THE three people lunching at Pacino's on Rockhampton's riverbank had reason to "celebrate”.
According to Keppel MP Brittany Lauga, Tower Holding's development manager Anthony Aiossa and Livingstone Mayor Bill Ludwig and Ms Lauga raised their glasses for a toast believing Tower had all but secured financial backing for the 1500-job Great Keppel Island redevelopment.
That was November last year: fast forward to August 2017 and Tower Holdings has still not secured that investment.
Ms Lauga this week revealed her version of the restaurant conversation that gave reason for optimism going into Christmas.
She said Mr Aiossa had told them Tower had been speaking with three investors and were entering a due diligence phase with one investor - a Chinese investment firm.
"Anthony told us that the firm would be a perfect fit because their businesses and investments align so well with the GKI project,” she said.
"He said the best part about the Chinese firm's interest was that they didn't care about a casino licence.”
Ms Lauga said they celebrated at lunch with a glass of wine and all toasted to the "exciting news”.
"Anthony told us to expect an announcement by Christmas. Christmas came and went and there was no announcement,” Ms Lauga said.
"I called Anthony in January 2017 and he said they were still proceeding with due diligence.
"One month before Tower is required to start work in accordance with the conditions of the lease and here they are saying they do need a casino licence again.”
Ms Lauga said Keppel needed jobs and this was the heart of the issue.
"I suggested to Tower last year that they consider scaling back Stage 1 and applying for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to get a slice of the $5 billion in concessional finance for infrastructure.
"Other resort developments on the Queensland coast are using innovative ways to develop eco-friendly resorts, whereas Tower keeps on the same old casino adage.”
"Many in the local community have told me they don't care about a casino; they would just love to see something started that could offer a family-friendly eco-resort which would in turn create new jobs and business opportunities.”
Having already invested $50 million into the redevelopment of Great Keppel Island Resort, Tower Holdings chairman Terry Agnew has hit back at Ms Lauga in a bid to set the record straight.
He was disappointed with Ms Lauga's comments against the Great Keppel Island project and about the project not having commenced yet.
"Brittany knows very well that the granting of a casino license to kick-start the Great Keppel Island project was her number one issue that she used in her previous election campaign,” he said in a statement to The Morning Bulletin yesterday.
"However, immediately after being elected as the Member for Keppel she abandoned the project on a number of occasions including not turning up to a public rally for the project at the last minute, standing up and voting against the issuing of a license for the project in the Queensland Parliament, continuing to be critical of Tower Holdings in the media and a reluctant to get involved and assist the project in the current lease negotiations with the state.”
"After turning her back on the project in 2015, Brittany has provided no genuine support for the project and has not undertaken any material actions to help. Rather, she continues to play political games with the project and stir up controversy with her ongoing negative comments”.
"The time has come for the Member for Keppel to stop playing politics with the project and make it clear where she stands. If she really wants the project to happen, she will support the granting of a casino license as she did when she was originally elected and she will assist with the current lease dealings. Otherwise, it will be clear to all that she has well and truly given up on Great Keppel Island”.
He called on Ms Lauga to stand by her "election promise” or resign.
"Brittany was clearly elected on the promise that she made to the electorate that she would support a casino license for Great Keppel,” he said.
"If she was honest now, she would stick to this promise or resign from her position.”
He said he is looking for support to get the project moving after a 10 year commitment that continues today, not a mud-slinging match.
"I would like to set the record straight. In my discussions and correspondence with Ms Lauga, I have made it very clear that the project cannot start until such time as we have external project funding in place,” Mr Agnew said.
"She knows this very well and I have told her and my staff have told her on numerous occasions.
"My company has already invested $50 million cash into this project and we have worked tirelessly to raise the necessary project funding.”
Mr Agnew said Ms Lauga claims that he told her that they do not need a casino license to start the project.
"This comment was taken completely out of context and is deliberately misleading to the public. I made it very clear to Ms Lauga that if we had finance in place, the project could start with or without a casino license, this was reiterated in an ABC interview in August last year” he said.
"However, it has proved extremely difficult thus far to secure the project finance without a casino license. As I have previously said, if a casino license was provided to the Great Keppel Island project this would allow us to secure the project finance to start the project. It is this simple.
"Maybe Ms Lauga does not understand the financial realities of raising finance for a new business venture.
"Sometimes it is not easy and it is certainly not easy in Central Queensland at the moment. I am sure that the thousands of local small businesses owners and anyone else that has had to get a bank loan will be able to relate to this.”