Monday 6 August 2007

Notes on Port Douglas rally


I travelled from Cairns on Sunday, August 5, to support the Port Douglas rally because I am enthusiastic, not without reservation, about the Queensland Government’s amalgamation agenda.

In my small way, I wanted to express my belief that the residents of present-day Douglas Shire should be represented properly by the proposed super-shire known as Cairns Regional Council.

I politely refused to carry an anti-Jason O’Brien placard when it was offered to me because I had no desire to bash the Queensland Government nor its hard-working local Member for Parliament over sound economic development and social policy.

I am concerned that a Cairns Regional Council will run roughshod over Douglas Shire’s values if a gung-ho pro-development council is elected in 2008.
There is much for Cairns to learn from Douglas Shire about how to manage tourism development and to ensure caring for the environment becomes an ingrained part of our values, culture and ways of doing business.

I have admired the Shire Mayor Mike Berwick for many years and still do for his proactive role in ensuring Douglas Shire remained liveable and environmentally sustainable in the wake of keen interest from tourism developers.

Mike has done so much to make Douglas Shire a model for sustainable development that really works.

Mike spoke well about his heart-felt concerns about what might happen after amalgamation wirth Cairns.

Realising the reality of amalgamation he didn’t waste time on motherhood statements, but declared he would continue to fight for Port Douglas’s iconic status. This was a “second-rate option”, he said. But obviously he believes doing nothing is not an option either.

However, my heart sank as several speakers after Mike lied outrageously to the community they claimed to love. The loss of credibility weakened their case.

Douglas Shire can come up with many compelling arguments against amalgamation. They have every right to worry about the fate of their development control plans. They have every right to be worried about a lack of representation on Cairns Regional Council.

Despite the poor behaviour of some councillors and staff, Douglas Shire was in a sound financial position. They have less debt and they pay reasonable rates unlike us in Cairns.

Douglas Shire Council has excellent responsive staff who are close to their community. I wouldn’t like to criticise staff in Cairns City Council except to say that when I once had a serious problem following a flood, I found the Customer Service lady most unfriendly and most unhelpful. To her I was just another whingeing sod. I doubt very much you would get this at Douglas Shire Council.

Council staff have every right to fear a loss of their jobs during this time of uncertainty.

The amalgamation process was fast and sudden and deserves criticism.

Unfortunately, instead of putting forward valid arguments against amalgamation, most speakers chose to manipulate the fiery emotions of their audience. In doing so, the speakers detracted from the credibility of their cause.

We were told that Port Douglas would lose its identity.

We were told Port Douglas would lose its branding as a major international tourism destination. In fact, it was a tourism promoter who made this ignorant and outrageous claim.

We were told the local economy would be ruined.

We were told that the sugar industry and the local mill would collapse. Well, at least that was the implication.

We were told amalgamation would divide the Aborigines’ clan areas. At the same time we were told the local clans would be put in conflict with Cairns clans.

We heard that if staff were forced to commute to Cairns they would have to travel on a bad road.

We heard that the local MP, Member for Cook Jason O’Brien, had turned his back on the community. In fact, one offensive speaker described Jason as “skulking” at the back of the protest meeting.

The audience lapped all this up. My prediction is that in years to come they will be embarrassed for saying these things and actually believing them.

Let me address these emotive lies.

Identity: Port Douglas will never lose its identity. Nor will Mossman. Nor will Daintree. These are substantial, progressive well known communities. Port Douglas is a powerful brand name with an international reputation. It doesn’t matter where a shire boundary lies, Port Douglas will always be there. All local government areas have various centres within their boundaries. The only way a community loses its identity is if no-one lives there anymore. Has Babinda lost its identity? Certainly not. It is a strong vibrant community that demonstrated its strong sense of community and identity after Cyclone Larry. Have Mossman and Daintree lost their identities being part of Douglas Shire. In Dalrymple Shire, for example, you have such towns as Ravenswood, Mingela, Pentland, Homestead, Balfe’s Creek, Greenvale and Harvey’s Range as well as those residential areas around Charters Towers. All these communities have their own unique identities. It is fair to say they share a community of interest as well. If Port Douglas loses its identity then that will only be the fault of the community. And I don’t believe for one minute the people of Douglas Shire will give up their identity. How dare the speakers at the rally paint such a negative picture of the people in their community.

Loss of tourism: The Douglas Shire Tourism speaker should hang is head in shame. If he thinks Port Douglas will lose out on tourism, then he is not doing his job properly. Maybe he should quit. Promoting Port Douglas must be the easiest job in the country. The very name conjures up images of tropical holidays, tourist resorts, the Great Barrier Reef, beaches, palm trees, rainforest, sugar cane fields and a laidback lifestyle. Cairns is a popular tourism destination too. If anything amalgamation offers an opportunity for a joint branding of Cairns-Port Douglas. Sounds like a winner to me.

The economy: Lines on a map do not wreck an economy. Even the most stupid Cairns City Councillor will be keen to see Port Douglas’s economy boom. Even the most stupid politician in Brisbane wants to see Port Douglas continue to boom. Who doesn’t? Port Douglas can still do business.

Sugar industry: If the sugar industry collapses, it can’t be blamed on amalgamation in any shape or form. If the mill closes, it can’t be blamed on amalgamation. Market forces decide, international sugar prices and overseas competition are the main economic hazards. The sugar industry is vital for the economy of the whole of Far North Queensland. We all have a stake in it.

