent events on our group of islands have revealed a Community at the Crossroads.
There have been 'incidents' on Lamb and Karragarra Island, and a growth in domestic violence on Macleay and Russell Islands.
All of these matters have everything to do with the future of the Bay Islands and how they are perceived; and we are not alone.
The problems that have come to light publicly in recent months exist on most of the Bay Islands, in one form or another.
Many of the issues have been revealed at a recent public meeting on Lamb island, and stories we have told in recent issues involving all our islands; these are known to all islanders.
They surround safety and security with few wanting to mention the matters publicly in the past.
It seems, however, many good people have 'had enough'.
More and more are starting to speak out and, thank goodness, some of our public officials are starting to respond.
A meeting late last year on Lamb Island meeting brought a huge response.
It was called by The Friendly Bay Islander as part of our Zero Tolerance initiative, which involved bringing to the island Cr Mark Edwards, council officers and Redland Bay Police.
The issues highlight a number of matters, all emanating from the same source, as will be explained.
The Lamb Island meeting was called following complaints about the dumping of motor vehicles in substantial numbers on both council and private land.
The public meeting revealed that this 'dumping' occurs at the hands of a number of individuals who have similar problems to a particular type of person who sometimes frequents our islands, i.e.:
1. They have absolutely no regard for the law;
2. The have absolutely no regard for their neighbours;
3. They have absolutely no regard for the island community;
They are a cluster of people who are inspired by selfishness and greed who seem to feel they are 'owed' by the system; many who are unemployed and funded by the Commonwealth in one form or another.
Some are involved in the production and selling of drugs and some have a criminal record; some also coming here straight from gaol.
The majority of them are renters; but not all.
And they have come to our islands for one reason and one reason alone!
Rents on our islands are about half the cost of renting a property on the mainland.
These people make up about 10 per cent of our population, with the majority of island people good, law abiding citizens.
It has been revealed that many who have tried to stand up to some of these people end up with some, or, all of the following:
a. Being verbally abused with foul language involved;
b. Being physically assaulted;
c. Having motor vehicles and homes either damaged or set on fire
Some of this was on display at the Lamb Island public meeting.
One younger individual, who is known for the dumping of many vehicles on his property, physically threatened a number of aged men when they approached him about his antics.
"You know what will happen to you," he said in front of witnesses.
He also brazenly challenged the validity of the public meeting stating that 'things should be left as they are'.
Some home owners on Lamb have had their homes attacked and they have been personally terrorised.
The situation is difficult on Lamb Island because of island policing.
Both Russell and Macleay Islands have two police stationed on the bigger islands; but both Lamb and Karragarra have no permanent police presence, and are only visited on rare occasions by police.
Karragarra has led the way in community responsibility with their strong group of island residents standing up to any attempts at bullying and threats.
Just recently it was reported on Karragarra Island: "The people of Karragarra would like to extend our appreciation to The Friendly Bay Islander for its continuous support in focusing on the program of Zero Tolerance. The comments from other islanders have been very encouraging.
"The Karragarra Island residents have now initiated action collective which we call the Community Watch group. In organising the volunteers for the group, it was important that the residents realise they needed to own the problem and be part of the solution.
"The Karragarra Island Ratepayers and Residents Association (KIRRA) called a meeting of the residents to help clarify the problem and decide on a vision of what they wanted for their community. An important part of that meeting was accepting ownership for the health of our community. If we want to live in a safe environment, then we must do our bit to ensure that happens.
"Many residents have come to appreciate the value of the group and have become very supportive in identifying and addressing potential concerns. We have a shared vision and a determination to keep our Karragarra Island community a safe and happy place to live," the report said.
One of the reasons things have reached such depths on Lamb Island is the police situation.
Any incidents on Lamb or Karragarra are the subject of Redland Bay Police and the representatives who attended the public meeting admitted to the difficulties in attending any incidents on these islands.
In fact, Police Sergeant Steve Graham applauded the suggestion that moves should be made to have a full time police presence on Lamb Island.
Clearly, Lamb, Karragarra and Coochimudlo are in the 'too hard' basket for mainland police, given the logistics of getting to the islands in police boats etc.
Both Macleay and Russell Island have similar problems to Lamb but, because of the bigger populations, it is not quite so pronounced.
However, they are just as serious with the same outcomes and the same sources.
Even the seemingly placid Coochiemudlo Island is feeling the pressure.
It was recently revealed to The Friendly Bay Islander that some of the 'serial renters' are now turning up on Coochie causing all manner of problems and mayhem, seemingly protected from serious police intervention because of the tyranny of island location and isolation from resources.
SOURCE OF OUR PROBLEM
The source of the problem is the price of real estate on our islands.
Here we are living on a cluster of islands a stone's throw from a major capital city that not so long ago hosted the world's leaders, and, Australia's best known glamour playground - the Gold Coast.
Protected by North Stradbroke to the east, these islands if they were located in the Mediterranean, would be the playground of the rich and famous with enormous prices for our island paradise.
Unfortunately, the opposite is the case.
