A freedom of information request by The Echo last March for the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust’s 2012-13 annual report has revealed sparse and questionable accounting, according to a Byron Council staffer and Brunswick Heads residents.
The Echo’s Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request was made to the NSW government in the interest of transparency for public assets and owing to the trust’s financial details being kept from public scrutiny.
At a glance, gross income for all 22 caravan park reserves across the state was declared at $26,345,171 and gross expenditure $23,807,488.
Total liabilities are listed at $20,808,439 (debts $18,225,065 and other liabilities $2,583,374). The total profit/loss statement profit was $2,537,683.
Council’s director of corporate and community services, Mark Arnold, said at the time that the NHCP annual return ‘would appear to be prepared to meet the minimum standards for Crown Reserve financial reporting.’
‘Council in its budget and financial statements provides more detail to the community on its caravan park activities but would have provided similar detail in its returns to the Crown.’
While he says it’s ‘difficult to interpret the revenue information provided’, it appears to ‘only relate to leases and licences and may not include casual camping fees for cabins and sites.’
‘There may be some loans or capital funding through a Crown Land Grant but the shortfall would not be a grant but be derived from other sources. The Reserve Trust would be required to be self-funding. A simple income and expenditure statement for each park would provide this information.
‘The provision of remuneration information for a general manager is a statutory requirement and the remuneration for the other listed positions are public information (ie. determined by tribunal or parliamentary decision). On the basis that no similar provision applies to Reserve Trust staff, this may be the situation.’
Resident and member of the Foreshore Protection Group, Sean O’Meara, also agreed the report’s details were light for a multi-million dollar corporation.
Additionally he pointed to an incomplete sentence on page nine of the report.
Under Terrace Reserve Caravan Park funding, it reads, ‘The proposed project will consist of upgrading sites in the southern area of the park to improve infrastructure and the provision of a re-locatable amenities block. The upgrade will ensure all sites i’.
Mr O’Meara said that the report generally shows very limited information about what parks make and what money is spent on.
‘There are lots of details about loans granted, but virtually none of this money has been spent in Brunswick as yet.’
Remarkably, Mr O’Meara says that while all the parks under the trust’s control appear to only make a profit of $2.5 million, ‘Council [when it managed the asset] used to make this on Brunswick Parks alone.’
‘The 10 cabins at the Terrace Holiday Park are solidly booked all year, and I believe are making at least $50,000 each, if not more.
‘I also noticed a grant for security fencing of Lake Ainsworth!
‘The annual rent from 35 permanent tenants at the Terrace Reserve Holiday Park was $177,263 or $5,000 each.
‘Are they only paying $100 per week for this prime waterfront land? No wonder they are putting up such a fight! $72,000 rental for holiday vans? – I presume this is the 10 cabins.
‘Each of these I believe is capable of annual returns of this amount as they rent at $1,500 to $2,500 a week.’
Similarly, resident Patricia Warren told The Echo she found it difficult to make comment on the report, owing to the asset value being aggregated for all the caravan parks.
‘However, what is disturbing is the amount of approved loans for the upgrading of the parks that has occurred prior to the plans of management (POM) being on public exhibition. For example, in Massey Greene Holiday Park there were five new cabins and a camp kitchen approved on 09.10.12.’
PR campaign launched
Meanwhile, a leaflet promoting the planned developments to Brunswick Heads Holiday Parks and foreshore public reserves has been distributed throughout Byron Shire by the NSW government-run Crown Holiday Parks Trust, and critics say it has omissions and cherry-picked ‘facts’.
The trust’s communications and PR manager confirmed with Echonetdaily that the glossy A4 ‘Brunswick Community Update’ was an attempt to address public concerns and perceptions of its plans which are due to start shortly.
The recently adopted plans of management (POM) come in four documents, total 694 pages and are available at http://bit.ly/1kvpYov.
And while there is mention of the ‘independent audit’ that accompanied the public submissions to the development, the leaflet only noted one aspect of its findings.
The audit’s author, Dr John Mackenzie, paradoxically said that while assessment methodology was reliable, he observed discrepancies which yielded ‘significantly different results’ and ‘potential confusion’.
Dr Mackenzie also noted, ‘Numerous submissions contained a combination of supporting and opposing recommendations, and in such cases the inference that a submitter was either “opposed” or “supportive” of the plan(s) cannot be made with confidence.’
Of most significance was the public concern over the government take-over and cost-shifting from Council in 2006.
The audit said that while it was ‘beyond the scope of the planning,’ those concerns were not included in the submission report.
Despite Dr Mackenzie’s suggestion that those concerns be included, it appears unlikely there will be any acknowledgement.
Echonetdaily previously asked the NSW minister responsible, Kevin Humphries (Nationals), if the assets would be returned to Council, but was told that there ‘were no plans’.
Also missing from the trust’s leaflet was reference to the future of the Buccaneer boat hire business, which operates across the road from the pub.
Echonetdaily previously reported that the trust’s Jim Bolger tried to evict the business without warning last April and then refused to answer questions regarding a perceived conflict of interest with hiring boats.
And while the trust’s CEO Steve Edmonds spruiks its ‘41 amendments to the POMs’ as a result of public input, the issue of public access along Simpsons Creek remains ‘subject to reasonable conditions’ and security fencing through Terrace Reserve will only be erected as a ‘last resort’.
It is unclear how this reflects Mr Edmonds’s stated claims of a ‘partnership with the community,’ given many of the town’s chamber of commerce’s suggestions were also ignored.
Under one leaflet heading entitled ‘Not simply attractive real estate’ is the passage ‘Holiday parks are economic and environmental assets for tourists to the region and the the people.’
However, the leaflet comes without any guarantees that holiday parks services and fees won’t rise.
The trust manages 34 holiday parks across the state and was established by disgraced NSW Labor minister Tony Kelly in 2006.