MIKE BERWICK: JOB’S NOT OVER
TEN years ago the Douglas Shire Planning scheme won a slew of awards for its environmental gumption.
Described as ‘cutting edge’ and ‘bold’, the scheme was noted for its focus on protecting the Daintree lowlands by clamping down on development north of the river.
Then mayor Mike Berwick said at the time that it was “just something that had to be done.”
Speaking to the Gazette recently, Mr Berwick said the controversial plan from ten years ago was an important factor on ‘breaking the back’ of tackling conservation in the Daintree, but there was much more to be done.
“We stopped it going like Mission Beach when we brought that planning scheme in and took away some hundreds of development rights,” said Mr Berwick.
“It hasn’t fixed it, but it did stop it getting completely trashed. The reports at the time said it would be if we didn’t pull up the rate of settlement. It’s not like Mission Beach – it hasn’t got supermarkets and big wide roads and dead cassowaries everywhere.”
The decision to put the brakes on development rights had brought millions into the area as blocks of land are bought up by conservation groups to be rehabilitated.
“We brought $150 million into that place through buyback and tourist infrastructure over 20 years.”
To those still upset by the the planning scheme on those with big ideas in tourism and resorts, he said look at what the Daintree is today.
“You’ve got more visitors than Kakadu and Uluru.”
Mr Berwick said tourism in the Daintree could be doing much better though. “Too many of those tourism dollars don’t stay north of the river.
“I think it needs a strategy to deal with that, but that strategy needs to include presentation as well as economic opportunity as well as jobs for locals.
“The fact is the Daintree is very famous. It’s got an absolutely secure and very large market and it’s because we look after the joint.”
On whether or not the Daintree was ‘saved’ by the sweeping changes of the last planning scheme, Mr Berwick advocates far more work.
“It was certainly over a hill ... if (the planning scheme) didn’t happen it wouldn’t have had any hope. Now it’s sort of bumbling along, and I think with good management by the residents and the council it can survive as a landscape through climate change.”
Management is “not that good” at the moment though, he said.
“I think there’s been a pretty negative attitude towards the environment north of the river since that time, rightly or wrongly. People are pissed off that rights were taken away from them even though most of them were glad of it.
“It needed more follow-up than it had. It went through this huge change and then things went quiet and people were left smouldering and pissed off.
“I’d like to see the council invest more in the Daintree. I think it’s a valuable asset, it earns a lot of money for the shire and deserves a lot more money spent on it to look after it particularly for the tourism industry and its presentation.”
Mr Berwick explained that bringing back a ferry levy would be a good way to return investment into the area.
“I think thank Christ we did it. I don’t think Daintree would be what it is now if it wasn’t for that, and the shire wouldn’t be the beautiful place that it is.”
Mike Berwick back in 1997 on the Daintree River. Inset: The Gazette edition from 10 years ago