I can vouch for the fact that the Gold Coast is (still) a great place to live and retire to as well as grow up in and go to school. I have kept returning after first going to a local boarding school when I was 12 years old – and am now happily settled here again. In recent years both international and local tourists and also prospective residents have again flocked here in droves creating a new golden age in the apparent maturing as well as growth of Australia’s sixth largest city and its traditional holiday capital – or at least so in terms of rising real estate prices and fast-tracked big development projects (1). They come attracted not just by the many theme parks, endless beaches, and relaxed lifestyle – as well as the entertainment and dining hubs. This has all appeared to take on new legitimacy with the Gold Coast hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2018 (2), seemingly boosted also by recent news that Australia’s Logie television awards are to be moved here from Melbourne this coming year also (3).
However, tonight’s night’s Four Corners investigation expose (4) – which has overlapped an ongoing Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) investigation of possible corruption on the Gold Coast council (5) – has once again turned the spotlight on the kind of entrenched dodgy activities and outright scams associated with the Gold Coast as far back as the 1970s and perhaps earlier (i.e. in terms of the related networks of ruthless developers/builders, cunning real estate agents and possibly dodgy lawyers once dubbed the ‘white shoe brigade’) (6). Many people have memories of the classic ‘Russell Island’ scam in the 1970s when 20,000 investors or so were conned into rip-off investments “through newspaper advertisements and a corrupt government” to buy supposedly prime Gold Coast land about to be connected by bridge to the mainland – lots that not only lacked water, sewerage or power, but situated on mud flats with poor drainage including many that disappeared at high tide (7). Just as the term “dodgy Gold Coast lawyers” was recently again in the news (re: some activities associated with Nyst Legal) (e.g. 8), so the ABC special report pays particular attention to the increasingly ‘dodgy’ relations recently yet again also between some ambitious local developers and Gold Coast counsellors seemingly happy to engage in obviously inappropriate deals (9). So, despite an erstwhile effort in similar rorting by Ipswich’s mayor Paul Pisale (10) and some of his cronies (11) also linked to dodgy developers and lawyers, the Gold Coast appears to have retained its title. As the Four Corners report outlines, local mayor Tom Tate has lead from the front in personally pushing through a series of controversial billion dollar development proposals on ‘the glitter strip’ which has tested the limits of acceptability for many – even in ‘pro development circles (12). Just behind is his deputy Donna Gates who is reported to have “voted in favour of development applications linked to her campaign donors nearly 30 times since the last election… (but) not left the council chamber on any of the occasions she has declared a ‘real or perceived conflict of interest’ because of donations associated with developers or the property industry” (12a).
Typical of the kind of development projects which appear to have been proposed and/or pushed through by Mayor Tate clearly without adequate consultation is his pet project of a cruise ship terminal off prime beaches at Kirra and now the Spit (13). Like the ASF consortium’s ‘integrated resorts & casino’ proposal for the Spit (recently knocked back by the state government), the cruise ship terminal has been resisted by community groups (such as the Save Our Spit alliance lead by world champion surfer Mick Fanning as well as Norm Rix – most significantly one of the old ‘white shoe brigade’ who has said that ‘enough is enough’) because of potential damage to nature and reputation. Reportedly a Mandarin speaker, Mayor Tate’s connection with big Chinese investors are also being more closely scrutinised for possible inappropriate wheeling and dealing (e.g. 14). [We should point out that we are not against a cruise ship terminal and some of the other ‘big projects’ per se – in fact, some are in principle quite attractive – but that the right balance of sustainable development needed also with appropriate consultation here on the GC]. As a commentator interviewed on the program put it, “The Gold Coast is the epicentre of political donations by developers to local councillors.” It was enough to tempt Fast Buck$ to temporarily come out of retirement in Byron Bay a few years back and head up past the Tweed to express his concerns (15).
The title of scam capital is also reinforced not just by the dodgy operators but also the professional scammers that prey on the elderly, the vulnerable, and those in the greatest need. In recent years the Gold Coast has been the central base of some the most notorious ‘boiler room’ and ‘cold room’ con artists operating in Australia to ‘sell the dream’ (16). Boiler rooms are basically groups of telemarketers working ‘to sell improper or non-existent products’ (especially fake investments) in operations often existing for short periods of time before closing and re-opening with different names. The Guardian’s investigation of such ‘cold call’ scams reported how “investigators now describe the Gold Coast as the country’s undisputed investment fraud capital, a place where boiler room operators mingle, share methods, buy and sell ‘sucker lists’ and reinvent themselves under new banners in new locations, often with the same core staff” (16a). Its estimated that this emerging local ‘cottage industry’ has conned hundreds of millions from people all over Australia. That is often at the high end and elsewhere. But locally at the other end there are scams which especially target the elderly – like the so-called ATO scam (17). Recently exemplified by the case of Aveo (18), another kind of scam is how corporate opportunists have been setting up aged care centres all over the Gold Coast that typically gouge and often simply rip-off vulnerable people in their senior years (e.g. 19).
These retro developments certainly do inspire some nostalgia. Having returned to the Gold Coast, I occasionally bump into old class mates as well as others associated with my old school. I am happy to report that whilst a good number of them did develop Gold Coast careers as lawyers, developers/builders, real estate agents, and some even became local councillors, not all are rip-off merchants. In fact some of them also perfectly respectable and responsible careers in community interests Hal Morris)(e.g. 20). One old mate is an honest real estate agent who was just badly scammed by other developers (21). And some are or were honest businessmen (e.g. in the lucrative surfer clothing sector) who just seemed to lose their way with the Gold Coast lifestyle together with the temptations of overseas scams (22) – or even may have helped export the GC ‘white shoe brigade’ approach elsewhere (23).
Indeed, my own intimate exploration of the local scam networks was a by-product of pursuing the conman Brend0n O’Dowd who was once based on the Gold Coast before heading down to Sydney to set up a ‘scam school’ in Double Bay with his good mate celebrity chiropracter Peter Bablis (Peter, maybe you should have set up on the Gold Coast from the start – you would have been right at home!) (e.g. 24). There he held court for several years – expounded on the fraudulent arts of false certificates, fraudulent placements and a related range of state-of-the art scams also using shell companies to squirrel away his loot (he not only worked with organised crime gangs based in Hong Kong but also Russia, the Caymen Islands, the Middle East and other places). I found that some of O’Dowd’s cronies were part of elaborate scam networks based in Bundall Road, Sovereign Island and similar places that operated both in the past and still today (e.g. 25) . Private investigator Crime hunter Ken Gamble helped us to track down O’Dowd before he turned his attention to and finding another Gold Coast scam icon – Peter Foster (26). Foster was not just on the run at the time from police but had set up another for his infamous scams – a fake online betting sting which caught out many investor to the tune of reportedly tens of millions of dollars (27)… And although he is now behind bars, life goes on for the rip-off artists in the apparent rort capital of Australia, a scammers’ not just surfers’ paradise.
– CKR 18/9/2017
Some related posts
https://www.facebook.com/WildDingos/posts/853875214789127 [t might seem a ‘chicken or egg’ question – but was Paul Pisasale (recently reported as ‘the most popular politician in Australia’) already corrupt before he became a long-running Ipswich mayor?]
https://www.facebook.com/WildDingos/posts/849852348524747 [Who or what is behind the 100 billion dollar city rort?]