Community Cabinet Brief-Repeal of Currumbin Bird Sanctuary Act 1976

1. Minister/Agency Department of Environment
2. Topic title Repeal of Currumbin Bird Sanctuary Act 1976 Repeal of National Trust Act with change to status as a company limited by guarantee.
3. Background Gecko- Gold Coast and Hinterland Environment Council Assn. Inc. (Gecko) has been an advocate for the integrity and sustainability of the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS) since Alex Griffith donated the CWS  to the people of Queensland via the trust of the National Trust of Queensland  (NTQ)as stated in the Deed of Gift in 1976 “That the Sanctuary be preserved and continued in perpetuity, or for so long a period as the circumstance shall allow, for the benefit, welfare and education of Queenslanders and other persons generally”. Over the decades since this Gift there have been many occasions when it has been necessary to call the National Trust to account for its lack of stewardship of CWS such that it favoured the interests of the National Trust over those of the CWS. Our major concerns have always related to the NTQ desire to sell CWS property and to use the proceeds for the benefit of NTQ and not CWS. In 2011 Gecko had numerous communications with NTQ and Peter Hutchison, then General Manager, Environment Strategy & Policy, Natural Resources and Environment Division, Department of Environment and Resource Management, regarding the intention to change the status of both NTQ and CWS to two separate companies limited by guarantee.  In an email 11th August 2011 received from Peter Hutchison we were advised that any such change would involve “Consultation arrangements will first be subject to the consideration of any reform proposals by the Minister. If the reforms that have been requested by both CWS and the NTQ are supported, I would anticipate that broad public consultation, including release of the draft constitutions, will follow.” This has not occurred.
4. Issue Summary The repeal of the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary Act and its two Schedules which list the property owned by CWS was concealed within part 15 of the Environmental Offset Bill 2014. It was purely by chance that this was discovered by Gecko’s Secretary and brought to our notice. We were also advised on 14th March 2014 by Jann Stuckey, the Minister for Tourism and the Member for Currumbin that she was aware of the Bill over two weeks ago, but she did nothing to advise Gold Coast constituents or Gecko of this fact despite her clear knowledge of their interest in the matter. Her assurances that she will support the interests of CWS while voting for the repeal do not have our confidence. The assurances of broad community consultation given in 2011 have been completely ignored. Gecko has now read the draft Constitution of National Trust of Australia(QLD) Ltd  ( the Constitution) and finds several issues of concern in relation to the CWS including the matter that a Constitution, including its objects, can at any time  be changed by the board elected at the time. The board elected following the passing of this Bill cannot control what a future board may decide to do in relation to the CWS and its property.  This is stated clearly in 9.1 General Powers (b)  “the board may make regulations, by-laws and policies consistent with the constitution …. and amend or rescind any regulations and by-laws”. It might be said that the Constitution cannot be changed without an extraordinary meeting, but there is no requirement to inform the public or concerned persons that such a meeting was being held. The NTQ has a history of selling its properties in recent years. Section 2.3 Exercise of powers to achieve objects appears to allow the board to exercise unrestricted powers for any “purpose which is incidental to the charitable objects of the company or which is intended to generate revenue for, or otherwise further, those objects.”  There is no clarification in this statement as to whether CWS lands can be sold to “generate revenue for …. those objects.”. Section 3.1 Promotion of the objects states that “the income and property of the company must only be applied toward promoting the company’s objects as set out in the constitution”. There is nothing in this statement to indicate that income from the sale of CWS lands would go to CWS and not the NTQ generally. Section 9.2 (a) (i) states that the “sale of other transfer or disposal of prescribed property” cannot be carried out by the Directors and must be referred to the governing members for decision by special resolution. However the definition of prescribed property in Section 1.1 Definitions simply states that such property “means the properties described in the schedule to this Constitution”. Since this schedule is not available for scrutiny Gecko is unable to determine if CWS lands are included in this definition of prescribed property. Indeed the Minister’s Explanatory Notes for the Bill state “ the requirement to seek Ministerial support and Governor in Council approval for actions such as selling property”  will be removed. Section 11.1  of the Constitution states that the new NTQ company limited by guarantee (a) must have a Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Committee and (b)  the…. Committee must have at least three (NTQ) directors and such other persons as appointed by the board from time to time. There does not appear to be a mechanism for the concerned public to vote a person onto this Committee.
  • There is no detail in section 11.1. (c )  regarding the requirement to have  a “current written policy in relation to the role of the CWS Committee, its composition, appointment process and its procedures.” There is no indication of the degree of independence of deliberations or decisions of this CWS Committee or its ability to retain control of lands which form part of the original Deed of Gift and the so-called non-core lands purchased after the Gift with money from CWS. In the Huchison email (11.8.2011) it was stated “Post-1976 land – I recall confirming that, under the proposed arrangements, proceeds from any potential sale of post-1976 land could only benefit the Sanctuary directly, not the National Trust.  This is consistent with the current legislation, and is maintained in the draft constitution.  There is no intention that NTQ should benefit from the sale of any CWS land. (my emphasis). There is no such statement or guarantee in the current draft Constitution of NTQ as a company limited by guarantee.
In Section 18.5 of the Constitution the Winding up of the NTQ company is discussed and while it appears to be a common arrangement that any surplus assets of the Gift Fund are to be passed on to an organisation with similar objects to the NTQ, there is no statement about special arrangements for the preservation and continuation in perpetuity of the CWS lands both core and non-core as required in the Deed of Gift. At the very least the community has the right to expect that the CWS lands would remain as public open space under the trusteeship of the Gold Coast City Council should the business/ zoo component of CWS prove not to be viable.   We remain concerned about the long term protection of this Australian icon and will continue our representations on behalf of the Sanctuary and the community. The Government is proposing to repeal an Act of Legislation, which relates to a Gift to the people of Queensland and we maintain that it is the right of Queenslanders to have a say in this action and consequently in the arrangements that are proposed to take its place. The operative word here is “trust”, considering the original purpose of the Gift and we believe that discussion to change the existing status of the Sanctuary should honour this trust and be conducted in an open and transparent manner. We do not believe that this has occurred. The limited exposure of the Bill on the Government and NTW websites can hardly be considered a clear and transparent method of informing residents of Queensland of the proposed repeal of the CBS Act and subsequent change of status of the NTQ hidden within the Environmental Offsets Bill 2014.  
5. Key Points / Issues
  1. The repeal of the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary Act has not been made widely known to the citizens of Queensland and full public consultation undertaken.
  2. The draft Constitution of the National Trust as a company limited by guarantee, does not provide protection for the property of the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary given to the people of Queensland under the 1976 Deed of Gift from Alex Griffith in perpetuity.
  3. There is nothing in the draft Constitution of the National Trust as a company limited by guarantee, to ensure that CWS lands will remain a public asset for the people of Queensland in the event of the winding up of NTQ or CWS.
6. Requests

1.     That the citizens of Queensland are fully informed and provided with opportunities for full consultation of the intention of Part 15 of the Environmental Offsets Bill to repeal the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary Act 1976 and replace it with a body known as the National Trust as a company limited by guarantee.

2.     That Part 15 of the Environmental Offsets Bill is excised from this Bill until there has been full and informed debate about the repeal of the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary Act 1976.

3.     That should the National Trust become a company limited by guarantee, that there will be clauses inserted in the constitution of NTQ to guarantee the preservation and continuation of the CWS lands in perpetuity as a public asset such as an environmental reserve under the trusteeship of the Gold Coast City Council.

Submitted by Lois Levy, Campaign Coordinator. advocate@gecko.org.au Rose Adams, Secretary. secretary@gecko.org.au
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