Mornington Peninsula councillors, and the 50 election candidates, have gone galloping off to Facebook to find out more about the proposed massive development at Moonah Links golf course – tipped to cost up to $600 million, comprising everything a holidaying Chinese billionaire could wish for, including indoor go-karts.
The spectacular plan emerged last week in Rupert Murdoch’s daily Melbourne tabloid. Bandicoot believes councillors knew nothing about talks that have been continuing for some time between council executives, in particular CEO Carl Cowie, and the new Moonah Links owners.
Mayor Graham Pittock was contacted last Thursday by a Melbourne journalist seeking shire reaction to the huge proposal. He had to confess he knew nothing of it.
Some councillors are said to be less than amused by the “mushroom” treatment they have been subjected to by senior council staff. A meeting held late last week is believed to have discussed the matter.
With just weeks to go before the council elections, the news has dropped into the campaign like a fizzing bomb. This is the caretaker period, when no proposal of this sort can be discussed.
Only one more meeting will occur (on 10 October) before the votes are cast and counted. After that comes the Christmas break, with the first real business to come to council in late January 2017.
This is possibly a fortuitous time – for the scheme proponents – for a proposal of this size to become public. At least seven new councillors are to be elected and one or two of the four incumbents seeking re-election appear a bit wobbly.
That means more than half the new council will be inexperienced in dealing with planning matters, let alone a plan on this startling scale.
Moonah Links was sold to Chinese interests last August by Mr Murdoch’s nephew Paddy Handbury, according to the Sydney Morning Herald of 14 August 2015. The terms of the sale were not disclosed. It is possible Mr Handbury has retained an interest in the property.
It is also possible that a proposal of this vastness will be taken out of the hands of the shire – that is, it will be called in and negotiated by the state government. (Above: Mr Handbury with one of his aristocratic sheep.)
The new Moonah Links owner is a consortium of Chinese and Chinese-Australian businessmen operating as the Peninsula International Group, according to the SMH. The newspaper quoted a Handbury Group spokesman saying the buyers would keep the two golf courses but were interested in the property as a “hotel destination … to expand and invest more into”.
Their plans include a 450-room hotel plus individual residences, a hot springs spa, a golf academy and some seven restaurants. A video available online gives viewers a PR spin through the proposal.
Moonah Links includes parcels of vacant land already approved for development.
Consortium members have stakes in Chinese-Australian investment companies, a furniture company, a tea-tree oil company and a “luxury” property development company with projects in China and Australia, according to the SMH.
It is possible the plans will include a heliport, to receive visitors straight off flights landing at Tullamarine.
Online reaction to the plan was immediate, from critical to high praise.
“Couldn’t think of anything worse,” one man wrote. “The peninsula is already bursting at the seams over the holiday period with a lack of infrastructure. Could you imagine what this would do to the already crippled road network?”
He is instantly taken to task by a woman for “complaining”. “It comes from the same people who complain about to many people being on welfare,” she says.
“Well, you know something, guys, if you create investment you create jobs. Oh, and let’s say they did import all their workers (which they won’t), do you think that people will just stay there and do nothing?
“No, they will visit other attractions, have coffee, go shopping, creating more jobs and benefiting us all.”
Says another: “The jobs it could bring in would be unbelievable. Of course we’ll wait with baited (sic) breath for all the greenies to jump up & down with their unfounded reports about agricultural damage, like they did with the shipping channel widening.”
The final word goes to a woman who says: “I don’t trust Chinese nationals, Full stop. Why don’t you check with the people from Hing Kong (sic). They have gone from an open society to a closed society where [they] are FIGHTING to elect their own representatives.”
The comments then dissolve into a debate about the merits of Camrys. New councillors will do well not to follow such a line of logic.