Douglas Shire Council first to enter carbon offset deal


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu and Councillor Michael Kerr are at odds over the Healthy Reef Partnership. Images: supplied.
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Douglas Shire Council has taken a significant step to become the country’s newest carbon neutral region.

In resolving to work with Qantas, Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD) and GreenCollar, under the Healthy Reef Partnership to offset the Council’s carbon footprint through carbon sequestration projects in Queensland, this initiative will further push the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest in front of a growing ecotourism market.

The decision, which was not unanimous, was taken at today’s open session in Council Chambers in Mossman.

Councillor Michael Kerr, who last week expressed his opposition to the project before the item was tabled in Council, was the lone councillor to vehemently vote against it. Councillors David Carey, Abigail Noli and Roy Zammataro voted in favour along with Mayor Julia Leu.

In his lengthy dissertation to Council – which ran beyond the mandatory five minutes and was cut short by Mayor Leu – Cr Kerr was applauded by the 35-strong gallery.

The last issue to draw a crowd at Council was the debate over the Paws and Claws location in Craiglie. Once again Cr Kerr was the centre of the discussion and was also celebrated for his stance.

The partnership is the first of its kind in Australia, unlocking sustainable tourism marketing and branding opportunities for Port Douglas and the Daintree. An official launch for the three-year partnership will be held in the near future.

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Mayor Julia Leu said the partnership reinforced Douglas Shire’s position as the leading sustainable tropical destination.

“We are so thrilled to partner with Qantas to tackle climate change and promote our beautiful Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest,” she said.

“Everyone knows Douglas Shire has a strong environmental charter, but now we can stand next to one of the country’s most reputable organisations, with our hand on our hearts and say our region is carbon neutral.

“I am confident this project will encourage more environmentally-minded visitors to fly into Cairns, turn right at the Captain Cook Highway and come to our pristine region,” she said.

Although the cost of the project was not revealed, Mayor Leu said it would be less than half a per cent of Council’s budget.

The partnership enables Council to become carbon neutral by purchasing premium carbon offsets located in Rawbelle, Queensland.

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.

“Once this is achieved, the partnership will encourage local businesses, particularly tourism operators, to join the partnership and offset their carbon footprint through the scheme.

“This is a carbon offset and marketing opportunity aimed at promoting the Douglas Shire as a sustainable tourism destination,” according to a Council report.

In reiterating his stand, Cr Kerr has questioned the effectiveness of this initiative adding he did not believe this is the appropriate time to be mitigating carbon/reef offsets at ratepayer expense in the current financial climate.

“Tourism is down; employment is down; the future of the Mossman Mill is unknown; around 20 per cent of our residential properties are on the market; and the Shire is still re-building from amalgamation and de-amalgamation,” he said.

Cr Kerr said these ratepayer funds would then feed through these companies to be offset in a location 15,00km away from Douglas, Rawbelle in the North Burnett Regional Council, about 450km inland of Bundaberg.

“It will enhance their economy and improve their actual environmental position. All we will receive is the goodwill branding for tourism on a website funded and maintained by Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, our tourism body, which ratepayers also contribute to,” he said.

Overall, and despite a lack of community consultation and Cr Kerr’s protestations, there was a predominance of positive feedback following Council’s decision.

Tara Bennett, Executive Officer of TPDD, said the council decision paved the way for the region to cement its reputation as a destination delivering genuine world-class and nature-based experiences.

“Becoming carbon neutral is part of a suite of initiatives our region is pursuing to improve our environmental credentials.

“TPDD has identified sustainable tourism delivery as one of our core strengths and opportunities for the future that’s aligned with the travel aspirations of our key markets,” she said.

Simon McGrath, Accor Chief Operating Officer, said it was a tremendous outcome worthy of a global celebration.

“Having the support of the Douglas Shire Council and the instantly recognisable strength of the Qantas brand will prove a winning strategy for the region,” he said.

“Partnerships like these in the region prove to our guests that we care for our environment, both on a local and global scale.

“The Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, right on our doorstep, will benefit considerably out of such a wonderful initiative.”

Cr Noli said we have an opportunity to boost the economy through a unique tourism venture.

“We have an opportunity to take a small step, initially, in assisting the environment, but those steps have the capacity to grow bigger. We’ve just got to start.

“This is not the be-all-and-end-all in what council does in either sphere, just one thing among the myriad of things council does every day.

“It doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing other things in these spheres. Let’s just grab this unique and one-off opportunity by the throat and give it a go. There is so much potential and so much to gain and really not much to lose,” she said.

Cr Carey said this is an important project and we have the mandate to do this.

“I have the mandate to support this and this was part of my platform at the last election,” he said.

John Rumney and Dr Dean Miller, from the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, agreed this is a positive outcome.

“This is positive. It is a good idea moving forward and will bring benefits to the shire over the next few years.”

The Douglas Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the plan by posting on the social media the message: "This is truly fantastic news for our unique Shire and its businesses in paradise."

GreenCollar is a carbon credit market trader based in Sydney. They specialise in developing National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) accredited carbon offsets located within Australia

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