Jenolan Story

The most beautiful caves in the world filled with deception, lies and dishonesty

CHAPTER 3 - A GOVERNMENT’S CHOICE

In order for the government to reclaim Caves House from its private owners, it had to remove the Board members responsible for the care, control and management of the precinct. Chapter 2 noted that the government misled the Trust Board, allowing them to believe it was not necessary to seek reappointment.

Chapter 3 is the story of how a government was able to convince experienced board members, including senior lawyers; it could appoint an administrator without removing the board. There was also no explanation as to how the CCQG could recommend the appointment. In fact, the Special Review’s 56 pages presentation made no mention of an administrator at all.[1]

A team of staff from the Performance Measurement and Review Division of Premier’s Department conducted the review. [2] It was chaired by a Cost and Quality of Government expert [3] and would use CCQG methodology.[4] The review had access to the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) and later made a recommendation to appoint an administrator without regard to the intentions of the Act.

If the government sought to run the Trust with an administrator it could be no more than a ‘stop-gap measure’[5] or the Act would need to be amended first.

Treasury Funding Issues

By 2003, the Trust Board had become frustrated in obtaining funds for capital works from treasury despite the government’s commitment the Trust could apply for these funds under the Public Reserves Management Fund.[6] The Trust, having applied for funds in 2003, was not able to obtain them from Treasury prior to the Special Review.

On 2 December 2003 funding for urgent safety measures at Jenolan Caves were presented to the Premier[7] and were approved the following day. [8] The following major risks had been noted:[9]

  • Public safety: there are risks to public safety resulting from dilapidated caves and aging tourist infrastructure.[10]
  • Road access: the Jenolan Road (MR253) is in steep terrain, the embankments are unstable and in danger of subsiding. [11]
  • Caves and surface infrastructure: the nature of the underground environment presents a risk to visitors. They identify the significant issues as:
    • Lighting: Power blackouts are common,[12]
    • Paths and handrails: The majority of paths and handrails in the caves date back to the 1940s.The paths in many parts are crumbling and slippery, [13] and
    • Public liability: From 1996 to 1999 the Trust had 25 insurance claims relating to broken legs and other injuries.The ‘fall’ risks were assessed as having severe consequential impact including death and major financial loss.[14]

For the next three years, these issues resulted in angry customers. This damaged the relationship between the Trust and the lessee.[15] Given the very serious problems with caves and surface infrastructure it is difficult understand why the lessee was not informed of them.

Treasury’s decision to withhold funds in circumstances where the government had identified risks of death was very serious. However, this was not as vital as the risk to the public if the road into Jenolan Caves collapsed.[16] This was posing a grave public liability risk to the Trust.

McKay stated in June 2003:


“over the last three weeks, I have devoted a numerous amount of time to issues associated with Jenolan Caves Road. Initially, the Trust was concerned to draw attention to the risk assessments carried out by the RTA, which identified parts of the roads as unsafe … we became increasingly aware that the situation was worse than originally understood.”
[26]


As a result of Treasury’s inaction, the Trust could not replace infrastructure, it was the responsibility of the government.[17]

Closure of MR253

The deterioration of the main road access (MR253) was a major concern to the Trust Board by 2003.[18] The collapse of the road in 1962 had resulted in a bus being forced off the road and the death of four children.[19] If the road collapsed again the Trust Board members would be held accountable for any fatalities. [20]

In May 2003 the main road closed for eight days by request of the Trust.[21] This coincided with a decision by treasury to withhold funding for MR253 repairs and to withdraw funding for alternate access to the village via a gondola. This had been a central issue to the Trust Board, and in particular it’s Chair, for several years.[22]

Denying Gondola Access

Consideration of an alternate access to the caves was important to the Trust Board. The gondola was part of a long-term plan to protect the caves by limiting vehicular access through the Grand Arch into the village. Richard Mackay advised the board on 20 August 2003 that he had received “formal notice from the NSW Treasurer that the Trust’s preferred option for aerial access to Jenolan Caves would not proceed.”[23]

The Chair also advised the Trust Board that at the expiry of the board’s current term he would “not be available to serve on the Board after 31 January 2004.”[24] His resignation led to the government agreeing to a Special Review on 3 September. [25]

