Carey responds to open letter

Friday February 6, 2015. 5:00pm

Douglas Shire councillor David Carey has responded to an open letter written by the Douglas Chamber of Commerce and Douglas Inc. 

In his own letter, Cr Carey rejects the Chamber and Douglas Inc's allegations that council has not focused enough on developing tourism infrastructure within Douglas Shire, and points to various council tourism projects and high tourism spending as examples. 

Cr Carey's letter is reproduced below in its entirety:



Dear Mr. Ireland and Ms. Kitto



I refer to your joint open letter of 4th February 2015 to the Mayor and Councillors of the Douglas Shire advising of your perceptions of the positives and negatives of the economic development efforts of the Douglas Shire Council in its first year of operations. You also seek to encourage all Councillors to use this year to begin taking constructive steps to pursue economic activity/development within the Region and to explain how those steps will encourage that activity.     

Firstly, I must acknowledge the response you have already received from the Mayor, Cr. Julia Leu. As far as I am concerned this is an official response on behalf of the Council and is representative of the collective view of the Council as a whole. I also hasten to add that I fully concur with the response Mayor Leu has provided and the sentiments expressed therein.

In your acknowledgement of receipt of that response you appear to indicate you are expecting a reply from individual Councillors. With that in mind I am providing the following points of view and responses to your initial correspondence and drawing your attention to my particular performance as a Councillor in pursing the commitments I made prior to my election.

I wish to make clear at the outset that these points of view are mine, and mine alone, as an elected representative of this community. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Douglas Shire Council, other Councillors or the Council’s administration.

In your letter you make an observation about the recent State election outcomes and the political climate generally at present claiming “Lack of direction, failure to commit to trust [sic] representations previously made to the public, or direction without engagement with the community is quite rightly punished by voters at elections”.  

Let me remind you of the commitments I made when seeking election to the Council in late 2013.

I stated both publicly and in writing that if elected I will work to create:

A Council that delivers informed, sensitive, and sustainable financial management and Council budgeting so we can prioritise our works and services and ensure we live within our means;

A Council that maintains a robust Douglas Shire Planning Scheme which underpins the vision and values of our community;

A Council providing strong and continuing support for our two key industries of tourism and cane growing whilst positioning our community to seize opportunities for strengthening and diversifying our economy. Continued Council funding for Tourism Port Douglas Daintree as it is essential to maximise the tourism potential of our Shire;

A Council that values consultation, transparency, accountability and customer service. Performance standards for our works and services delivery and customer satisfaction outcomes need to be specified in order to ensure the community is well served;

A Council that is a leader and builds and maintains co-operative working relationships in the local government sector.

Not all of these commitments are directly relevant to the subject of economic development so I won’t focus on those that aren’t. I do however wish to take the time to demonstrate that in terms of my commitments to economic development I have, and continue to, work towards outcomes which will see those commitments honoured.

For example, the Douglas Shire Planning Scheme is of paramount importance to the “triple bottom line” of our community wellbeing including its social, economic and environmental wellbeing. You will be aware that the Douglas Shire Planning Scheme is currently under review and due for release in draft form for public consultation later in the first half of this year. In my capacity as an elected representative I am very mindful of how powerful a tool a planning scheme, and its inherent land use controls, are on the economy of a community. Land use controls which are overly restrictive may strangle an economy. Conversely, controls which are too lax may lead to inappropriate development, particular of a commercial kind, which may adversely impact the environment, social and community amenity. For my part, as a participant in the scheme review, I am working to my commitment to develop a balanced scheme which underpins the vision and values of our community in all three aspects of the social, environmental and economic outcomes in order to ensure as far as possible the long term economic, social and environmental sustainability of Douglas.

Your letter incorrectly asserts that “Council’s commitment to TPDD is at the same tired levels”. At the 15th July 2014 Council meeting the Council was presented with a performance agreement recommending Council funding to TPDD of $430,000 for each of the three years 2014/15 to 2016/17. It was at my instigation that the recommendation of staff was modified to require this funding to be indexed in the second and third years. Clear evidence of me honouring my commitment to ensure the Council supports the TPDD into the future. I will also add that in prior discussions I was a strong advocate for the TPDD being provided with certainty of funding via a three year commitment from the Council in preference to annual commitments. 

On a related matter I will also point out to you that prior to Douglas Inc. meeting with the Council in 2014 during which it sought Council’s financial support, amongst other things, Ms. Sylvia Healy asked to meet with me in her capacity as a representative of Douglas Inc. During discussions she sought to persuade me to support a proposition that $160,000 annually be redirected away from TPDD to fund the activities of Douglas Inc. I find it difficult to accept an argument from Douglas Inc. that the Council’s funding for TPDD is stagnating when its own representative would advocate redirecting funds from TPDD towards Douglas Inc.

On the matter of the Council taking a lead role in tourism development and promotion and economic development, the response from the Mayor, Cr. Leu, clearly demonstrates that the Council is indeed taking an active role in these areas.

For my part let me point out to you the specific initiatives with an economic development focus which I have personally successfully pursued within Council deliberations in the past 12 months:

Specific contributions I have made to the 2014/2019 Douglas Shire Council Corporate Plan:

1. Goal 2.2.5 Expand tourism and agricultural business opportunities through collaborative planning and promotion;

2. Goal 2.3.4 Develop positive partnerships with economic development organisations and work proactively towards achieving mutually agreed goals and objectives;

3. Goal 2.3.5 Develop Douglas as the “bicycle capital of Australia” through the planning and construction of a network of bicycle trails, traffic separation and management arrangements;

4. Goal 4.2.1 Take a leadership role in engaging all community stakeholders in the development and documentation of a long term “Community Plan” which identifies the Vision, Priorities, Strategies and Actions for the long term economic, cultural, social, health and environmental sustainability of our communities.

