FREE INTER-ISLAND TRANSPORT: THE PROBLEM WE DIDN’T KNOW WAS A PROBLEM
It was great news when we announced in our December edition last month that the State Government was going to continue the free inter-island travel to our Southern Bay Islands.
It was described as an ‘intervention’ and it was, but not necessarily in the way it has been portrayed.
Member for Redlands, Kim Richards was able to announce that the Government was ‘stepping in’ to take over and fully fund the cost of providing integrated ticketing and inter-island travel at a cost of almost $400,000 a year.
Kim Richards was lauded for her role when the Minister for Transport and Main Roads thanked her for her tireless campaigning on behalf of island residents.
The background evidence shows that her contribution may have been even more substantial than that.
As far as islanders were concerned, they did not know there was ever going to be any danger of losing the inter-island travel.
It was the master stroke of the original agreement between Redland City Council and the then LNP State Government that saw Translink Services take over island passenger transportation services, with the added bonus of the free inter-island transport.
It was the one single addition to the agreement that brought our islands together in a way that was never before possible.
Since then, islanders have got to know one another; have inter-mingled; and a total island identity was truly formed.
The Friendly Bay Islander got ‘wind’ that something was ‘up’, and that we may have been in danger of losing the free inter-island passenger transport.
We sent the following email to Translink Media, seeking a response about a week prior to the eventual positive announcement.
We asked: “ Could you confirm that Translink is ending FREE INTER ISLAND TRAVEL for the Southern Moreton Bay Islands?
Could you advise please:
1. Why is FREE INTER ISLAND TRAVEL to be dropped?
2. Who has authorised this dramatic change?
3. When will it be applied?
4. What are the reasons for the ending of the FREE TRAVEL
5. Is Translink aware of the social impact it will have on a low socio-economic community?
6. Could you please provide a full statement
Over the next few days we received and made a multitude of calls and it was a tense situation.
It became obvious that the differing shades of politics were clouding the issue and that clouding was becoming the main game; and not the best outcome for island residents.
We were to become thankful for Kim Richards’ determination.
Via our many calls, we were told by one Government source that Transport Minister Bailey had in fact ‘earmarked’ the end to free inter-island passenger transport.
This was despite the claims that were made at the announcement that Redland City Council was ‘dropping’ the subsidy that initially instigated the free transport arrangement.
It needs to be remembered that this levy was paid for by island land holders via a special rate increase; and this was never to have been the long-term outcome.
In a letter to Redland City Council received on November 17, 2015, Jacke Trad as then Minister for Transport and Deputy Premier, gave an assurance that stated: “I wish to assure you that, as per the proposed funding agreement which is with your office for review, no financial contribution for the funding of SMBI ferry services is required from RCC beyond December 2018.
“Further, as part of this agreement, free inter-island transport will be maintained until the conclusion of the proposed agreement in December 2018,” the Deputy Premier said.
At the time of the announcement made with the Premier on hand at Weinman Creek, Redland City Council Mayor Karen Williams responded immediately with a statement putting council’s position.
“Minister for Transport Mark Bailey has been trying to get Council to continue making residents pay through the SMBI Translink levy to cover the free inter-island costs but Council refused,” Cr Williams said.
“Residents have been paying $950,000 a year to have Translink services on the SMBIs, and the agreement always was for this levy to conclude at the end of this year, so there was no way I was going to let them continue slugging residents.
“Now the State Government has come out saying they have had to ‘save the day’ because Council weren’t prepared to cover the costs.
“This ignores the fact that the costs were paid by SMBI residents and they should keep paying the $950,000 a year.
“The Deputy Premier wrote to Council in November 2015 stating ‘no financial contribution for the funding of the SMBI ferry services is required from RCC beyond December 2018.’ This was a legal agreement and residents met their obligations.”
Cr Williams said the SMBI Translink levy was never designed to cover the costs of free inter-island transport as claimed in the announcement.
The Mayor then asked: “The State Government has been collecting $950,000 from residents for something that by their own admission costs $400,000; so where has the other $550,000 a year gone?
At the same time, Shadow Transport Minister Steve Minnikin said he applauded Redland City Council for demanding the Palaszczuk Labor Government uphold a long-standing agreement over the future of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands Translink levy.
"Transport Minister Mark Bailey owes Redland ratepayers an apology," Mr Minnikin said.
"Labor sneakily tried to back out of a deal with the Redlands, but Mayor Karen Williams stood her ground and demanded the State Government keep its word.
"It's a joke for Mark Bailey to claim he is now riding to the rescue of islanders.
"The Queensland Government is simply sticking to an agreement that then LNP Government introduced in 2013 to ensure Redland residents got a fairer transport deal,” Steve Minnikin said.
It was clear that there was a change of heart at Government level re the free travel issue.
It appears that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Kim Richards have been integral to the eventual outcome to resolve the problem that islanders did not know was a problem.
They definitely went in to ‘bat’ for the islands when the going got tough.
There is no doubt that Kim Richards is being perceived for higher honours in future Queensland Labor Governments.
And, at the end of the day, when it really counted two levels of Government did work it out to the benefit of the islands, and that is what we care about most!
• A good team in a crisis Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Redlands MP Kim Richards