Douglas Shire Councillors met at a special meeting this afternoon to make their final decision on the future of the Daintree ferry. The ferry is to be purchased at unknown price to ensure the vital service continues.
There were a number of options on the table for Douglas Shire Council to manage the failed negotiations over this iconic and symbolic visitor experience, including:
- purchase the current ferry from the current contractor
- engage a Cairns based shipping company to provide a landing craft/barge to provide services across the river, until a new purpose-built ferry can be acquired
- engage a Cairns based shipping company to provide a double ended vehicle ferry, until a new purpose-built ferry can be acquired
- purchase a barge and modify to be suitable as a replacement ferry.
The proposed recommendation was that Council purchases the current Daintree River Ferry for the agreed amount as per a Confidential Report provided to Councillors. After a closed session of the meeting, this recommendation was amended by the Mayor; that Council purchase the current ferry from Sirron as per Sirron’s revised proposal submitted on 13 May 2021.
Sirron have proposed a revised purchase price for the Daintree River Cable Ferry as per the draft Asset Sale Agreement. This set-up would essentially allow the ferry to keep operating provided the interim contract can be awarded and successful Contractor mobilised by 1 July 2021. This offer is valid until 17 May 2021, with settlement due 10 June 2021. The offer is still subject to Sirron and the Council entering into an asset sale agreement by 17 May 2021 and the parties will not be bound until such contracts are executed. The price requested by Sirron is lower than Option 1a but higher than the marine valuers’ assessment of current or replacement value. However, the Council needs to consider the importance of continuing to provide the service without interruption.
Douglas Shire Council
Cr Abigail Noli, Douglas Shire Council
“Let us be very clear about what is happening here today. This is not a great outcome for the Shire. This is a last minute bid to make sure there is a way to cross the Daintree River from the first July onwards.
Cr Noli, spoke against the motion,
“Let us be very clear about what is happening here today.
This is not a great outcome for the Shire. This is a last minute bid to make sure there is a way to cross the Daintree River from the first July onwards. Also be very clear from where and how this all started. It started in April last year, over a year ago, from a Mayoral Minute. A Mayoral Minute that contained no cost-benefit analysis, no risk management, no back-up plans, no thought process as to what could occur. Everything that a proper Report would have contained.
In July 2021, we should have before us a two-ferry solution, one of them solar, to cross the Daintree.The public should be very aware that this is not what is happening here today. We would have had two ferries bringing in revenue in this cashed-up tourist market at the moment.
Why is this happening?
I’m going to summarise from a Councillor who has been here from the beginning of the new Douglas…
In 2018, a community consultation was held with the goal of soliciting ideas on how the ferry service might be improved; with the preferred option clearly being a dual ferry service. Based on this consultation a tender for an improved service was released in 2019. The tender had an open scope and asked the market how best to improve the wait times experienced with the current arrangement during peak times.
Council received tenders from four companies and at the Ordinary Council meeting on 3 December 2019, Sirron was announced as preferred tenderer…
So you can imagine my surprise to hear of the Mayoral Minute of April 2020 when I walked back into Council after being re-elected for my third term.
So why am I talking about the solar ferry?
Because it is all rolled together, the tender was to provide two ferries as the solution to cross the Daintree, using the existing ferry and adding a solar one. The tender was won by the contractors, who own the existing ferry, probably for obvious reasons as to why they could provide a great solution.
So we could have had a solution in December 2019, possibly also in the second half of 2020, and now we come towards today.
In January 2021 a closed Meeting, where, if Cr Zammataro and my opinions had been followed, we would not be here today and Council-thus Douglas-thus the ratepayers- would also be in a much better situation than what we are facing today.
Here was another opportunity to not get to this point…then another closed Meeting where once again Cr Zammataro and myself voted for a different option which I obviously believe would have been better for Douglas but once again we find ourselves here…that was in the beginning of May.
I have demonstrated that over the year and a bit, there have been numerous occasions that would have resulted in, in my opinion, a better option than what we are facing today.”
Cr McKeown next took the floor, supporting the purchase of the Daintree ferry at the “inflated price” to ensure Council is not put in a similar precarious position in future. He believes Council had been very fair and reasonable in their dealings but acknowledged that others do not share the same view. Cr McKeown described his supportive view as ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’.
Cr Zammataro, speaking against the motion, declared that unbeknown to him as a Councillor, the ferry service contract was never finalised, and only found that out after the April 2020 election. He reinforced the waste of time and resources over the consultation process, when as Councillor he had never received any complaints about the ferry providers’ delivery of service. Cr Zammataro reported that he is constantly being asked by the public, “how much is this costing the ratepayer?”
Not just in reference to costs for the ferry itself, but for consultation, legal fees, staff time, and the CEO’s time…questions that need to be answered, and answers that need to be made public.
Cr Scomazzon, supporting the motion, expressed her profound disappointed with being left with little option but to outlay significant ratepayer funds to continue the ferry service. She described Council’s role as to provide both essential services, and to act in the best interests of ratepayers and residents.
She supported the ferry being acquired as a Council asset. She applauded Council staff for their efforts. Cr Scomazzon expressed her belief that “Councillors can work through what they are going through now” because Council will have own a vital asset in the future.
Cr Kerr, supporting the motion, stated
“..and whilst a minority group has criticised me for using a Mayoral minute, it is a tool I can use. It was legal, and most certainly was appropriate. It was a decision that I have no regrets in proceeding with to have finally brought this continuing ferry-bridge fiasco to the forefront of this community.”Councillor and Mayor Kerr, Douglas Shire Council
Cr Kerr amended the motion to include Option 1b, “that Council purchase the current ferry from Sirron as per Sirron’s revised proposal submitted on 13 May 2021″.
The motion was supported by Crs McKeown and Scomazzon.
Crs Noli and Zammataro did not support the motion.
Mayor Kerr closed the meeting “at 4.06 pm”.
It was 4.33pm.