This Special Review would be chaired by Byram Johnston under the auspices of the CCQG. [26]

Recommendation: No Trust Board

As mentioned earlier, the Special Review presentation, made no reference to appointing an Administrator. However, the CCQG on 31 October 2003 [27] and its Chair Percy Allan on or about 19 November 2003 [28] recommended such an appointment. The government approved these recommendations on 3 December 2003. [29]

It is unclear how the government could have accepted these recommendations and government members including Premier Bob Carr, Attorney General, Bob Debus and Treasurer, Michael Egan approved the appointment.[30] All of these members were instrumental in amending the Act in 1997, which required the Trust Board to be removed.[31]

When the Trust Board’s term expired on 31 January 2004, the Trust Board was disbanded.

The Appointment

Alan Griffin from the Office of Government Procurement was appointed Administrator of the Trust to carry out the government’s intention to, once more, amend the Act.

On 4 June 2004, the government set out to amend the Act and introduced the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Jenolan Caves Reserve trust) Bill into the Parliament. [32] The Minister stated that the government intended to “maintain the highest levels of environmental protection” at the Jenolan Caves.[33]

The bill was unsuccessful on this occasion.

In 2005, the government again attempted to amend the Act.[34] On this occasion the Minister claimed to have advice from the Crown Solicitor that the appointment was legally sanctioned. He told the parliament that the appointment “has been examined by the Crown Solicitor, who found it was valid not only at the time but on an ongoing basis.” [35] This was not correct.

The allegations that the Crown Solicitor validated the government’s appointment coincided with both sides of government being offered access to the Robertson advice.[36] This advice noted the administrator’s appointment was not valid and his actions were nullities.[37]

To sum up…

The government was now the architect of an intricate plan to disregard the impact of breaking pipes and brown-coloured and contaminated water which was unfiltered. This eventually ruined the Jenolan Caves brand and the viability of the businesses in the village.

Chapter 4 of the Jenolan Story explains how the water issues at Jenolan Caves were used to permanently damage the reputation of the most famous inland tourism destination in NSW.

JMA Parties would appreciate feedback on this Chapter, including information that should be corrected

Please contact us by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bibliography 


[1] Council on the Cost and Quality of Government, CCQG Special Review on the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust. obtained through FOI-DPC14/05302 on 12 February 2015.DPC14/05302 (A15).

[2] Special Review of Jenolan Caves Reserve to be commissioned by Budget Committee. obtained through FOI-DPC14/05302 on 12 February 2015.DPC14/05302 (A6).

[3] Ibid. Byram Johnston, CEO of IQ Business Group.

[4] Premier Bob Carr’s letter to R J Debus, Attorney General, Minister of the Environment of 15 August 2003 (File Number: RRD/01505) obtained through FOI-DPC14/05302 on 12 February 2015.DPC14/05302 (A5).

[5] National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Abercrombie, Jenolan and Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserves) Bill, Second Reading, 5 December 1996, page7040.

[6] National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Abercrombie, Jenolan and Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserves) Bill, Second Reading, Hansard 19 June 1996, p 3185.

[7] Council on the Cost and Quality of Government, CCQG Special Review on the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust, 2 December 2003, obtained through FOI-DPC14/05302 on 12 February 2015.DPC14/05302 (A13, 3.2).

[8] DPC14/05302: Cabinet Standing Committee on the Budget minutes of the Meeting held on Wednesday 2 December 2003, was attended by Premier Carr, Environment Minister Debus, Minister for Road Scully and Minister for Police Watkins, Tab A7.

[9] Council on the Cost and Quality of Government, CCQG Special Review on the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust, 2 December 2003, obtained through FOI-DPC14/05302 on 12 February 2015.DPC14/05302 (A13, 3.4).

[10] DPC14/05302: CCQG Special Review of Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust: Finding, Document A18 Tab E. It identifies major problems such as dangerous lighting problems, unstable hand rails, steep, slippery and uneven paths.

[11] Ibid. The Trust closed the road for 8 days in May 2003 due to concerns about public safety.

