CEO of Destination Gold Coast, Annaliese Battista. Picture: Jerad Williams
CEO of Destination Gold Coast, Annaliese Battista. Picture: Jerad Williams

Drama behind tourism boss’s shock exit

Departed Gold Coast tourism boss Annaliese Battista had a spectacular fallout with several key corporate heavyweights and had lost the confidence of Tourism Minister Kate Jones and Mayor Tom Tate.

After two years in the job, Ms Battista resigned suddenly last week, effective immediately. Both Ms Battista and Destination Gold Coast chairman Paul Donovan refused to elaborate on her shock exit, as others questioned the timing in the middle of a global pandemic and with the city facing fiscal headwinds.

'Feathers were ruffled': Tourism leader's shock exit

Ms Battista's forthright criticism of the Palaszczuk Government won her few friends in George Street. There were also concerns from senior city powerbrokers about Gold Coast Destination's visibility during the pandemic and allegations of staff unrest.

The final trigger for Ms Battista's departure came after Destination Gold Coast couldn't convince the council that it needed more money for a major post COVID marketing campaign.

Gold Coast City Council is Destination Gold Coast's biggest source of funding, handing over about $15 million a year.

Not once but twice, Ms Battista appeared before council to plead her organisation's case for an extra $7 million to promote the city as part of its revival strategy.

The request for extra funding was rejected and council insiders say it had become increasingly clear that Mayor Tate and the majority of his councillors were concerned at the tourism body's ongoing direction.

It can now be revealed that Ms Battista played a crucial role in an integrity probe into her former employer, the City of Perth.

A 2000-page report released last week - on the day she resigned from the Gold Coast job - outlined her role in the saga that led to the downfall of former City of Perth Mayor, Lisa Scaffidi.

As the former director of economic development and activation at the City of Perth, Ms Battista referred former Lord Mayor Scaffidi, her property developer husband Joe and former council CEO Martin Mileham to WA's Corruption and Crime Commission on August 25, 2016.

The complaint related to Joe Scaffidi's ownership of the Grand Central Hotel and a heritage listing application.

The inquiry into the City of Perth cost $7.2 million. Ms Battista gave evidence behind closed doors.

The report found no evidence of corruption or impropriety against Ms Scaffidi. In the final days of the council's dysfunction in 2018, Ms Battista was installed acting CEO for six days when Mr Mileham went on stress leave.

The inquiry exonerated Scaffidi and Mileham on the Grand Central complaint, albeit Scaffidi was found to have discussed the matter with a fellow councillor.

According to the report, Ms Battista made eight allegations of serious misconduct against the City of Perth's catering boss, Dillon Fernando.

He was stood down on full pay and when the investigation was concluded, Ms Battista wrote to him saying seven of the eight accusations had been substantiated.

He was subsequently sacked.

Ms Battista told the then CEO Mr Mileham that then Lord Mayor, Cr Scaffidi, had prevented her from her ability to "appropriately discipline, performance manage ultimately terminate his employment''.

In evidence to the inquiry, Ms Battista said:

"Council members didn't have either the knowledge or the ability to make informed decisions or judgments about any employee other than the CEO because they simply don't have the exposure.''

Mr Fernando made an unfair dismissal claim to the Fair Work Commission and after a review, the parties agreed to rescind the dismissal and allow Mr Fernando to resign.

Flying into fury over bush deal

The bush is fighting back on exorbitant airfares and a moratorium on most western aviation routes since COVID-19.

Outspoken outback tourism figure Danny Sheehan has written to state MPs and mayors asking them to "get fair dinkum'' about the airfare imbroglio.

"It's time to stand up to QantasLink and demand a fair go,'' he said.

Mr Sheehan claims that Qantas' stranglehold on western Queensland aviation routes has created the problem. None of the regulated routes into Roma, Charleville, Blackall, Barcaldine and Longreach have had regular flights since March.

