‘Mad’ Maha: You ain’t seen nothing yet

Springfield City Group chairman Maha Sinnathamby – Greater Springfield’s own “Gandhi” or “most annoying man”, depending where you stand, has vowed to never give up harassing local, State and Federal Government officials to achieve his dreams for the master-planned community.

The 78-year-old businessman, speaking at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Brookwater Golf and Country Club yesterday, confessed that even his wife thought he was mad when he first pursued his bold plans.

But it seems that persistence had paid off over 25 years since the first sod was turned with more than $16 billion dollars spent on infrastructure to date.

Mr Sinnathamby outlined some of his future visions for a region based on education, health, technology and lifestyle – a community with significance to the nation, not just Ipswich or Queensland.

The population of Greater Springfield – made up of six suburbs, Springfield Central, Springfield Lakes, Brookwater, Augustine Heights, Spring Mountain and Springfield – currently stands at 41,000 and was expected to grow by another 100,000 in decades to come.

“We are committed to seeing this newer city emerge as a force in this country. The (former) Prime Minister said this is a nation building exercise and it’s a project of national significance. Just watch this space, we are only 25 per cent developed across this whole area. You haven’t seen anything yet. I don’t sleep and I won’t let anyone sleep until we get there,” he said.

Mr Sinnathamby said there had been 1,100 births in Greater Springfield in the past year and there would likely be 1,000 more every year, thanking local mums and encouraging them to keep up the good work, a la then treasurer Peter Costello (“have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country”).

“We need the youth to drive this country, to recharge this country,” he said.

The Malaysian-born entrepreneur talked about his years of “failure”, at school, university and in early business life. But he embraced that failure, was “proud” of it and turned it around into staggering personal and financial success since buying thousands of hectares of dirt and trees designated for mining halfway between Ipswich and Brisbane.

His mantra continues to be: The darkest night always brings the brightest dawn. The sun always comes, just keep going. And, perhaps not surprisingly, his driving force and inspiration is Gandhi.

Mr Sinnathamby said he used to drive taxis at night while studying in Sydney, did up second hand cars and sold them … “any means to survive”.

He said he was not driven by money, with his wealth and fortune coming from the overall success of his visionary project, as he describes it.

“I would like to think we can add value to human beings. We are totally committed to enhancing human and social capital.

“Take the 41,000 we have here in Springfield and compare them to the 41,000 anywhere in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth … this 41,000 is highly valued.

“We have 15 schools, all within five minutes of each other. We are a seven-minute city, from one end to the other end. Cities all over the world are frantically trying to recreate this model. Cities which become congested become ineffective and dysfunctional. We are talking about 30kms an hour in Brisbane.

“We had this in mind when we started 25 years ago and we are starting to reap the benefits and people learning, living and working in the area.

“The Premier (Annastacia Palaszczuk) recently said Greater Springfield is a multi-billion dollar contributor to the Queensland economy.

“Today over $16 billion has been spent in Greater Springfield. The project is moving at over $600 million per annum.

“When this land came on the market, no company wanted to buy it. We were swimming against a very, very fierce tide.

“People kept saying no, no, no … it cannot be done. You have no money and no experience.”

He said both the Ipswich City Council and State Government were initially not supportive, but he managed to talk them around.

Former Queensland deputy premier and treasurer Terry Mackenroth, who recently died of cancer, once told him he did not have “any hope” of it succeeding.

But years later Mr Mackenroth was full of praise for Mr Sinnathamby and business partner/deputy chairman Bob Sharpless … “the minister was a great believer later on, he said many times: you were right”.

“We kept on annoying the minister, again and again. We kept going on. Just keep following them until they say yes.”

It was a similar story later on with then premier Peter Beattie who had continued to “avoid” him at all costs. Mr Sinnathamby said he had to wrangle his way into a Beattie overseas trade mission and securing the seat next to him on the plane to get in the ear of the high-profile Labor leader.

Mr Beattie once revealed that Mr Sinnathamby was a “pain” in the rear but his persistence was overwhelming. Before long, all levels of government were ultimately on board with the Greater Springfield vision.

“For the first time a master-planned city was given birth, other than Canberra,” he said.

But it didn’t end there. Four years of booming land sales went bust and the team faced a multi-million debt with the banks. They managed to pay it off and again turned it around.

“There have been plenty of other challenges,” he said, perhaps the understatement of the quarter-century of Greater Springfield.

In true Gandhi style, Mr Sinnathamby’s advice to all was quite simple: Have faith in yourself and never give up.

Maha’s visions for Springfield:

Education: We now have 15 educational establishments and about 15,000 students, with more to come. It took us eight years to get USQ. 44.6 per cent of our population is in one form of education. We drive education very hard.

Health: Mater has approval for 1200 beds (for the hospitals expansion). Aveo is there with (living facilities being built) for 2500 senior citizens. Health City will provide jobs for 19,100 people. We have 52 hectares for health.

Religion: There is increasing growth in churches. We welcome the churches. We want pastors … who are there to help the community with any social problems. We have less policemen in the area.

IT: We have a 40 hectare site for a mini Silicon Valley. A lot of things are happening here. Between health, education and IT, we have 122 hectares dedicated for 35,000 highly trained individuals.

Population: It is currently at 41,000 and can grow to 138,000. The ripple effect will create an impact in Logan and Brisbane.

Retail: Further expansion across the suburbs. Orion Springfield Central shopping centre now has $750 million expenditure each year.

Infrastructure: More than $16 billion has been spent in Greater Springfield. The project is moving at over $600 million per annum. (The estimated cost on completion will be $85 billion).

Start-ups, innovation and technology: We have 40 hectares devoted to IDEA City (Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship and the Arts). We will be attracting companies who are highly talented in technology.

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