Prices for land and rentals are amazingly low considering their size and position, and they are in decline because the Real Estate industry, it seems, wants it that way.
At the Lamb Island public meeting a number of speakers pointed the bone at some island real estate agents.
The same has come from the people on Karragarra, who have indicated taking a stand against some agents.
Not all of them, but some. We won't name them here at this time. That will come at another time.
The Lamb meeting laid the blame for their predicament squarely at the feet of the island real estate industry.
Representatives have been accumulating and receiving a number of letters and information on the issue for some time, and have actually asked a number of real estate agents on the islands their 'policy' in relation to rentals.
All have denied their compliance in renting properties to people who have poor rental history.
Someone is not telling the truth.
One letter we received from Macleay Island tells the story of some amazing rental activities.
"There is one real estate agent in particular who, over and over again, rents out to people who are not only doing damage to property they rent, but are a nightmare to neighbours.
"One property was rented by this firm, and the owners were told it was being rented to a 'retired couple'.
"In fact six children and two couples lived there and trashed the place," the letter said, much to the dismay of the owners.
On Russell Island there are similar stories of 'agent hopping' by some people who are ejected from one property, and then head for another.
The question was asked: "why aren't adequate checks done on these people".
"It seems some of the property managers are suckers for a sob story and they pass some of these house wreckers from one disaster to the next."
On Karragarra, the situation is a little different.
That island community has a history of sticking up for itself and acting against people who are known to destroy and damage property and break the law.
One person, who also happened to attend the Lamb meeting, told us that Karragarra Islanders are now holding island real estate agents to account.
"The direct influence of island real estate agents cannot be underestimated, nor the affect their actions have on local communities.
"People here on Karragarra are not placing their houses for sale with some local agents because of these same reasons, as well as lack of trust and respect for agents," he said.
Russell Island suffers more than most from the situation, but there are glimmers of hope.
The Russell Island Shopping Centre has long been a meeting place for some people who are involved in drugs and crime.
Some nasty incidents have occurred at the shopping centre in full view of passersby, with no regard for the shop keepers, nor the shopping community.
There have also been incidents inside the Supa IGA supermarket where staff have been threatened by some individuals.
These were occurring on an almost daily basis about 12 months ago, until the appearance of our Zero Tolerance posters and the start of the Zero Tolerance campaign.
Strong action by the shopping centre owners Ian and Christine Larkman with strategic signs declaring NO SMOKING and NO SKATEBOARDING has had a positive outcome.
Island police have been responsive to these issues and a number of people have been 'banned' from the shopping centre.
The move of the Russell Island Post Office to the centre has had a positive outcome and the situation has improved considerably in recent times.
It has been noted that several strong citizens have been positive in addressing situations and asking those contravening smoking laws, to move on or put out their cigarettes.
In fact, it has been a litmus test to what can be achieved from a proactive community.
The Russell Island experience is proof positive that peer and community pressure can make a difference.
On Coochie, this is how they feel.
We received this in a letter: ”As a result of Police increasing their presence and having a zero tolerance with regard to issues on Maclay Island, a displacement of problematic individuals has resulted. Great for Macleay; but not at all good for Coochiemudlo.
"Many have been moving to Coochiemudlo and are now causing problems here.
"Drug dealing in the street; loitering at night; public drinking; intoxicated/drug affected individuals driving.
"After dark you avoid walking around in fear of being run over by one of these intoxicated idiots; the number of unroadworthy vehicles getting around is unbelievable.
"Even when police place a “Police Aware” sticker on a car the crooks just rip it off and keep driving it. "The Police Barge is great but they get here too infrequently and when they do, all these people are tipped off (SMS) and go to ground. Problems here have escalated considerably, but with no Police to keep things under control, the law breakers are getting on top," a local resident told us.
The Coochie resident added a parting shot: " The article you had some time ago about an agent on Russell Island Island (Ed A’Bear) was great. We’d love to have him here to set the bar higher for the local agents.
"The bar is at ground level with properties going to anyone able to cover cash requirements. Some agents here are weak and happy to get quick turnover of tenants to secure letting fees."
The poor rental placement situation isn't solely the fault of some real estate agents.
Private owners who rent their properties themselves are also contributing to the problem.
Macleay Island police admit this is one area that is difficult to address.
Some progress is being made with the Maclay police already initiating an arrangement with the majority of Macleay real estate agents that has seen more than 30 renters moved from the island over a recent two-month period.
One major real estate agency is showing the way on Macleay and has already declared a ‘Zero Tolerance' practice when it comes to placing rentals.
The irony is that letting island property to people who are law breakers and not good tenants, works against the real estate industry and their future income.
It is a fact that if they worked harder to gain better tenants, then rentals would increase, home prices would increase, and they would make more in commissions!
What some real estate agents are doing at the moment is devaluing their own industry.
Ian Larkman, owner of the Russell Island Shopping Centre and former estate agent said:
“I cannot understand the position of some in the real estate industry. With some real estate agents not acting in the best interests of the community, all they are doing is creating problems and work for themselves.
