Mayor Kerr opened yesterday’s Ordinary Douglas Shire meeting with two lengthy mayoral minutes. The first addresses imminent emergency maintenance work for the Daintree ferry. The second addresses the vote of “no confidence” in the mayor by the other Councillors.
Local community members protested outside Council chambers against impending closures to the ferry service. Inside the Chamber, there was plenty of protest, that wasn’t quite so peaceful.
Emergency repair work required for Daintree Ferry
The Daintree ferry requires the replacement of four davits which lift and lower the access ramps. The ferry cannot be in service during replacement.
Cr Kerr lists three options to facilitate the necessary repair work:
· a six-day full closure,
· a six-week early night closure with normal daytime services,
· defer repairs until 2024.
The second option is agreed, amongst different stakeholders, to be the least disruptive to passengers.
Cr Kerr detailed the condition of the davits on the Daintree ferry. There is industry disagreement about what has caused the damage; new ramp weights, fatigue or “inadequacy” of the davits. A specialist crane structural engineering report details designs for the davit replacements. Submitted in late August 2023, the report provides designs “in anticipation of future repairs”.
According to the mayor, “Councillors have been regularly informed on the various works required.”
Cr Noli assured the public that Councillors were not advised of any such issues. Nor were they given the option to replace them at the time of the AMSA inspection in March 2023. The first she learned of this, was at the meeting’s mayoral minute. Otherwise, she would have voted for extending the March closure to minimise disruption.
Cr Noli confirmed that Councillors only became aware of the complete structural failure of the davits at a workshop on 29 August, 2023.
She expressed concerns with no guarantee that the ferry would be open for 5am.
She insisted this must happen. Councillors and the community need that reassurance. Cr Noli also expressed concern that alternative transport options were not provided. This would impact emergency services, citing the example of fire on the northern Daintree side.
Cr Scomazzon agreed that the six-week nightly closure is least impactful on the community. Like Cr Noli, Cr Scomazzon said that Councillors were never informed about an engineer engaged to design a replacement davit assembly.
Cr Scomazzon stated that last week, she asked for the full scope of works proposed, as well as the approximate costings. To date, she had not yet received any information. She insisted that ratepayers, businesses, and Councillors deserve better. The Shire must be provided with a full briefing of the costs, the scope of work and any further issues that may be in the pipeline.
Of greatest concern to Cr Scomazzon is that the repair operation commences on 15 October 2023. She considered this be a total disregard for” all relevant ferry users” who were only informed of the issue earlier yesterday. Users should have been consulted much earlier.
Cr McKeown expressed his concerns with emergency services access, and repair teams fulfilling their obligations to open the ferry daily at 5am.
In closing, the mayor stated that the works couldn’t be performed during March’s AMSA inspection as the designs were only received in August 2023. Regarding emergency services, Cr Kerr has contacted the Emergency Services Minister advising of Council’s plan,
“Their budgets are bigger than ours, and I assure you, if they want to do something, they can do something.”
Councillors were unanimous in favour of the six-week nightly repair program for the Daintree Ferry.
Douglas Shire Council Media Statement
“From 15 October 2023, ferry services from Sunday to Thursday will operate from 5am to 8pm. Services will operate as usual – 5am to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
The change to operating hours is needed to modify four davits which are used to raise and lower the ramps. Normal services are expected to resume 26 November 2023.”
In Tuesday’s media statement, Mayor Kerr said most users won’t notice any difference to their routines or be forced to change holiday plans.
“The Council has listened to residents and tourism operators to ensure the service will continue as normal during peak morning and afternoon periods,” Mayor Kerr said.
Response to Vote of No Confidence in Mayor Kerr
The second mayoral minute was a response by Cr Kerr to August’s vote of no confidence in him as Mayor, “Council notes response to recent out of order motions and vote of no confidence motion by Councillors.”
He commenced with a protracted description of the requirements of his position, later described by Cr Scomazzon as “a cut and paste” from the relevant legislation.
Cr Kerr cited “deep seated hostility between certain Councillors”, and a lack of cohesion and cooperation that is “extremely dangerous” and “selfish”.
Two operational motions were submitted for the meeting, which were not presented for debate, as the mayor described them as out of order.
Cr Scomazzon sought to enact a travel policy, while Cr Zammataro pursued a request for right to information about expenses.
“Put that forward and take this as notice that this behaviour is unacceptable,” Cr Kerr.
Cr Noli responded to the mayoral minute:
“What exactly would you like me to note? That this motion without notice is nothing more than a thinly veiled self-promoting propaganda piece? That the information given is patchy, extremely selective, and deliberately designed to misconstrue and misled?
Or would you like me to note that this motion highlights an inability to lead, to govern, an inability to communicate and discuss, an inability to analyse critically and admit mistakes? Would you like me to note that rather than say sorry, I was mistaken and get on with the job, the hole gets dug deeper and deeper?
“This motion is quite humorous actually, and I will not give it dignity by speaking about its content. What is to be addressed is what the implications or inferences that can be drawn from it, and they are quite clear. It is these implications that I will note. I will note incompetence, obstinance, blame shifting, petulance and propaganda. I will demonstrate my disdain for this motion, Cr Kerr, that is the correct use of the word disdain, by abstaining on my vote. I understand it will be recorded in the negative and I am fine with that. I will not waste my energy on this vote when there are so many more important and imperative things that call on my good judgement and energies.”
Cr Zammataro expressed a similar view; Councillors attempts to pass motions are being “obstructed by technicalities” and that “this motion you have put forwards is hypocritical rhetoric.”
Cr Zammataro referred to the mayoral minute of 28 April 2020 which the Mayor did not workshop, and has been extremely costly to Douglas ratepayers.
That minute was to temporarily suspend the Daintree ferry contract negotiations while Council explores the option of a bridge. A two-ferry solution was the preferred option.
“In your mayoral minute today, you have said it is normal practice for motions, and especially policies, to be thoroughly workshopped to ensure what is put forward is well rounded, effective and reflective of the needs and aspirations of the community it serves.”
“But yet, you yourself, in April of 2020, put forward a motion that has cost ratepayers millions of dollars, and is continuing to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars without first workshopping.”
Cr Scomazzon also chose to speak against the mayor’s motion, supporting cohesiveness amongst her fellow Councillors.
She defended her proposed motion for a travel policy for Councillors,
“All I want is transparency in what you’re doing” and “I think you forget there are five Councillors elected to work for this community. Not one.”
Cr Scomazzon referred to her suggestion for a Councillors’ travel policy to ensure accountability and transparency by the mayor and Councillors when travelling outside of the Shire on behalf of Council.
Cr McKeown agreed that there were issues with the mayor’s travel; it is vital that Cr Kerr is fair and transparent, and that he informs and consults with Councillors when representing Douglas outside of the Shire.
At the final vote, Cr Kerr was the only Councillor in favour of his motion.
Cr Noli abstained from voting in principle.