Carbon credits: Petition brushed aside; TPDD board in dark


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Russell O'Doherty, who launched the online petition, with his wife Teresa at this morning's Council meeting. Image: Howard Salkow
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The driving force behind a petition opposing Douglas Shire Council’s Healthy Reef Partnership with Qantas Future Planet, GreenCollar, and Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD), has slammed Council for brushing aside the issue at today’s open session in Council Chambers adding they’ll pay for it at the next election.

The petition – “Stop the Douglas Shire Council from purchasing unwanted Carbon Credits” – was initiated by Russell O’Doherty, who is also president of Daintree Renewable Energy Inc., and attracted more than 760 signatories.

Under the Local Government Act, all petitions must be presented to Council and received.

“What Council has done is reject the wishes of more than 760 people and this will prove costly at the Local Government election in March next year,” said Mr O’Doherty, who attended today’s Council meeting.

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After being tabled, the petition was not wholly accepted, with Cr Roy Zammataro the only Councillor to vote against it.

“I am not comfortable endorsing this petition, which questions my credibility. To endorse it would mean Council was wrong (at the outset), which is not so. I cannot take it seriously and I am questioning the names of some of the signatories, especially those from across the world,” he said.

Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu said she agreed with Cr Zammataro’s comments, adding that the petition had been noted and no further action would be taken.

Newsport, meanwhile, has reliably learned that members of the TPDD board were not advised in advance of the partnership – some learning about it on social media – and TPDD Executive Officer Tara Bennett has been requested to provide the board with a full report outlining the partnership.

In a statement to Newsport, TPDD chair Ben Woodward did not confirm or deny the Board was not advised in advance of the Healthy Reef Partnership.

“The TPDD Board has been informed of discussions around a carbon neutral holiday project since October 2018.

“As per standard Board practice, we are meeting to further discuss the potential project’s progress this week,” he said in a statement.

Coupled to this, it is now well known that Council has not signed any deal with Qantas, which would provide the Shire with considerable marketing opportunities.

At an open council meeting on 18 June, Council resolved to become the country’s newest carbon neutral region by aligning itself with the aforementioned partners.

Mayor Julia Leu said the partnership reinforced Douglas Shire’s position as the leading sustainable tropical destination. The partnership enables Council to become carbon neutral by purchasing premium carbon offsets located in Rawbelle, Queensland.

This decision was vehemently opposed by Councillor Michael Kerr, who was out voted by his fellow councillors David Carey, Abigail Noli, Roy Zammataro and Mayor Leu.

A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent. 

Mr O’Doherty said he was extremely disappointed that the issue had been brushed aside, but this did not mean it was the end of the road.

“The petition has also been sent to the Minister for Local Governments, Stirling Hinchliffe, and I am looking forward to the proposed community meetings to further discuss the partnership.

“We will then decide what steps need to be taken once the meetings have taken place,” he said.

Mr O’Doherty said Council had misled the community, especially with the Qantas deal and he had also been reliably informed that nothing had been signed with the airline.

Council has confirmed – following a request by Kym Rowley, general manager of The Tin Shed and a Councillor candidate in the 2020 elections – there will be forums in Port Douglas and Mossman where the community will be full apprised of the partnership details. They are scheduled for mid-August.

The partnership has come under severe criticism from a number of circles, none more so than Warren Entsch, the Federal Member for Leichhardt.

“I was gobsmacked, to the say the least, when I heard this. I had to go looking for Rawbelle. I am disappointed, concerned to what they’ve agreed to, and questioning what’s in it for the shire’s businesses and the rate payers. Rawbelle is nowhere near the Douglas Shire.”

Mr Entsch said this sent a clear message to Douglas Shire residents to decide how they want their shire to be governed.

“The ratepayers have a key decision to make at the local government election in March next year. If they want to live with certain decisions made by Council, then so be it.

“If they want change, then they must seek it and challenge it at the ballot box. I have just been through an election where the people spoke up and the same can occur in the Douglas Shire,” he said shortly after the partnership was announced.       

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