22 October, 2021
Not really giving a fig
Two weeks ago, (October 8) Cairns Local News broke the story regarding Cairns Regional Council’s proposal to remove an historic tree in the library precinct. This tree is an important roosting site for the Spectacled Flying Foxes.
That afternoon, a member of Council’s Communications Team contacted us by email and voice mail, expressing disappointment regarding the coverage.
“I would like to talk to you about some of the information printed as I believe it is not accurate.”
Cairns Local News invited the Council’s Communications Team to sit down and discuss their concerns. Time suggested was Tuesday Oct 12, 9am – 12 noon.
It’s important to note that CLN had invited feedback from the Councillor for Division 5 regarding the decision to remove the tree prior to the publication of the original story.
If the Councillor who received our media request felt there was a reputational risk to Council with the publication of the story, surely, she should have escalated the media request higher, rather than ignoring the request.
The next week, (Tuesday 12) I missed a phone call from the Division 5 Councillor, Amy Eden. In the voice mail message she left, she apologised for not responding to our media request from October 5.
“I was out of the office and catching up on emails now…”
Out of the office must include posting on social media photos wearing safety boots and operating power tools, but no time to respond to an important issue like the contentious removal of an historic tree.
Also, it should be added that we are yet to be contacted by any member of the ‘disappointed’ Communications Team from Council to sit down and set the record straight.
So, after receiving the voice mail message from Cr Eden, I called back and invited her to respond to our media request and allow Council the opportunity to have a ‘fair share’ of the story.
To date we are yet to receive any response from Cr Eden, although we did follow up last Friday, only to receive a text from Cr Eden text stating,
“I actioned after we spoke (Oct 12) and am waiting for approval…. Will chase up.”
This week, Wednesday October 20, at 8.57am we received a call, advising there would be a response for us that day or at the latest the next day. So, the day before publication and right up to deadline no formal response has been received from a ‘disappointed’ Council.
Promises made, emails expressing disappointment, but zero attempt to enter into real communication regarding why this fig tree is going to be removed.
Opponents are suggesting that Council want the fig tree gone, not because it is dead or diseased, but because it is a roosting site for the bats, and Council’s so far, not very successful, but highly expensive removal campaign is failing.
As for the Councillor concerned, representing the residents is more than photo opportunities on social media. Representation means listening, consulting and taking the good and the bad.
We look forward to another email or call from a ‘disappointed’ Council Communications team.
FOOTNOTE: Late Thursday afternoon, well past deadline, Cairns Local News received a phone call from Cr Eden. We would have a media response shortly as it had been signed off and ready to send, including new information to all media outlets.
The Councillor was advised the deadline had passed, but we still required the information to allow for an in-depth story to be presented.
10am today, well after publication deadline, a response from the Cairns Regional Council was received.
Statement from Mayor Bob Manning
“Council is committed to exploring the feasibility of protecting and supporting the fig tree on the Cairns Library site.
“Council does not want to remove the tree, but in its current condition it poses a risk to public safety.
“For the past 6 years, Council has taken extensive steps to minimise the risk and save the tree, spending over $100,000 of ratepayer funds to protect the fig including trimming, maintenance, bracing, fencing and other supports.
“We started this work following an independent report commissioned by the State Government in 2014, which highlighted the public safety risk. A further 3 arborist reports, including one commissioned by a member of the public, have confirmed the risk is ongoing, despite Council’s best efforts.
“Council officers recently met with representatives of Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) and have indicated that we will undertake a review of the cost implications and practicality of any and all measures to protect and support the health of the tree.
“If, following these efforts, the long-term implications for the tree and public safety remain an issue, we will have no option but to remove the fig and replace it with a mature tree.
“As the tree has been a flying-fox roost in the past, we have committed to not doing any work on the tree until an independent ecologist declares that the Flying-fox breeding cycle is complete and the removal would not compromise the Flying-foxes in any way.”
Cr Eden also responded, her response will form the basis of a further story in next Friday’s edition.