Specific contributions I have made to the 2014/15 Douglas Shire Council Operational Plan:

1. Initiative CEO 4 - Support and advocate for indigenous employment, social and economic development opportunities;

2. Initiative I 5 – Plan for Douglas as the “Bicycle Capital of Australia”.

In my opinion, all of the above initiatives will potentially, over time, contribute significantly to the economic wellbeing of our community and facilitate business diversification. I am sure you will appreciate that economic development and sustainability are not an overnight phenomenon. It takes careful planning, long term commitment and persistence and every stakeholder working from the “same song sheet” to bring visions to reality. This very point was one of the key recommendations of the Melbourne Business School report. Hence my particular focus on the Council taking a lead role in developing a “Community Plan”. (Refer Goal 4.2.1 of the Council’s 2014-19 Corporate Plan mentioned above).

I contend that from the response you already have from the Mayor and the specific initiatives I have pursued as a Councillor in the past 12 months which I have outlined above, that the following assertions you make in your letter are not justified. Specifically:

There has been no effort or direction by Council to take a lead role in developing a coherent Tourism Strategy Plan or an Economic Development Plan for the period to 2020

Tourism does not rate a mention in Council’s Corporate Plan 2014 – 2019

Council has not justified or explained how its Capital Works Budget is significantly improving key Tourism areas within the region.   Although Council may well be making informed development decisions, there is a distinct public perception amongst the electorate that it perceives Council to be at best “neutral” towards economic development, or indeed any development

Council is being perceived by the wider business community to have removed from its agenda or considerations the promotion of economic development in the engine rooms of the Shire’s economy and in particular Port Douglas.

You go on to assert that “pragmatism within Council seems to take a second fiddle to machinations and spin within Council”. With respect, you will have to provide examples to support this assertion. In my opinion the Council’s communications are clear and to the point. The Council and its administration are mindful of maintaining transparency in decision making and ample opportunity is being provided to the community to be involved in key decision making. The recent Daintree forum consultations and the Shire wide Corporate Planning consultations are but two examples. 

You also suggest “Economic development appears less important to Councillors than wider social commentary on matters outside the scope of local government”. Again I beg to differ. In my view, economic development is of no lesser or greater importance that the social and environmental wellbeing and aspirations of our community. I believe this is clearly demonstrated in my previous commentary on the approach being taken by the Council to reviewing our planning scheme and the approach which has been applied to the development of the Corporate and Operational Plans of the Council. 

Furthermore, I am of the view that Local Government is an integral part of Australian democracy and an equal partner in the governance of this Country. A Council has every right, and indeed a responsibility, to represent the views of its constituents to higher levels of government on the broader social and other issues which might be up for debate in the public arena at any given time. We are not just residents of Douglas. We are also residents of Queensland and Australia and our elected representatives are entitled, in my view, to reflect the collective conscience of the people who elected them. Not restricted simply to matters within the traditional direct responsibilities of the local Council. As an example I refer to the Council’s recent determinations to take policy decisions on Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and Same Sex Marriage. On both these matters one could hardly argue that the processes in the lead up to the Council taking these decisions distracted or redirected an inordinate amount of staff resources to the detriment of other responsibilities like economic development. Having said that, even if you don’t agree with these assertions, from an economic point of view the wedding industry in Douglas is significant to say the least. Imagine the additional market that can be captured if, once same sex marriage is legalised, same sex couples choose Douglas to exchange their vows because Douglas was a big advocate for their rights as couples and through advocacy helped bring about social change.

I would like to take this opportunity to make reference to the Douglas Inc. “Live-Visit-Invest” document which I assume is that organisation’s strategic plan for the foreseeable future.

I contend that the Douglas Shire Council is already contributing significantly to the achievement of a number of Goals and Strategies detailed in the Live-Visit-Invest document.

For example “Goal 3: Objective 4: Ensure indigenous engagement strategies are effectively implemented in all aspects of the Douglas Region’s development strategies”. There is clear evidence within the Douglas Shire Council’s Corporate and Operational plans of initiatives being pursued by the Council, through its CEO Unit in particular, to engage with the Douglas indigenous community, to assist it in pursuing its own economic aspirations and more particularly supporting the “Closing the Gap” strategies which, to a significant degree, are directed at bringing about economic equality for indigenous members of our community.

Likewise “Goal 4: Objective 2: Identify and ensure current and potential threats to the Douglas Region’s environment are well managed”. This is not only a key focus of the Council’s planning scheme review but is also represented in the Council’s initiatives to develop Coastal Management and other environmental management plans, all of which are currently on the Council’s agenda.

Yet another is “Goal 4: Objective 4: Ensure the unique dependence on environmental sustainability is understood and communicated to all levels of government and the community”. The Council is clearly active in this area.

I could go on.

The point I will make here is that the Council is, in my opinion, very much getting on with job when it comes to Economic Development. For my part, rather than unnecessarily criticising what the Council is or isn’t doing I encourage Douglas Inc. and the Douglas Chamber of Commerce to take steps to seek to develop and strengthen the partnerships between your organisations and the Council to, as you put it in your letter, “use this year to begin taking constructive steps to pursue economic activity development within the Region and to explain how those steps will encourage that activity”.     

I thank you for the opportunity to put my views forward to you. It is indeed stimulating and healthy to conduct these discussions.


I also look forward to a positive working relationship between our respective organisations into the future.


Yours sincerely


David G. Carey