Years a long time in

Coun­cils look back on stormy decade

The Cairns Post - - NEWS - CHRIS CALCINO

A DECADE and a divorce have passed since the tur­bu­lent birth of Cairns Re­gional Coun­cil, the half-breed off­spring of two lo­cal gov­ern­ments with com­pet­ing pol­i­tics.

Di­vi­sion marred the new gov­ern­ing body from its gen­e­sis on April 15, 2008.

De­trac­tors of the statewide amal­ga­mate-or-per­ish cam­paign were un­will­ing or un­able to re­lax their lock­jaw op­po­si­tion to be­ing dragged un­der a su­per-coun­cil’s um­brella.

With ca­nine per­sis­tence, con­stituents of the for­mer Dou­glas Shire Coun­cil main­tained their rage un­til fi­nally be­ing let off the leash more than six years later.

Cairns Mayor Bob Man­ning, who was fresh in the role dur­ing the dis­so­lu­tion, still be­lieves it was the wrong de­ci­sion and the full story has not yet run its course.

“I al­ways be­lieved the area should have stayed to­gether,” he said.

“Ul­ti­mately, there’s is­sues of ef­fi­ciency – I think coun­cils like that will find it very hard into the fu­ture.

“But that was the de­ci­sion of the peo­ple and the next day you’re over it and move on.”

Mayor Ju­lia Leu has sat in the Dou­glas Shire driv­ing seat since the ig­no­min­ious split.

By her es­ti­ma­tion, the en­su­ing years have proved sep­a­rat­ing was the right path to take.

“It was def­i­nitely the right de­ci­sion,” she said.

“Ev­ery­one said we couldn’t do it, but we con­tinue to punch way above our weight.

“The big­gest strength is Dou­glas Shire Coun­cil’s abil­ity to fo­cus on the re­gion and its peo­ple, rather than be­ing viewed as an out­ly­ing sub­urb of Cairns.”

Tourism forms the back­bone, ribs and at least a stray fe­mur or two of the Dou­glas Shire econ­omy.

Cr Man­ning sug­gested the coun­cil to the north was sit­ting pretty off the back of sev­eral years of tourism strength, but the in­dus­try formed about 75-80 per cent of its gross area prod­uct, as op­posed to 26 per cent for Cairns.

“When tourism’s up, they’re all right, but when tourism’s down they get hit harder than we do,” he said.

Cr Leu said her peo­ple were ac­tively for­ag­ing for ways to di­ver­sify the re­gion’s econ­omy, es­pe­cially in the sugar and aqua­cul­ture in­dus­tries.

“The re­cent ex­pan­sion of a prawn farm south of Moss­man and pros­per­ous com­mer­cial fish­ing in­dus­try in Port Dou­glas are prime ex­am­ples of the po­ten­tial for pri­mary in­dus­tries in our shire,” she said.

She re­jected any sug­ges­tion the coun­cil’s shelf life would ex­pire over com­ing decades.

“Coun­cil is fi­nan­cially sta­ble, debt-free and has its best years ahead of it,” she said.

Her po­lit­i­cal coun­ter­part in Spence St was less con­vinced.

“The coun­cil works well – they’ve got an is­sue at the mo­ment with the Dain­tree ferry, but gee, we’ve got a cou­ple of is­sues too,” Cr Man­ning said.

“I think they’ve done a rea­son­able job up there.

“But it's the longevity, whether that can con­tinue on.”

BRO­KEN ‘MAR­RIAGE’: Cairns Mayor Bob Man­ning and Dou­glas

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