This article first appeared in The Cairns Post as an opinion piece on January 7, 2015.
Welcome to 2015. When I said good riddance to 2014 last week, I thought I might write about something simple, like resolutions or diets. That’s not to be. It hasn’t been a great start to the year for the 66 employees of aviation company Skytrans who lost their jobs last Friday, or the 121 workers who were made redundant last November and December.
Skytrans had operated out of Cairns for 25 years (and one day), a family owned business, which ceased trading last week, and on Monday went into voluntary administration. This was no “fly-by-night” outfit, but an ethical, responsible company that could see no way of carrying on. Owner Simon Wild said he had no alternative other than to stop trading, and was able to pay all the entitlements of his employees.
The key reason for the demise was the awarding of three state government contracts to NSW competitor Rex last October, along with the falling US dollar. Skytrans originally won the contracts in 2009, and expanded to meet the demands in servicing six remote communities, including Bamaga, Aurukun and Coen. According to opposition public works spokesman, Bill Byrne, the decision to award the contracts to Rex flies in the face of the LNP’s promise to “grow regional economies”, with 200 jobs now lost from the Far North.
Skytrans’ demise has become a political football. Cairns Chamber of Commerce CEO Deb Hancock was quoted inThe Weekend Postsaying: “Their (the State Government) buy local policy is just words, it’s a slap in the face to locals, and there’s millions of dollars in wages that will no longer be paid to employees across the Far North.” Transport Minister Scott Emerson defended the tender process, saying it’s the same criteria for everyone. But in my view, and the view of many others, the process does not take into account “social impact”.
By “social impact” we’re not just talking about jobs, but the effect on the community. In his statement last Friday, Simon Wild said: “We have been particularly proud of our sponsorship. Scores of schools, community and health organisations have benefited. While we were renowned for the large-scale sponsorships like the $2 million injected into the Cairns Taipans as well as other sponsorships of the Northern Pride Rugby League, the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair, NQ Rescue and Mount Isa Rodeo, it is the other 250+ sponsorships to smaller organisations worth millions of dollars more where we really felt we made a difference. All of that comes to an end today.”
There's the rub. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt Rex will offer to sponsor anything in Cairns. This is the value-added local factor that tender processes fail to take into consideration, because they don’t have to. The process is flawed. Since the announcement of the closure of the airline, it’s been bombarded with emails of support. One, from a pilot, simply says: “It’s been the best job I've ever had, with the best people I've ever worked with.”
A sad time for everyone, employees, clients, those who benefited from sponsorship, and a sad time for Cairns. At least the closure was handled with integrity, responsibility and honesty; attributes that aren't too common these days, and I somehow doubt that Cairns has heard the last of Simon Wild.