Politics and environment, within the recent Cairns Regional Council ‘amalgamation’ election, reveal some interesting dynamics.
In the former North Queensland Shire of Douglas, amalgamation was overwhelmingly unpopular. Sentiment variously denounced the state government dictate as a death-knell for both the World Heritage rainforests of the Daintree and also the prestigious charm of Port Douglas.
In what appeared to be an allaying of concerns (assented to a mere nine days before the election) the Queensland Government enacted the Iconic Places of Queensland Act (IPQA), which identified the local government area of Douglas Shire as ‘Iconic’. In effect, IPQA rendered a Clayton’s amalgamation over the former Douglas Shire.
Voters in the region’s newest northern division, comprising the former Douglas Shire, effectively rewarded the Queensland Government for neutralising amalgamation via IPQA, by ousting the super council’s incumbent conservative leader and giving contender, Ms Val Schier, the majority of support.
Ms. Schier’s ‘grassroots’ campaign had relied largely on doorknocks and community events, reiterating the sentiment of IPQA, prioritising protection of the region’s heritage, tightening planning guidelines to restrict development and creating greater transparency.
Former Mayor of the Cairns City Council, Kevin Byrne, said he was effectively destroyed at the polling booths by residents in the northern beaches suburbs and the former Douglas shire who believed he had a ‘bulldozer waiting at the gates’.
By contrast, Daintree Cape Tribulation electors voted more strongly for the incumbent Mayor and perhaps more significantly, against contender, Val Shier, than any other community throughout the entire amalgamated Cairns Region. It could be argued that no other Queensland community had suffered more under the politics of extreme environmentalism and that amalgamation had offered hope for a reprieve. However, Iconic legislation was foisted particularly onto the rainforest communities and in demographic familiarity, the majority of non-rainforest-based electors within the division voted, yet again, to save the Daintree.