LETTER | Why I voted for the Healthy Reef Partnership

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

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Deputy Mayor Abigail Noli
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Dear Editor,

There will be two parts to my discussion today: My decisions and reasoning as to why I support this recommendation and the necessary clarification about some ‘facts’ that have either been misunderstood over the last few days by the public.

For the sake of the gallery to help understand how I arrived at my decision and the reasoning for it and give you a chance to put yourself in my shoes about the complexities behind this agenda item I am going to tell you how it all unfolded from my point of view.

So a little over a year ago, a concept was brought to us. How would we like to collaborate with Qantas, reduce our carbon footprint and become the first carbon neutral, truly eco destination IN THE WORLD? Sounds great doesn’t it?

Before the idea was presented to us, Douglas Shire Council was already working on defining what our carbon footprint was for our own benefits with the idea of projects to come, so this concept amalgamated perfectly with the direction we were already taking.

Then as part of this idea Qantas showed us this amazing tree planting project in the Babinda area that was captured under the Healthy waterways partnership. The marketing and PR ideas were coming together for the project and it became obvious that this had literally unlimited tourism marketing potential, worldwide for Douglas.

Eventually staff come back to us with the final numbers of CO2, a bit over 6000 tonnes annually, Qantas tells us ok well that costs $X to offset and I think ‘well that’s not too bad’ but instead of buying the offsets from Qantas who buys them from, in this case GC, why not do a project ourselves and why don’t we just lower our carbon emissions to make the whole thing just a lot less expensive and less trouble than having to offset.

Of course Council is looking into this and setting into motion projects that will;

1. Lower our overall carbon emissions and,
2. Look at projects that we can do ourselves, under our own name and within the shire, to offset the emissions that remember, we will never be able to eliminate.

Brilliant ideas but these things take time. How much time? I ask as a councillor, well firstly finding projects that offset 6000 tonnes is not so easy and when you find something it takes a bit of organisation, so probably a minimum of three years, and in the meantime, we concurrently work on lowing emissions through other great projects.

Ok, so as a councillor, I am happy with that because we are being proactive and I understand the difficulties and complexities involved in these projects.

Qantas then says to us “clock is ticking, we want to know your decision and by the way the carbon offset scheme isn’t in Babinda like you thought but near Bundaberg and you have no choice take it or leave it.”

Now having the scheme in Babinda already for me wasn’t the greatest but I was willing to accept that, remembering that it is only a three year contract and then Douglas can have its own schemes up and running within the shire, but now I have to accept a scheme that is in a place I have never even heard of.

Now there is one thing that annoys me no end, and that is the feeling of being pressured, and that is how I felt. This feeling lead to more continued discussion with Qantas. Can we find another project, can we delay this idea until we have something in Douglas? Etc. Many questions were asked but it came back to, ‘The project is now and first three years the offsets are in Rawbelle.’

So, now as a councillor I have a decision to make. The project and idea is 75% perfect but not completely, do the benefits of having a world first for Douglas, backed and advertised by Qantas out weight the fact that for 3 years money will be spent outside. Not easy, because believe me I was not happy, my initial thought was “NO, no way can I agree to this”.

I have had the luxury of thinking about this for a while. I considered the cost, which in reality isn’t that great and then I considered the painful timeframe of 3 years which once again isn’t that long, but the benefits may lead to a 50 year boost for tourism and as a councillor we are always told to look at the long term benefits for the shire when making decisions.

The long term benefit combined with the fact that although it is a cost, it is relatively a small one and most importantly it is a temporary situation, ie 3 years, has allowed me to arrive at my decision.

There have been good and pertinent points already made about the value of this opportunity presented to this council.

This project aligns with the environment protection direction that this council seeks to follow, and of what we wish to achieve. Local governments are expected to be leaders in what we do and Douglas Shire Council is this. We assisted in the removal of the single use plastic bag, we are installing more drinking fountains to reduce plastic bottles, we are striving to eliminate any single use piece of plastic to help our oceans and marine life and in conjunction with that, every carbon atom that is sequested is important.

The recommendation is for a partnership between Council and Qantas with Green collar being the carbon trader. Qantas buys bulk credits from GC and Council works in conjunction with Qantas. Qantas chooses to use Green Collar as their trader because GC is Australia’s largest environmental carbon abatement investor, natural resource manager and conservation for profit organisation. It consists of experts in the field and NOT opinionists.

Qantas as we all know is a global organisation with limitless marketing and PR power. Already respected in the sphere of travel, tourism and carbon offsetting.

It is imperative to understand that written clearly in the report and very easy to see that, Qantas chooses GC as their preferred supplier. The recommended partnership is essentially between Qantas and council with Qantas choosing GC as their trader.

So with this partnership between Qantas and council, Council has the opportunity and Qantas has the capacity, (for a relatively small fee), to provide Douglas with millions, if not tens of millions of dollars of INTERNATIONAL marketing and tourism public relations and advertising.

To put into perspective as to how small the fee will be in relation to what will be the benefits, I’d like to give a few comparisons. We cannot divulge the exact fee because Qantas doesn’t want this but our CEO has already publically said that is approximately equal to 0.5 of 1% of our operating budget.

We spend more annually on footpaths, this year on toilets, the mowing contracts in the shire are much greater than this. Park play ground equipment and maintenance costs annually is about the same. The pump track and skate park for kids costs a lot, Carnivale etc.

So seriously, it is not huge.

What do we get back in return then? Probably millions of dollars of worldwide PR. The initial three year contract timeframe allows us to then set up projects here locally and after that, not spend money that will leave the shire. This offer is only available now and if we don’t take it now we will lose the opportunity. I have questioned this profoundly and I am certain about this fact.

In summary, 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 amongst the myriad of things council does everyday. 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.

I hope any retelling of today’s meeting and its debate is done so accurately, with no additions, omissions or bias. Thank you.

- Abigail Noli, Deputy Mayor - Douglas Shire Council


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