Barcaldine and Blackall have received no flights.

"Flights to Longreach were to be reinstated in July, then August, and now it's four flights a week in September,'' he told the politicians.

"The flights are Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, so people can't even get away for a weekend.''

Airfares between Longreach and Brisbane are regularly charged at more than $1000 for one way.

Once again, the bush gets the raw end of the prawn, as it does on so many COVID-19 implications.

Court cost saver

Amid all the pandemic doom and gloom it seems there are some winners in family law.

Most family law court matters are now being conducted via video link such as Zoom, reducing costs for cash-strapped litigants by as much as 50 per cent. Expect more courtroom matters before video link.

Green coal votes

There's a delicious irony attached to the LNP's candidate for South Brisbane, Clem Grehan. An engineer by trade, Grehan currently works on the Dawson coalmine for Anglo American.

The LNP has put Labor's Jackie Trad last on its how-to-vote card - meaning Grehan's preferences will be going to the anti-coal Greens before the ALP.


Clem Grehan. Picture: Isaac Lawrence
Clem Grehan. Picture: Isaac Lawrence


Funeral ban

A man and his wife have been forced to fork out $5000 for legal fees and to self-isolate for 14 days in a hotel after returning to Queensland from Melbourne for his father-in-law's funeral.

They were told they couldn't return for the funeral and deployed lawyers to get the ruling changed.

"The emotional toil and stress, the financial cost of this pandemic, is something else,'' the exasperated man said.

Premier fight

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will be ringside in Townsville for the Jeff Horn-Tim Tszyu mega boxing match on August 26.

A crowd of 15,000 will cram into the new stadium for the event. Horn is the $2.70 underdog.

London calling

The employment contract for the much coveted Agent-General's job in London has been extended for another year.

It is currently held by Linda Apelt, an adjunct professor with the Institute of Social Science Research at the University of Queensland. If Labor wins on October 31, expect Ms Apelt's successor to be a public servant whose profile has skyrocketed in recent months.

Project nerves

Last week's sackings at Channel 10 blindsided the entire Brisbane newsroom. Insiders say it was done in a calculating and businesslike manner.

The Project - much better suited to the ABC - remains for now but Ten sources say its highly paid stars are "very nervous'' as the company struggles in the current challenging media landscape.

Top job panel

The Gold Coast City Council has appointed a four-person panel to provide a shortlist for its $700,000-a-year chief executive job.

It's not clear whether long-serving chief executive Dale Dickson will retire or throw his hat into the ring for another term.

The panel comprises former Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley, Titans part-owner and businesswoman Rebecca Frizelle, property leviathan Soheil Abedian and lawyer Tony Hickey.

Grant probe

The Crime and Corruption Commission is finalising its investigation into former Premier's Office chief of staff David Barbagallo.

The CCC is probing the circumstances surrounding a $267,000 grant awarded to a company part-owned by Barbagallo as part of the state government's Advance Queensland Business Development Fund.

It will be interesting to see if the CCC probe's determination is announced before the October 31 election.


Chief of staff David Barbagallo (right) looks on as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks during estimate hearings at Queensland Parliament in Brisbane, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)
Chief of staff David Barbagallo (right) looks on as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks during estimate hearings at Queensland Parliament in Brisbane, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)


Cutting remark

A slam dunk from last week's Brisbane City Council meeting. Finance chair Adam Allan was listening to Gabba councillor Jono Sri calling for a 30 per cent pay cut for all councillors.

"It might be appropriate for you, Cr Sri, given about one third of your time is directed at non-council activities,'' Cr Allan said.

Cr Sri is a strong refugee protest advocate.

Betting on Don

A NSW punter has plonked $100,000 on Donald Trump to win the United States presidential election.

He put the money on at $2.15, meaning he will collect $215,000 if the Donald defies the polls and wins a second term. Joe Biden is firm favourite at $1.72.



Originally published as Drama behind tourism boss's shock exit