22 May Troubled Port Hinchinbrook Resort could experience deja vu over court case
Damaged boats are stacked on top of one another at Port Hinchinbrook boat harbour in Cardwell after Cyclone Yasi in 2011. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
Residents of a small north Queensland town are hoping a Court of Appeal decision about their languishing local marina development will see work on the estate progress after years of being in limbo.
- Oakland Investment Group is not ruling out appealing against a Supreme Court ruling last year regarding the marina development
- At the time, the court ruled in Sino-Resource’s favour as the mortgagee of the Port Hinchinbrook estate
- Cardwell locals believe any further appeal would “bog down” the town and sway people from investing in the area
The case has been one of the latest hurdles in the long-running saga for Port Hinchinbrook, near Cardwell, which has been an eyesore for residents and dodged by prospective investors for years.
Oakland Investment Group and Sino-Resource Import and Export Co went through the Supreme Court last year, arguing they had secured mortgages over the estate after they purportedly lent money to the former owner, Passage Holdings, before it went into liquidation.
This week, the Court of Appeal in Brisbane published its ruling in Sino’s favour as the mortgagee, upholding last year’s Supreme Court decision that Oakland’s “debt-cancelling loan” was a “sham” and Passage did not owe it money.
“Evidence strongly supported the conclusion that no actual loan was intended to be made by Oakland to Passage and none was made,” Honourable Justice Robert Gotterson AO said.
Oakland had its appeal dismissed and was ordered to pay Sino’s appeal costs.
But about a year on from its original appeal, Oakland has not ruled out appealing again.
“Oakland is reviewing the judgment with a view to seeking special leave to appeal,” a spokeswoman told the ABC.
“Oakland is disappointed with the outcome of the court proceedings and disappointed for the residents of Port Hinchinbrook who will now miss out on the investment that Oakland had planned for the resort and region.”
Sino Group investor Charles Seavey said he was not too worried about Oakland’s potential intentions.
“It frankly doesn’t register … it is completely empty,” Mr Seavey said.
“The likelihood of it being accepted is near zero.”
Hopes of certainty
There are hopes Port Hinchinbrook will be restored back to its former glory. (Supplied: Passage Holdings)
Locals and politicians said they were hopeful the court ruling would finally provide certainty for the region.
Cardwell real estate agent Lindsay Hallam said he was “bitterly disappointed” that Oakland was considering an appeal again.
“Yes, they have a legal right, but it could get bogged down in the courts and Cardwell will get bogged down too,” Mr Hallam said.
“Nothing could happen, no development could take place, before this court case is resolved.
“God willing, we’re going to get some action pretty swiftly and we’re going to see some construction, and poor old Cardwell, which has been on the backburner since Cyclone Yasi, can start realising its potential.”
He said once the matter settled, it could sway some people to seriously think about investing in the area.
“You’ve got speculators who will hear the news and think, ‘Yep, we’re probably on the bottom of the market, I want a piece of the action’,” Mr Hallam said.
KAP’s Member for Hinchinbrook Nick Dametto said he respected Oakland’s rights, but believed another appeal would not be best for Cardwell.
“The people who live in Cardwell, the people who live in Port Hinchinbrook, the more we drag this out, the longer their lives are in limbo,” Mr Dametto said.
“The only way we can see this development, which is in turmoil and disrepair at the moment, restored back to its former glory is someone has to move first.”
Wheels in motion
Politicians and people in the private sector say work has been going on behind the scenes to get Port Hinchinbrook out of a rut. (Supplied: Gary Scott)
Mr Dametto said work had happened behind the scenes over the past year, including discussions he has had with Sino about its intention to possess and redevelop some properties.
During the election campaign, the LNP promised it would spend $1.5 million to dredge Hinchinbrook Channel, which is connected to the muddy marina, if re-elected.
“I’m more confident [about the estate’s future] than I was a year and a half ago when I started really pushing for something to be done up there,” Mr Dametto said.
“The wheels are in motion. A lot of pressure has been applied to local and State Government as of late.”
Mr Seavey said the group had to make political, financial and logistical assessments but hoped it could work with governments to redevelop the marina.
“We need to make a realistic assessment about issues that face the property relating to infrastructure and planning approvals … and the viability of developing the property,” Mr Seavey said.
“Cardwell is basically dying … if we could bring the [estate] to the way it was in the early 2000s, we would revive the main strip of Cardwell.
“I am hoping various officials involved can set aside political issues.”
Before Oakland declared it was considering seeking special leave to appeal, Michael Brennan, one of the liquidators of Passage, said the court decision meant negotiations could progress once it was dealing with one mortgagee.
“It clarifies who the secured creditors are, and I think it tidies up a nagging concern in relation to the two mortgage holders at the time the liquidators were appointed,” Mr Brennan said.
“One of the big problems has been dealing with two different mortgagees, not really knowing who ultimately was going to have control of the property.”