Graham confident she is a worthy Council candidate

Published Sunday 31 January 2016

After exclusively announcing she would be running for Council, Donna Graham said that based on her skill set in tourism, business, law and local government, it was enough for others to consider her a worthy candidate.

Growing up in Rockhampton, Ms Graham has called Port Douglas her home for 20 years.  First arriving in 1992 to take up a position as a solicitor at Greer and Timms until 1997, Graham then established her legal career as a barrister setting up private practice in Cairns, whilst still residing in Port Douglas.

In 2000 Graham established the Port Douglas Seafood House as a wholesale retail outlet, which she sold in 2002.  From 2002 to 2008 Graham was the first Group Manager for Raging Thunder one of Australia’s largest adventure tourism providers. Simultaneously, during 2000 to 2008, Graham also lectured for the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) as well as continuing with consultancy work.

Departing the Douglas Shire between 2008 and 2012, Graham took up a corporate council role within Glen Eira City Council in Melbourne and a role in economic sustainability within Regional Development Australia in Northern NSW.

Returning to the Shire in 2013, Graham took up a position on the Douglas Shire Council as the Manager of Development and Environment as part of the de-amalgamation, resigning late last year.

With her tourism, business and legal background together with local government, regional development and sustainability expertise, Graham feels she is up for the task as Councillor, stating earlier that she was heartened that so many approached her to run.

Graham said business and economic development is a top priority for the Shire and that a clear “Destination Management Plan” should be the priority.

“There is no clear position from Council about the use of Council assets and land for commercial activity.”

From Graham’s perspective, the link between tourism and business is lacking in substance in terms of getting tourists here and how Council assets feed into tourism.

“Business lacks certainty as there is no clear policy and position for the use of Council assets and land that feeds into the visitor experience,” she said.

Referring to a lack of connectivity between marketing tourism and business within the Shire, Graham stated that forward planning for businesses of availability and conditions of usage of Council assets is difficult.

In relation to pedestrian connectivity Graham believes also that information in relation to where things are for tourists and locals within the Shire is also lacking.

With the continuing long-term issues surrounding the Port Douglas Waterfront, Graham said the feedback she has received from business groups is that there has been a lack of action on Council’s part.

“I am highly supportive of the re-development of the marina and surrounding land, subject to certain long term public access to the waterfront and appropriate accommodation of the commercial fishing fleet,” she advised.

Regarding the Daintree and north of the river, Graham believes businesses are disadvantaged due to green buffers and set backs making it impossible to advertise their businesses.

As the Planning Scheme and Local Laws do not currently provide the ability to put appropriate signage in place within Council road reserve being adjacent to a footpath, Graham believes this must be addressed.

“I would certainly support an ‘across the river specific signage code’, which would allow opportunities to advertise,” said Graham.

In terms of the Mossman Botanic Garden (MBG) project, Graham believes any initiative that has the benefit of progressing the regions business development and economic growth is worth it.  Though not knowing the specific details of the MBG project, Graham implores that a robust business model must be in place for its sustainability.

“The business model needs to be carefully considered to ensure it is viable, especially when dealing with grant money,” she stated.

Another Mossman project that Graham believes will have a positive impact on the community is the Aged Care Facility.

“It’s fantastic and a credit to the committee because it’s been a very long process. With our ageing population, the facility becomes even more important as it stops our elders having to move away.”

Regarding the regions retail sector within a seasonal town and the continuation of empty retail shops, particularly in Port Douglas, Graham said this is unavoidable due to seasonable turnover.  Stating that though supply and demand can be a problem, as the town gets busier after the Sheraton redevelopment, Graham hopes that potential demand will pick up.

“There are revitalisation models that can remove ‘dead zones’ like the pop-up-shop concept whereby an arrangement is made at a reasonable three to six month rental,” she said.

As a result of the Douglas Business Forum, momentum has continued to gather in finding a solution to the unreliable internet connectivity and the NBN rollout.  Graham believes that access to high speed broadband is very important, as an enabler and a very important tool.

“All levels of government, in particular local, should be lobbying for a prompt NBN rollout.  Some wireless providers are offering high speed broadband.

“But local government can’t deliver on its own but can lobby providing an option to lure non-NBN providers,” she said.

Over the past two years since de-amalgamation, Graham said she has had considerable impact and involvement on matters concerning the region within her Council role as Manager of Development and Environment.

Graham states she was primarily responsible for the deal with the Sheraton Mirage as one of the single most important economic re-developments seeing its return as a fully functioning premium five star resort.

Also her involvement in re-establishing the Draft Planning Scheme as a new Council after de-amalgamation, “was certainly a lot of work”.  Graham stated that the Shire will have the opportunity to connect the Planning Scheme and Local Laws framework through community consultation on how it wants the Shire to develop, as they will be reviewed in a similar time frame, “this is a once in decade opportunity,” she said.

If elected a Councillor, Graham stated clearly and specifically what she plans to advocate for and how she plans to successfully take the Shire into 2020.

Referring to Council’s Coconut Management Plan, Graham said that via GPS tracking a physical audit of approximately 11,500 coconut palms were documented.  As an economic development study, Graham said she will be looking into the feasibility of a coconut processing plant within the Shire.

Another area of concern for Graham is the poor recycling and waste management practice currently in place within Council.  Relying on her sustainability expertise, Graham believes that as part of a waste management strategy, Council could operate on a closed loop system whereby a proportion of waste is converted into electricity and fuel through pyrolysis, which is the decomposition brought about by high temperatures.

Graham stated that the facility could be co-located near the Sugar Mill and Mossman sewerage plant in order to also utilise bio solids that are currently trucked into Mareeba, which Graham believes is a very expensive process to send waste and “flies in the face of a Clean and Green image.”

Another matter of concern in her role as Councillor will be in relation to understanding the financial viability of the Council stating it is the cornerstone of our survival. Graham believes having a detailed understanding of Council financial reporting can be achieved by thorough scrutiny.

“As Councillors, we should be looking at more detailed financial reporting and drilling down and understanding the different business units within Council,” she said.

Graham has also played a major role in her capacity as volunteering and involvement within community-based organisations; with the Northern NSW Koala Rescue and Rehabilitation program; as a Director of a Yeppoon boarding school; as an original committee member for the Low Isle Preservation Society; and within the Port Douglas Outriggers Club.