Michael Kerr is prepared to run as Councillor

Published Saturday 30 January 2016

Since running in the last election in November 2013, local community and business leader Michael Kerr says he has worked tirelessly over the past two years within the Shire to successfully make his mark within the community.

Originally from Melbourne, Mr Kerr and husband Jason Wintle, have called Port Douglas their home for the past 14 years.  With a background in hospitality and retail management, as well as managing large entertainment and theatre venues in Melbourne, coupled with his dedicated commitment as President for local community organisations the Douglas Theatre Arts Group (DTAG) and Paws and Claws (P&C), Mr Kerr believes this is an indication he is ready to run as Councillor in the upcoming March 19 election.

Since being approached to take on the Presidency of DTAG and P&C as well as developing the organisations into self sustainable entities into the future, Kerr said this is representative of his ability to work cohesively with the Douglas Shire Council and the wider community.

“Since becoming President I have done a lot of work for the organisations and especially dealing with Council and have developed and built strong relationships throughout the Shire,” he said.

With a strong belief that Port Douglas needs representation on Council, Mr Kerr said that it is also important to have strong community minded representation.

“Port Douglas is a big part of the Shire, economically and especially in tourism, so having a Councillor who is community minded walking the streets is important,” said Kerr.

In terms of business and economic development within the region, Kerr believes it is very important that it must continue to grow, if we are going to survive into the future.

“Port Douglas and the Daintree are predominately tourism regions and Mossman is the CBD and they should be developed accordingly, together with the agriculture sector.

“Teenagers are moving out of the region to find work and our seniors are leaving family homes within the region and selling up to find suitable housing and accessible living arrangements.

“We need to rectify this.  After the family moves out, elderly parents are left on their own in big houses.  Not everyone wants to move into cared facilities.

“To sustain growth, we need to retain our seniors and increase medical facilities and access to transport that is economical for all age groups, especially for our elders to remain in the Shire,” he said.

With access to a proposed electric bus service, Kerr believes this will not only benefit our teenagers and our elders, but will also be a benefit for the Daintree.

“An electric bus service between the Daintree Village and Cow Bay will offer not only a cheap way to travel in the local area, it will progress tourism within the Daintree if tourists can travel into the region inexpensively,” he said.

Not living in the Daintree himself, Kerr said it is vital that people north of the river let Councillors know what it is they require stating he would be eager to be part of the Daintree Joint Management Group (DJMG) to get a further understanding of the specific needs for that area of the Shire.

In relation to the long standing issues surrounding the Port Douglas Waterfront, Kerr is adamant that the Port Douglas Waterfront development needs to be seriously taken into consideration by Council, taking into account the issues of the fishing fleet.

“I understand there are issues around guaranteeing long term access for the fisherman, but it is up to Council to act on behalf of all locals.

“Whilst I am in support of the Port Douglas Waterfront plan, which was written eight years ago, it would be great if Council were funding it but it is a private enterprise paying for the re-development at The Reef Marina and Council should be considering the sustainability on behalf of the whole community.

“This redevelopment would be a benefit for the whole community especially for its presentation for tourism.  Tourists who have returned to the area have said, “nothing has changed”.

“What would happen if our big reef tour operators pull out and leave to operate from Cairns?  This redevelopment needs to happen, it’s a necessity,” he said.

Referring to Mossman as the CBD of the Shire, Kerr believes the Mossman Botanic Garden (MBG) project is vital for the economic growth of Mossman.

“Mossman is the CBD and it needs attractions for tourists and the MBG project will draw them to Mossman.

“Again, if an electric bus services was accessible, this would allow locals and tourists to go to Mossman for the day. This would assist other businesses and therefore the potential growth for the Mossman CBD," he said.

Referring to the Aged Care Facility in Mossman as extremely important to ensure we keep our elders within the Shire, Kerr also believes there is another step that is required to allow those elderly to have independence.

“There must be facilities available to move about town. 

“Port Douglas is disadvantaged. How do you get to Mossman if you need to get to Centrelink or the hospital and doctors?  The only way is by taxi or shuttle bus, which is very expensive for pensioners.  Or they have to rely on other people.

“Anything that will cater for our older population is brilliant, we need to keep them here,” he said.

