Mayor Kerr expresses concern for Port Douglas

Q&A WITH THE MAYOR

Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr talks to Newsport about some of the issues affecting the Shire. Image: Karlie Brady.
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Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr is acutely aware of the many challenges created by the Coronavirus.

In this far-reaching interview with Newsport, he provides an insight and viewpoint on a number of the critical issues.

Without 'crystal balling', are you concerned about the future of PD as the pandemic continues?

I think you would be foolish to not be concerned for the future of Port Douglas. There are so many contributing factors that we rely on to survive. The economy, the Australian dollar, the weather, natural disasters, airlines, competition, just to name a few. When any one of these goes off tilt, it has often long affecting results on us. This pandemic has affected a majority of the reliances we have to continue as a prospering tourism destination.

If so, what are your major concerns?

With natural disasters you see when they are over and you start to rebuild. With this pandemic there is no end to be seen. Currently while we are feeling the economic hurt, we are in a really good health bubble. What happens if it explodes all around Australia, like it has in Victoria? What if it keeps having large waves, say in 18 months’ time? Do we keep shutting everything down? How many businesses could survive that? Most are struggling now here because of our reliance on tourism and the way the first wave affected our economy.

We are understandably unable to sustain every business - is it your fear that some may never open again?

Very sadly that is an absolute possibility. Many businesses are feeling the burden now and while banks are assisting with loan holds, they are still accruing interest which will need to be paid at some point by some means. Rents will still be required to be paid, many that remain over inflated from years gone past. Without a good tourist season and then back into an off shoulder season … where is the money coming from to pay these overheads?

Unemployment continues to be an issue and rising - what will these people do; perhaps leave town which may in the long term be a negative?

With the largest majority of employment coming from the tourism sector, there is no doubt unemployment will rise if tourism doesn’t regain strongly which by all means does not appear to be the case. No work, no confidence of gaining employment, population decreases, services decrease and so on. You enter a downward spiral which can be extremely hard to claw back from.

Job keeper has been a saviour - but how will it be impacted if the Federal Government decided to stick to their 30 Sept deadline?

For many businesses in our townships this is a non-negotiable; the only reason more than 25% of our workforce currently have jobs is because of Job-keeper. To lose this support from the Federal Government will be devastating for our shire’s employment and economy.

What are your real concerns for the shire as many may be looking to you for possible workable solutions?

I believe the most important points currently are 1. Keep as many current businesses trading as possible. Currently between Tourism Queensland, Tourism Tropical North Queensland and Tourism Port Douglas Daintree there is an abundant amount of work happening in the tourism sector to get what tourists there are to each individual destination. Job-keeper must continue to support this. 2. Continue to develop and better our tourism offerings and infrastructure to ensure that we are the choice of destination. 3. Commence setting the Shire up in alternative industries that will create employment in the shire that is not reliant or reduced by external factors to bolster our economy during periods of tourism decline.

The toughest issue is accepting our predicament. How are you dealing with what faces you each day?

For me personally it is rationalising the facts. You read through social media and see that many people may have differing opinions, but is what they are saying based on real facts or incorrect information being given to them by a friend who read this, or an online blog based on another person’s perspective. The reality is that this is far from over; we could well be in the same state as Victoria next week, next month or next year. I constantly ask myself what can we do to ensure that if that was to occur, we as Douglas could survive through it.

But, it's not total gloom and doom -- what positives have emerged?

One of the best parts of a smaller community is that when the chips are down, the locals band together and create some great ideas. Many businesses changed their model to continue trading and no doubt will need to continue doing so in new world of Covid19 possibility. It has given people a chance to reset with what’s important and how business is done. Families got to create memories that often would not have happened. I loved seeing the amount of families spending time together walking the dog, riding a bike. Family time that would otherwise never had happened with the busy schedule that most people live. It has also given Council the opportunity to look at how we look at our economy and start planning towards creating a more resilient Shire.

You have your detractors who want to challenge everything you say and do. What's your message to them and why it is so important they back what Council is doing for the shire?

One of the most disappointing parts about achieving this position is hearing the negative comments by people who have known me for many years, and clearly would know that what they are saying is not true. How do you know someone for five or six years, have a good productive relationship and overnight can no longer pick up a phone and ask a question and find it easier to assume and listen to what others are saying and repeat it. I read the other day from a person who has known me for many years that I was now a control freak, not quite sure how… I’m doing what the majority of people in the shire elected me to do and anyone who knows me, knows that I allow everyone the opportunity to have their say. For that matter watch the council meetings. I so far have allowed all councillors to have their say on all issues without any time constraints which I am entitled to do. I appreciate that people have their own opinions and are entitled to do so, but I will continue to proceed with what I said I was going to do through the election campaign, clearly and unfortunately the minority out there that voted otherwise will continue to try and discredit me rather than what I am trying to achieve.



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