Roy Weavers: Positive new era for Douglas Shire

Monday December 16th 2013

Positive new era for Douglas Shire

The new year, 2014, heralds a new era; a new beginning for the re-established Douglas Shire. 

Not many regions get a second chance to start again but that’s just what the Douglas Shire, here in the far north of Queensland, has achieved.

It looks like a tough job ahead.

But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that there are a lot of positives to take from 2013 to help ensure that this new Douglas Shire achieves its goal of ‘affordable sustainability’ or maybe it’s easier to think of it in lay mans terms…’getting ourselves back on our own two feet and managing to stay upright’.

Despite warnings of unsustainability from both the state government and Queensland Treasury Department, there is a refreshing determination, a positivity shared by residents, and the newly elected Mayor and her Councillors, to succeed against what must often seem like insurmountable odds.

New challenges appear at every turn, with the latest from the transfer of Cairns Regional Council staff to Douglas. This problem has had to go right to the very top level to try to find a solution. And it would seem that Douglas' transfer manager fights a valiant daily battle with our previous masters in Cairns to extricate an equitable balance upon which our initial budget, at least, gives us a chance to move forward after the January 1st handover.

But, regardless of all this negativity, a positive attitude still prevails. The 2013 holiday season delivered a second straight year of good trading, with excellent numbers of visitors to help the tourism industry continue its revival.

New confidence can be drawn from reports of an imminent refurbishment of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas. This alone is not the region's saviour, but the positive waves that emanate from this news send a shiver of excitement right through the region.

Many dormant development projects are already starting to ‘pop their heads above the parapets’ and appear back on the table, bringing with them an air of forward planning that gathers momentum with every passing day.

We have even had a roundabout completed at the entrance to Port Douglas, where our urgent pleas to landscape it were heard at the eleventh hour, thus ensuring a pleasant aspect for visitors as they arrived at the gateway to their holiday paradise.

2013 also saw Mossman generate an energy not seen for many years. The Mossman Gorge continued it meteoric rise in global popularity. Woolworths Limited made a significant investment into the new retail complex, which will see a retail store worthy of any major city in Australia, plus job generation and a new, commercial attraction to the region.

Mackay Sugar have massive expansion plans for Mossman Mill, which should see the operation profitable for the first time in over a decade.  Again more jobs and more focus on our agricultural industry.

There’s even positive talk of fulfilling a long held dream for the creation of the Mossman Botanic Gardens project which, if successful, will deliver another national, indeed a global draw card for the area as both a tourist attraction and world class educational facility.

So what conclusions can be drawn from all this activity?

If this positive energy is allowed to disseminate and slip through our fingers, because old attitudes won’t change to embrace the prospects that this progress is capable of delivering, then unlike our success with de-amalgamation, our second chance will become our last chance.

To have achieved so much in the last few years, in spite of the external negative pressures brought to bear on our small community, it is a tribute to those who refused to lie down.

We have a diverse menu of things going for us in the new Douglas Shire. We have the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree River and Rainforest. We have an indomitable spirit for self-determination, as demonstrated by the efforts to regain our local government. And we have a community spirit that saw Port Douglas, Mossman and the Daintree stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defeat what they saw as a common enemy. All this progress cannot be allowed to slip backwards because people are unsure about progress.

I want to see controlled growth. I want to see this community get stronger and stronger. I campaigned for an events strategy in the recent local election because I believe that having fun is one of the best methods of generating community spirit and giving us an opportunity to celebrate the lifestyle we enjoy in the place we chose to live. And, relatively, it doesn’t cost much to showcase our region.

I know the new council isn’t going to have much - if any - money to splash around for recreational grants, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop creating events to promote and protect our culture, arts, sports and lifestyle.

There are many alternatives to help with funding. Tourism Events Queensland (TEQ) is certainly one of the leading organisations. They have a simple criteria when considering funding for project applications. TEQ simply asks ‘Does your event bring people to the area?’  If the answer is, ‘Yes’, then TEQ will consider the proposal.

Of course, there are other third party investors, and we may have to work hard to find them. Whilst the Council may not be able to help fund these events, they can help influence those third parties  to channel funds our way. Our job is to come up with a comprehensive events strategy and calendar of events that attract visitors to the region and will make our lives more fun along the way.

I now have an opportunity to assist in seeing that events strategy become a reality. I have been appointed the general manager of the Douglas Shire's 2014 Carnivale, and I am determined to ensure the momentum that has built up over the past few years is accelerated through the Carnivale and out into the rest of the year.

I’m delighted to report that the Mossman Rodeo is back for the 2014 Carnivale, as I see that as the first small step to ensuring the Carnivale spirit spreading throughout the region. If anyone has any other ideas from any part of the Douglas Shire, I want to hear about them; this is our whole Shire's Carnivale.

If we can consolidate and harness this positivity around the Shire and turn it back into our once envied community spirit, whether targeted at leisure activities or business activities, then that energy will bear fruit one hundred fold throughout the rest of Australia and the world.

We already know the outside world has heard of our area. Let’s work harder together to reaffirm that deserved  reputation and show visitors and investors that what they have heard is one hundred per cent correct.

It doesn’t take much to get things going, you’ve just got to want to help it start!

Here’s to the new Douglas Shire 2014!