A poll is different from a consultation. The Douglas Shire Council is currently conducting a poll on a bridge versus a two-ferry option. The actual consultation is restricted and people have told us that information being presented is insufficient and misleading. Many people do not regard the process as free, fair and transparent, as it looks like a deliberate push for a bridge under the guise of consultation. Push polling is a common tactic used to get people to support one side of a poll over the other.
Polls need to be free and transparent, which means that they should be conducted independently with scrutineers to ensure that all the votes are accurately counted. The Council has appointed a professional company to conduct the poll, however as this company is the client of the Council, there is a potential conflict of interest.
If there is no independent verification of the results, how do we know that the results are correct?
Concern has been expressed about the lack of transparency in how public submissions, separate from votes on the survey, would be collated by the Council, de-identified and summarised in a document for Councillors and the general public. How are these “results” going to be considered or weighed against the results of the survey?
Several people have pointed out that the survey can be manipulated and deceptively controlled by using another name and address if you are not a Douglas Shire resident and simply want to have your say – and put in false votes. No email identification is required for non-locals, so voters can use technology to vote repeatedly under their own database of names and addresses.
Consequently many people have told us that this poll is poorly designed, giving questionable results that will not be seen as credible. It is a good example of push polling.
Genuinely free, fair and transparent consultations should not have restrictions that severely limit the number of residents who can participate in the public forums. The Council chooses who can attend the forums and imposes severe limits on who can speak at these forums. This is a secretive process that has not been adequately explained, lacks transparency, and could easily be manipulated.
COVID-19 is not a valid excuse to limit the public forums. The forums could have easily been conducted in open venues such as Rex Smeal Park and the Mossman Show Grounds, allowing for space for all those who want to attend.
As most people cannot attend the public forums. the only information comes from the Douglas Shire Council’s ‘Daintree River Crossing – Options Assessment Report’. Several commentators have stated that this Report is based on assumptions, is missing clear data on key areas and is misleading in other areas.
- It does not consider environmental, social, economic, or cultural heritage implications.
- It does not clearly state that the bridge requires 100% funding by the State and Federal Governments. The reality is, even if the governments were to contribute funds for such an expensive project, they generally require a 50% contribution from the Council. The extra $30 million would be a burden on Douglas Shire businesses, ratepayers and residents in higher rates, fees and charges.
- It does not give the cheapest option of keeping a single ferry, with better priority lanes on the north and south sides of the river.
- It states that there would be no requirements for major environmental permits, yet the two lowest cost options require the clearing of endangered forest types.
- It ignores the larger environmental impact and financial costs of subsequent road upgrades to accommodate increased through traffic going to Cooktown, due to the need to prevent accidents because the narrow, scenic, winding road is not suitable for larger traffic flows.
The Divisive Issue
Developments north of the Daintree River have been contentious since the 1980s, when the Bjelke-Petersen government forced the Douglas Shire Council to subdivide the region into hundreds of lifestyle blocks and the developer promised that mains power would be supplied to these blocks. The “Save the Daintree” Campaign gained global attention when the Douglas Shire Council forced a road through the rainforest from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield. Locals and conservationists from all around Australia formed “The Blockade”. This blocking of the bulldozers generated headlines around the world, and became one of main drivers of the World Heritage Listing of Wet Tropics rainforests. It also saw the election of Mike Berwick as the new Mayor of the Douglas Shire Council, and started the environmental agenda that was applauded as a role model for conservation in Australian local government.
Since the re-establishment of the Douglas Shire Council after the de-amalgamation with Cairns Regional Council, the last six years have been the most stable since the 1980s. This has now been de-stabilised by deliberately choosing one of the most divisive topics possible – the development of the Daintree by building a bridge over the river.
The worst thing about this push polling to get a bridge is the way it has fractured the community causing disharmony and division, in a time when leadership is needed to bring the community together.
There was no need to waste so much money on duplicating a consultation that has already been completed, especially in these difficult economic times. The Council should be spending less money instead of increasing its budget deficit. This whole exercise will result in this Council being seen as captured by narrow and vested interests.