“It doesn’t make sense to place a tenant who often makes life difficult for everyone and often ends up destroying the property and eventually not paying their rent,” Ian Larkman said.
The Friendly Bay Islander believes the following should occur:
1. The Lease Act should be used to control bad tenants and bad behaviour and to evict people who do the 'wrong thing'.
2. The Island Real Estate industry should 'work together' to better market the islands and reach potentially more rewarding future tenancies and sales.
3. More police are needed on the SMB Islands. Currently there are only police for nearly 7000 people on Macleay and Russell Islands. Compare this to North Stradbroke Island where there are seven full time police for a full time population of around 1500. It is known that the large tourism and visitor numbers play a factor here.
Karragarra Island has given a lead in declaring they are 'boycotting' some island real estate agents.
It would not surprise if this trend continues to all the islands that have similar safety and security concerns.
It is therefore in the interest of the Island Real Estate industry to work together to change poor rental and leasing practices;
• To decide on a declaration of unity and high standard of operation;
• To encourage fellow real estate agencies and businesses to maintain high standards;
• To form a group that actively supports the island real estate industry to discuss relevant industry issues to achieve higher outcomes;
• To set a universal procedure in place of identification, checks and balances when it comes to rentals and leasing.
POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE
The other area to target is the current island situation and the value of peer pressure.
Since The Friendly Bay Islander introduced its Zero Tolerance posters and campaign several months ago, more and more people are speaking out and standing up when they see incidents of bad behaviour.
Some people respond to positive peer pressure and can correct their behaviour, particularly in public.
Some others, however, cannot.
Macleay Island Police have been particularly stringent in improving the island community and identifying continual troublemakers and having them removed.
The pair, Sgt Ben Suckling and Senior Constable John Levi, are of the 'old school' - tough but fair.
They indicated in a recent story that alcohol, drugs and domestic violence play a huge role in island issues.
"Many of the people who come to these islands are attracted here by low rents," says Sgt Ben Suckling.
"Some get involved with drugs and other areas of crime, as well as domestic violence.
"We have gone to island estate agents and have explained to them our predicament.
Sgt Suckling says their initiative is having some fruitful results. However, there is still some way to go.
"Domestic violence is still an issue that we are continuing to address,” Macleay’s Sgt Ben Suckling says.
He said alcohol and drugs often fuel many of the issues the Macleay Police are forced to confront on a daily basis.
In the past 12 months, the two Macleay Island policemen have carried out 200 arrests (four a week) and have attended more than 100 domestic violence incidents.
This is a substantial amount more than that previously recorded on the island over a two and three-year period.
"The people we have charged and have moved off the island are not necessarily returning to the island, based on certain conditions of their arrest.
"John and I take a zero tolerance policy - a comment I first made when we first started here.
"This is a stance we will not change as we enjoy living and working on the island and collaborating with the residents to improve the safety and enjoyment for all.
"Persons who choose to commit crime will be prosecuted and this is something John and I are keen to continue," Sergeant Suckling said.
"We are extremely pleased with the response from island residents and enjoy working with everyone here to make the island a much safer community.
"With the continued assistance of the real estate agencies, we believe we are achieving this and have made a large impact since we started our work on the island," the police sergeant said.
Cr Mark Edwards says the real estate agents are the gate keepers of rental properties on the islands and as such the community holds them to a higher level of responsibility.
“I know many of the agents and they are great people. However if they would like any assistance to demonstrate that they as a group are united in supporting community values I am prepared to work with them.
“This may be as simple as facilitating a meeting to discuss what they believe as a group is the best path forward.,” the councillor said. It has been suggested that a public document or charter from the agents committing to uphold the REIQ leasing standards would be a welcome move.”
Cr Edwards will be writing to each of the island real estate agents offering to meet. However, he said it is the role of that industry that needs to be driver in having community confidence.
Federal Member for Bowman, Andrew Laming, is a staunch supporter of our Zero Tolerance program.
He said: “We respect the community’s right to demand a Zero Tolerance for anti-social behaviour.
“Everyone has the right to go about their life without the unwanted intrusion of others.
There is also increasingly, an expectation that we all do our share if we are able.
“As we move towards a participation-based economy, those on government benefits who are fit and of working age will need to make some form of contribution to the community. As a nation, increasing participation and productivity benefits us all.
Member for Redlands, Martt McEachan, says he applauds initiatives to ‘make the islands and the community safe and secure for all’.
It is the right of All Australians to live a productive life in a safe and secure environment.
At the present time, that is not the case on the Bay Islands.
Changes need to be made, and these can only come from the Island Community itself.
The irony is that these changes could come about quickly, simply and effectively.
The Real Estate industry needs the Desire and Fortitude to bring some of the changes to fruition.
A united island community has the strength and power to influence these new directions
Clearly the initiative started on Macleay Island by the local police is a step in the right direction that needs to be expanded throughout the island community.
It would be preferable to see the Real Estate industry take charge of their own destiny and set in place the high standards that island residents deserve.
We shall watch, with considerable interest!