Years a long time in
Councils look back on stormy decade
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