Aboriginal clans: Clan areas have been around long before white man came along and established shire boundaries and today they cross many shire boundaries. So where’s the problem if shire boundaries change? Douglas Shire clans concerned about conflict with Cairns clans? Sounds like there is already conflict between them if that is the case. Perhaps they should look at amalgamation as an opportunity to overcome conflict and become a united voice.

Captain Cook Highway: I would love to attend a rally to demand the upgrade of this road to make it safer. I wonder if its present state is because Cairns and Douglas have not been cooperating effectively to demand an upgrade. But in the meantime, people already commute to Cairns from Port Douglas and Mossman. Commuters come down from Mareeba too, a less safe road.

“Skulking” Jason O’Brien: Had Jason not attended the rally, the crowd would have condemned him as gutless as some did before it was announced he was in attendance. Jason was far from skulking. He was there to face the music from Douglas Shire voters. I was disgusted with the mob behaviour that drowned out his address. These are the people who claim erroneously that the Queensland Government was undemocratic. Yet they undemocratically tried to prevent Jason have a say. I can understand and appreciate Jason’s frustration at not being allowed to present his case. Nevertheless, he persevered and it is a shame that so many people attending the rally will be forever ignorant of what he was trying to say. By speaking honestly and by speaking the truth, Jason reminded me of Cordelia. He revealed his passion for the region and for the people of the community and his desire for greater economic development. But instead rally protesters preferred to hear what they wanted to hear from the Gonerils and Regans who used lies in claiming their love for their area. Jason was perfectly correct to say that Port Douglas’s future is forever entwined with that of Cairns. Douglas Shire relies on Cairns. (After all, the boundary is only 30km down the road). And Cairns benefits from its links with Douglas Shire. Amalgamation offers fantastic economic opportunities for the entire region. I applaud Jason’s concern first and foremost about the uncertainty of council staff jobs and his open apology to the acting CEO and her staff was heartfelt. I admire Jason’s restraint in the face of personal abuse. The shabby treatment is a blot on a community that prides its position in the hospitality industry. Far from being gutless or skulking, Jason was one of the few speakers who actually stood up for the community in a constructive manner. He was an inspiration. Courage under fire. Being right and being honest doesn’t always equate with popularity. But in time, his detractors will acknowledged his foresight and honesty.

Other things that could have been said.

The Queensland Government may have been politically single-minded in how it managed this process, but it has not acted undemocratically. Local Government operates under a State Government Act. It is perfectly entitled under the Constitution to manage Local Government. Councils are not laws unto themselves as some councillors seem to think.

Douglas Shire has about 11,000 residents, which is not much more than a single division in Cairns. Very little democracy in smaller shires having their own council with similar councillor numbers to larger shire and cities.

Representation doesn’t always mean effective representation. Douglas Shire Council has been a basket case during the present term. I hope an amalgamated council will mean voters will be careful who they vote for. If it is undivided council I will certainly look to ensure Douglas Shire is represented on a future council, that is if they have good strong effective candidates. Having your own council doesn’t necessary mean you are going to get good councillors or administration.

In fact, a future Douglas Shire Council could well be won over by the development-at-any-cost brigade. While Douglas has entrenched environmental values at present, things can change with or without amalgamation. An indicator of this was when Labor candidate for Leichhardt Jim Turnour was told to not talk about climate change. Is Douglas Shire that angry about amalgamation that they don’t care about the most important environmental issue in the country/ the world today? If so the environmental values held today may be on shaky ground tomorrow.

While adequate representation is always a concern, amalgamated councils will have more clout. Individual councils with individual agendas, sometimes conflicting, will always have difficulties lobbying state and federal ministers and departments. A united voice has more victories.


Anonymous said...

A well thought-out and equally well presented argument, congratulations Michael. Some other points you and others might like to consider.
Amalgamation is inevitable and irreversible, save a class action taking place that is.
The incumbent for Cairns, Kevin Byrnes has stated “he’s up for the challenge”? He has not stated that he will, in any way, shape or form arrest from his current “Developer’s Rule” attitude. He has in all his time in the job NOT done anything of substance to help protect or ensure the sustainability of the environment. (Sorry, Council have just handed out some 5000 butt shaped cigarette receptacles)
Cairns City Council’s Local law 24 Vegetation Protection is a farce and protects nothing, while Port Douglas Council’s Vegetation Protection Law is one of the better examples to be found throughout the state and is well enforced.
Cairns City Council will ignore EPA recommendations or State guidelines and develop within 1 metre of a creek or tributary to a creek and if the developer asks $ they will convert these creeks and waterways into drainage easements. Douglas Shire ensures waterways are protected and not encroached upon.
Cairns City Council does not have foreshore building lines along some of the Northern Beaches, thus allowing development to take place in Erosion Protection Zones even going so far as to allow an exclusive beachfront development to the northern end of Clifton beach. This development has destroyed many old growth trees, carved roads through wetlands and destroyed creek banks and interfered with essential habitats. Yet Cairns City Council and Local Councillor for the area consider they’ve done nothing wrong and see this style of development as “NORMAL”
Tourists are drawn here by the areas natural, untouched beauty. With that in mind, picture a group of developer strolling through Newell Beach the Daintree or Cape Tribulation with Kevin Byrnes in their pocket, they’d be like a bunch of kids in a candy store, uncontrollable!!

Anonymous said...

Development?? I must confess, as a fourth generation born Far North Queenslander who can remember Port Douglas when it was a fishing village with fibro cottages, one street and an empty beach, it really cracked me up when I heard from Port Douglas people say that amalgamation would see "development go mad in the Shire."
Why is development going mad anyway?? Anyone ever heard of "negative gearing" and "capital gains" taxes?