Retirees take on council and mayor’s donors over rock concerts


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The conflicts were based on personal relationships with the Comiskey family, councillors having benefited from their political donations to Cr Sutherland’s funding vehicle Moreton Futures Trust, or having had personal disputes with Robert Comiskey, a property developer who has a key role in running the hotel.

Two councillors, Brooke Savige and Adrian Raedel, objected to a subsequent motion to ratify the decision but were outvoted.

The Comiskey company that owns the hotel, Bribie Waters Pty Ltd, is also named in the residents’ appeal.

The Sandstone Point Hotel has a growing profile for outdoor concerts with more than 10,000 people attending some events. It has staged concerts featuring Bryan Adams, Suzi Quatro, the Beach Boys, John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes, among others, since it opened in 2015.

Set against this, nearby Bribie Island has the highest median age of any census district in Queensland at 59.6 years, more than 20 years older than the median age of the state’s general population.

The hotel delivered a circular to local residents in 2016 regarding its plans assuring them “at no point will the noise be too loud for residents” and that the proposed “benchmark” sound level of 70 decibels was “equivalent to a shower or dishwasher running at the nearest resident [to the event]”.

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But more than 240 residents, some living up to five kilometres from the venue, formally objected to the proposal to increase the number of concerts during consultation carried out by the council earlier this year, with only two properly made submissions received in favour.

Many complained about the effect on their lifestyles of the noise created by the existing event program, including rodeos, and some provided evidence of their own monitoring with claims that existing limits had regularly been breached, including reports of up to 100 decibels being recorded inside homes.

The local environmental protection association complained that the noise disturbed migratory birds and litter from events polluted the local waterways. It argued the decision should have been referred to the Federal Environment Department because of impact on the neighbouring Moreton Bay Marine Park.

The hotel has been allowed to monitor its own noise output from outdoor events as part of its deal with the council, after the owners persuaded the Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming to remove the music stage from the area covered by the hotel’s liquor licence.

The venue won agreement for a 70 decibel average noise limit rather than the limit normally imposed by OLGR on licensed premises of 10 decibels over the background level already present, which has been measured as low as 35 decibels, the level of a whisper.

Local residents have banded together to fight against noise at the Sandstone Point Hotel. Back row (L-R): Ken Simper, Major General David Ferguson, Peter Dallimore, Kev Cranston and Ken Park. Front row: Trixie Jones, Sara Ferguson and Diane Oxenford

Local residents have banded together to fight against noise at the Sandstone Point Hotel. Back row (L-R): Ken Simper, Major General David Ferguson, Peter Dallimore, Kev Cranston and Ken Park. Front row: Trixie Jones, Sara Ferguson and Diane OxenfordCredit:Mark Solomons

The appellants include retired Major-General David Ferguson, 77, a career soldier and Vietnam veteran who led the UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai in the 1990s, and Ken Park, a former shire mayor in New South Wales.

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General Ferguson said he had tried repeatedly to meet the council’s chief executive Daryl Hitzman “to sort out a position to move ahead”.

“He didn’t want to see me,” General Ferguson said. “I’m appalled by their conduct.”

Mr Park said the presence of the waterway affected the way the sound traveled.

“All the ones across the Passage – in certain weather conditions they hear it worse than the people at Sandstone Point. It travels across the water quite strongly, there’s no attenuation at all.”

In their appeal, the residents argue the council failed to apply its own planning policy regarding noise limits and the process was flawed from the outset because no assessment was carried out of the impact of the music events on local traffic.

The council approved the application despite acknowledging that the hotel had not provided supporting information requested by council, including the traffic assessment, and a warning by the state Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation that there could be an adverse impact on residents.

Residents paid for their own sound experts to test the noise impact of a music event in May 2019.

Their report, which was accepted by council, found that the sound levels being experienced by local people were already “well outside the range of being reasonable” and that council had misapplied state noise limit rules.

“We conclude that (the council) has in setting licence conditions failed to recognise the relevance of their own noise planning policy, has incorrectly interpreted the default noise standard … and failed to protect the EPA defined environmental values for the local community,” the report authors wrote.

The report noted that the 70-decibel limit applied by council as part of its conditions on the Comiskey family’s hotel operation “is not a permitted maximum, it is a provision that applies under the offence section of the Environment Protection Act”.

“The ‘limit’ of 70 dB was falsely selected from (the noise standard) … Under the EPA this (standard) sets offence trigger levels as defined under the Act.”

The section of the Act cited in the development approval does not mention average noise levels.

The OLGR said it had received six applications from the hotel to reduce the area of its licensed premises, covering nine days of operation.

“All applications received were considered on their individual merits and include consideration of comments from relevant stakeholders such as the local council and police,” a spokesperson said.

OLGR said it had received 145 complaints about noise at the hotel between its opening in 2015 and May this year. It did not say how many had been substantiated.

The relationship between the Comiskeys and Cr Sutherland was examined during the Operation Belcarra public hearings at the Crime and Corruption Commission in 2017.

Robert Comiskey testified at the hearings that his family had not received any “special favours or any special access” from the council because of its donations.

Robert Comiskey leaves with his wife, Carla, after giving evidence at the Crime and Corruption Commission in 2017.

Robert Comiskey leaves with his wife, Carla, after giving evidence at the Crime and Corruption Commission in 2017.Credit:Robert Shakespeare

The Comiskey Group did not respond to questions.

A Moreton Bay Regional Council spokesman said he could not comment on matters before the court.

Mr Hitzman, the council’s chief executive, approved a scaled down version of the Comiskeys’ application. They had asked for an increase from nine to 12 major concerts each year and to allow multi-day events. Mr Hitzman kept the nine-event limit in place but allowed three of these to be two-day events.

During earlier consultations in 2016, when the hotel first applied to run large outdoor music events, one of the handful of submissions to council in favour was from Shane Newcombe, chief executive of Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT), whose organisation regularly holds events at the hotel.

Shane Newcombe (left) and Ethan Tyler (right) at the Sandstone Point Hotel for their 2018 wedding, with mayor Allan Sutherland's then-executive officer Corinne Mulholland, who performed MC duties.

Shane Newcombe (left) and Ethan Tyler (right) at the Sandstone Point Hotel for their 2018 wedding, with mayor Allan Sutherland’s then-executive officer Corinne Mulholland, who performed MC duties.

Mr Newcombe, a close personal associate of Rob Comiskey, had his high-profile wedding at the hotel in May last year.

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