[12] Ibid. The systems in some caves date from the 1930s and 1940s and the majority are from the 1960s. Wires and junction boxes are left exposed to the environment. Trust staff frequently have to make running repairs to keep the lighting system working, giving rise to occupational health and safety concerns.

[13] Ibid. Some handrails are made of lead and have become unstable. In some caves these hand rails do not adequately protect visitors where there are steep drops of 2 to 4 metres. The above ground infrastructure also suffers from unstable handrails and walls, and uneven steep paths.

[14] Ibid. A risk analysis was undertaken by the treasury managed fund in 1996 stated that serious injury and high financial loss for the government are likely to result from slips and trips caused by faulty steps, rusty and aged handrails and cracked, uneven and slippery paths.

[15] The following people were present in cabinet when it was decided that no funding would be allowed to benefit the lessee on 3 September 2003: Premier Carr; S Miller, Premier’s Office; C Gellatly, Premier’s Department; Michael Egan, Treasurer; M Coutts-Trotter, Treasurer’s Office; J Pearce, Treasury; K Cosgriff, Treasury; I Neale, Treasury; M Ronsisvalle, Treasury. Amongst the matters agreed at the meeting was that “the government would not support any recommendations that involve public moneys being used to benefit the current lessee of Jenolan Caves House. Cabinet Standing Committee on the Budget: Minutes of the meeting held on 3 September 2003.

[16] Council on the Cost and Quality of Government, CCQG Special Review on the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust, page33.

[17] DPC15/00019: Letter from Prof Richard Mackay to Bob Debus, in relation to “Resourcing the Management and Operation of the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust” 17 June 2003, Tab A5.

[18] JCRT Business Papers- Draft Minutes of Board Meeting: “Main Road 253- Stability” 24 July 2002.

[19] DPC15/00019: Michael Bushby RTA Presentation: Jenolan Caves Road “Presentation on the Progress of Geotechnical Investigation” 3 October 2003 Slide 8, Tab A26.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Jenolan Caves access Road Closed- ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Posted Sat May 24 2003, 8:02am AEST, accessed on 6 December 2012, at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2003-05-24/jenolan-caves-access-road-closed/1858680.

[22] DPC15/00019: Letter from Prof Richard Mackay to Bob Debus, in relation to “Resourcing the Management and Operation of the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust” 17 June 2003, Tab A5.

[23] Minutes of the Board Meeting of the JCRT held on Wednesday 20 August 2003, at Billabong Tea House, Trunkey Creek commencing at 2:30pm, Point 1.4(a) Chair’s Report, page 2.

[24] Ibid.

[25] DPC14/05302, A1, ‘Cabinet Standing Committee on the Budget – Minutes of the Meeting 3 September 2003’.

[26] Premier Bob Carr’s letter to R J Debus, Attorney General, Minister of the Environment of 15 August 2003 (File Number: RRD/01505) obtained through FOI-DPC14/05302 on 12 February 2015.DPC14/05302 (A5).

[27] DPC14/05302 A14 JCRT Review: CCQG Recommendations 31 October 2003, p42.

[28] DPC14/05302 A14 Special Review: JCRT by Percy Allan on or about 19 November 2003, p44.

[29] DPC14/05302: Cabinet Standing Committee on the Budget minutes of the Meeting held on Wednesday 2 December 2003, was attended by Premier Carr, Environment Minister Debus, Minister for Road Scully and Minister for Police Watkins, Tab p16.

[30] Ibid.

[31] National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Abercrombie, Jenolan and Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserves) Bill, Second Reading, 5 December 1996, page7040.

[32] Hansard, 4 June 2004, NSW Parliament, Second reading, National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust) Bill, p 9658.

[33] Ibid, p 9659.

[34] Hansard, 12 October 2005, NSW Parliament, National Parks And Wildlife Amendment (Jenolan Caves Reserves) Bill Hansard, p 18454.

[35] Ibid, p 18460.

[36] Ibid. Richardson Statement.

[37] Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust- Appointment of Administrator, Memorandum of Advice, T.F. Robertson SC, Fredrick Jordan Chambers, 7 September 2003, p4.

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