08 December 2013

Campbell Newman Ignored Recommendation for Boggo Management Change

The controversial interim reopening of Boggo Road took yet another unwelcome turn in 212 when an independent recommendation to install new interim management at the old prison was ignored by the L-NP state government.

The recommendation was one of a number made to the government by a community consultant who had been engaged by the site developers. He met with a wide range of stakeholders for a few months during that year, after an incredibly messy trial reopening of Boggo Road that saw community stakeholders denied fair access to this public asset by the small businessman that had been installed there after a secret deal with premier Campbell Newman.

Back in April 2012 I stated my opinion that the interim opening had been a failure. The small business in question, 'Brisbane Ghost Tours', had a long history of attacking heritage groups and individuals that supposedly 'posed a threat' to their business interests. These attacks had even resulted in police and court involvement. The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society (BRGHS) had received extraordinary legal threats over their web address. It was inevitable that Ghost Tours would use control of access to squeeze out other stakeholders, and that is exactly what happened. High prices and restricted access saw community activities fail to happen at Boggo. Historic and creative communities and the Queensland public had lost out in the name of personal profit.

Promises from Public Works minister Tim Mander that not-for-profit organisations would get 'fair access' proved meaningless.

A subsequent community campaign attracted thousands of supporters and unwanted publicity for Boggo Road. Investigating journalists were denied access to basic official information. Questions on the reopening process were asked in parliament.

The consultation process was no doubt intended designed to alleviate the situation. A large number of meetings were held over two months with a number of stakeholders, including local schools and arts organisations.

The BRGHS agreed to suspend the petition campaign. They withdrew 'Boycott' calls from their online material. The campaign was obviously hurting but in the interests of a compromise solution they played nice. This was, after all, supposed to lead to peace, with something for everyone. Even when the consultant eventually came up with a range of recommendations that fell well short of what the BRGHS wanted, the BRGHS was quite prepared to work within the new framework.

So there can be no doubting the commitment of the BRGHS to the process.

The most significant recommendation was that control of access to Boggo Road be taken away from the private business and vested in a new committee for the remainder of the interim opening. This change of management was to take place without an Expressions of Interest phase.

The findings were clear. Despite the marketing spin, privatised access to Boggo Road had failed.

After all, as the saying goes, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

The final decision on the recommendations rested with Public Works, who were expected to make a decision within weeks. That decision eventually came after three months of silence when, completely out of the blue, they called a snap 'Expressions of Interest' phase - just two weeks long. The report had been ignored and hidden. Why? What was the point, after three months of silence, of having this sudden and unnecessarily rushed process? The workable solution that had been crafted during the consultation process could have been finalised during that time.

It's a bit like getting one day's notice to do a university assignment. Sure, you could do it, but you would produce a better result with a month's notice. It was all the more galling as it had taken three whole months to come up with this announcement.

The public will never know the reasoning behind this decision.

So another two months of our lives had been wasted in participating in the consultation. With most of the BRGHS committee either overseas or interstate on family holidays when the EOI was called, they were in no position to put together a submission (for something we never wanted to do anyway). They were in a position to do so in late 2012, when calls for a tender process were ignored, but after months of being kept in the dark and having goalposts shifted, a lot of people had simply lost faith that this interim opening process was ever going to be coherently managed.

The snap timing of the EOI, and the fact that the BRGHS were denied access to basic data that the incumbent was privy to, meant that the EOI process could never be equitable. Instead of a workable solution, it only created further controversy.

As it was, only Ghost Tours and one former prisoner even put a submission in. This was the same Ghost Tours who had utterly failed to meet their promises in managing Boggo Road that they would have been sacked if they were public servants. Still, with practically no competition, the result was inevitable.

The outcome was that the failed privatised system was still in place while taxpayers paid for maintenance. We in the community turned our focus to the real reopening in the future and putting together a carefully crafted plan that makes sure the public get full value from this public asset.

Boggo Road Gaol was supposed to form part of a community-integrated development. When you install an anti-community businessman in there, it's just not going to work. The shelved report should be ringing some loud alarm bells in Public Works. The BRGHS will never support failed projects that work against community interests.


  1. Just found your site by looking up tours of the South Brisbane Cemetery. Keep up the good work in advocating for the non-profit organisation to manage the tours, I undertook the tour of the Cellblock last year and was not happy with the way it was conducted or how we were treated. My daughter and I vowed we would only take tours in future where money actually goes back into the preservation and support of the landmarks of Brisbane. I'm disappointed that this Government continues to operate in this manner.

    1. Thanks Caron. Could I ask what the issue was with your treatment?