MIKE BER­WICK: JOB’S NOT OVER

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Scott Tibballs

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.”

Pic­ture: SCOTT CAMP­BELL

Mike Ber­wick back in 1997 on the Dain­tree River. Inset: The Gazette edi­tion from 10 years ago

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