Another matter that is close to Mr Kerr’s heart is the quest to find a suitable location and land to house the P&C facility.

“Hopefully this has been rectified with a new block found, and hopefully it won’t take 20 years like the Aged Care Facility,” he said with a laugh.

“Seriously though, the Mayor and CEO have been great in assisting us during this process.”

Regarding the retail sector, Kerr said he has been working closely with Douglas Chamber of Commerce (DCC) as a member of the community and said that the newly appointed President, Helen De Ross, is instigating new initiatives making the Chamber much stronger.

“I will be working closely with DCC on issues relating to cleaning up streets, lighting of streets, more signage and pedestrian crossings.”

In terms of empty shops within the region, Kerr said it is unfortunate but as a tourist town, it is something that is reoccurring.

“Until we have a local business economy 365 days of the year, it’s hard for businesses. A lot of people open businesses without getting in touch with the DCC. This is why DCC have dropped their membership price to encourage new businesses to get in touch with the Chamber.  The DCC can provide education for new businesses so they know what they are up for,” Kerr said.

An ongoing issue, and the momentum for a solution following the Douglas Business Forum late last year, is the inconsistent connectivity of the internet service within the region.  Kerr had a simple explanation for the solution, but also a costly one, suggesting also that DCC has a lot more information available on the subject.

“Big business operators are using ADSL rather than ethernet connection which causes a bottle neck because ADSL is designed for smaller business operators. I believe the Sheraton and QT are now operating on ethernet,” he said.

In relation to his involvement within the community over the past two years, Kerr said a lot of positives have resulted in becoming a Shire after the de-amalgamation.

“The DTAG has grown as well as the Clink Theatre.  The Council has assisted with new flooring as well as re-stumping, new air conditioning, roofing and the disabled ramp.  I don’t believe this would have happened if we weren't a Shire.

“Also P&C wouldn’t have progressed with major steps forward if we didn’t have our own Shire allowing us to deal directly with the Mayor and CEO rather than through Cairns,” he said.

Kerr said one of the disappointments over the past two years was the roundabout into Port Douglas off the Captain Cook Highway, stating there was a great deal of community consultation that was not taken into consideration.

“There seemed to be a break down in communication within Government, both State and Local, and we ended up with something the locals didn’t want. There needs to be a strong voice on Council to fight for locals.

Kerr is of the belief that different types of community consultation need to be in place.

“Not everyone reads Council’s website and not everyone reads the paper.  There should be letterbox drops so that everyone knows and has an option to voice their opinion. It needs to be taken back to basics not just through modern technology.

“That’s why it is important also for Councillors to be out talking to everyone and making themselves available.  Not everyone knows who the Councillors are,” he said.

Referring to the current Douglas Shire Administration, Kerr said the majority of the mainstream issues have been dealt with positively. One area he finds disappointing is when businesses are disadvantaged by red tape, stating he has first had experience of what that is like.

“I owned a hotel in a historical gold mining town and I have dealt with a Council that made it difficult. Councils should assist businesses not make it more difficult, it’s common sense.”

Understanding the legalities and legislation Councils are bound by, Kerr said communication is also important in order to come to a resolution, stating that issues should be dealt with together.

“There needs to be a Community Liaison Officer within Council to be the initial point of contact to liaise directly with the business community and explain, in simple language, the legalities and requirements rather just going to the front counter at Council,” he said.

Kerr said as a candidate for Councillor his strengths lay in being community minded without self-interest.

If elected as Councillor to take the Shire into 2020, Kerr said he would be advocating for infrastructure that will provide a reliable, economic transport facility, as well as the overall presentation of the Shire together with being a conscious advocate for the residents and tourism.

“I will have a presence and will always be available to talk to people.  It they want to discuss important issues, people can tell me what they are.  I’ll battle for the majority of opinions, not my own,” he said.

Kerr also declared his intent to stay in his Presidency roles within P&C and DTAG and hopes to dedicate even more time to these organisations as well as other organisations as Councillor.  He also stated that he has no role on DCC.

“I am working with DCC and local businesses as a concerned local business owner and to be able to assist with ideas,” he said.

He also stated he will be standing down as a News Corp employee from the 5th March, prior to the election.