Prestigious yacht club accused of using COVID funds for debt
QUEENSLAND'S most exclusive sailing club is accused of secretly withholding state government COVID relief from members to pay off massive debt.
The Courier-Mail understands the elite Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron is continuing to charge berth rental fees despite receiving six months' rent relief from April for marina tenants under a $4bn government stimulus package.
Angry berth holders are calling on the 135-year-old club, whose members include the state's biggest movers and shakers, to "be transparent" as it battles losses of $248,000 for the year ending April 30.
Long-term member Mike Freebairn said the government's "seabed lease" waiver should be passed to all tenants, as other clubs had done.
"It is not the squadron's money as the landlord to keep, yet they are telling us nothing. It's pretty distressing," Mr Freebairn, 46, said.
Only 20 of the Manly marina's 594 boats are commercial, but he said all boat owners supported associated trades including electricians, mechanics and shipwrights so the stimulus package should be equally distributed.
"People might say, 'You're a boat owner, you can afford it', but we have not been able to use our boats for months, due to restrictions. Club facilities closed, staff were laid off and volunteers have been mowing the lawns and upkeeping facilities, yet we are still paying full fees.
"We are all hurting, including the tradies we boat owners support, yet it appears the squadron is using the subsidy to offset its debt," Mr Freebairn said.
Berth leases cost from $34,000 to $490,000 and run to 2041, with a half-yearly fee of up to $815 per berth.
Annual membership costs up to $1100, with life members including jewellery magnate Wallace Bishop and property developer Kevin Miller.
A 30-year member who declined to be named said he was concerned the club was trying to profiteer from money that should go to marina tenants, and it needed to "be transparent".
Another member said the situation was "unjust".
Squadron general manager Shawn Kent said that allegations of misuse of government relief were "mischievous and wrong".
"We were given a quantum of rent relief for the whole marina for six months but the department stipulated we must look after our commercial tenants, those with charter boats, game fishing boats and the like, to keep people in jobs," Mr Kent said.
"We knew most of those 20 people, and we scoured our records to find out the others, then knocked on their hulls and gave them the good news.
"The Department of Transport and Main Roads gave all marinas rent relief, and some clubs have chosen to pass this on to members but those clubs do not have large sailing fraternities and our marina is only part of our not-for-profit organisation.
"If we were to pass on relief in its entirety it would cost us money to administer and that would not have a positive impact on our club."
Mr Kent admitted the relief was "a saving to the club" and said it was benefiting "all 4000-plus members", which included social, crew, school and families.
"We usually make a net profit of about $100,000 and we were heading for that until COVID, and that's after investing literally millions in our sport and developing young sailors."
The RQYS annual general meeting will be held on Tuesday night.