Casino plan sparks debate in Cairns

Not just the hall but the verandah of the Serbian Centre was packed when more than 300 people came to the first public meeting of Aquis Aware, a group formed in response to the proposed Aquis casino in one of the city’s beachside suburbs, Yorkeys Knob.

The mega-resort would have nine hotels and big entertainment and sports venues. An environmental impact statement for the project has not been tabled, so details of the Aquis proposal are murky.

But speakers were able to address many of the concerns of those present, most of who were opposed to or questioned the proposed development.

Former local Labor MP Lesley Clark said the Aquis project would create jobs, but questioned what its competitive impact on other economic activity would be. Urban planning academic John Byrne said urban designers are now emphasising the development of interactive communities based on city centres, high streets and public transport, not isolated suburban complexes.

Environment expert Jon Nott slammed the concept plan for proposing to build on land in the Barron River’s floodplain which is subject to cyclonic storm surges. Councillor Rob Pyne discussed the role of the current council with regard to approving the project. By video link, Senator Nick Xenophon presented issues posed by the creation of a massive new gambling venue. University students Lucy Graham and Mathilde Gordon discussed the impact of the project’s scale on the city’s infrastructure and culture.

The meeting debated the role of community consultation about the project and the prospect of the state government overriding any local opposition in favour of the development. The area’s current Liberal National Party MP, Michael Trout, was called on to speak. More than once he said there “is a process”, but failed to admit his government was hurrying the result, or to state his stance on it.

The meeting also discussed how employers might use the employer-sponsored temporary residency 457 visa to supply the project’s workforce. A claim was made that these visas were difficult to obtain and would have little impact, but it was pointed out that in the building industry 457 visas were already being used to cut wages and conditions and attack unionism, and that permanent residency for the whole workforce was needed to support workers’ rights to organise.

[For more information, visit Aquis Aware's website or its Facebook page.]

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