Daintree Ferry: How did we get there? - Part one


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Newsport is running a two-part series about the Daintree Ferry which outlines recent events and asks the question why have we got to this point why the ferry continues to be a contentious issue for the shire.

In what could be best described, the future of the Daintree River ferry is an ongoing saga that continues to attract attention across the shire

It is therefore no surprise shire residents are mystified by recent events and are asking the question: “how did we get there?” and “how did this become such a polarised issue?”

Two key decisions in May this year offered a solution, only to be hijacked by a caveat.

On 21 May, Council announced it was paying $4.5 million for the Daintree ferry; and four days later, it was revealed an audit – spearheaded by Councillor Lisa Scomazzon – would be launched into the Daintree ferry contract renewal.

The independent probity audit will analyse the ferry contract process to ensure public trust and understanding in the decision-making.

Under the headline –‘Audit launched into Daintree ferry contract renewal’ – Newsport revealed: “A probity audit requested by Councillor Lisa Scomazzon to review and provide detailed reports about the processes behind the Daintree Ferry Contract Renewal, was unanimously supported in an open Council meeting on 25 May.”

“The probity audit will cover the period from initial consultations in 2018 until now,” reported Council.

- Daintree Ferry: How did we get there? - Part two

Lengthy process

And from what we’ve recently learned, it could take months before the result is known.

According to a Council spokesman, once the auditors have been appointed they are expected to complete their report in coming months.

“Douglas Shire Council, in conjunction with its Audit Committee, is preparing a scope of works and request for a quote to be released in coming weeks.

“A list of potential probity auditors will be provided to the Audit Committee which will make a recommendation for Council to consider.

“Once selected, the appointed auditors are expected to complete their report in the coming months,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, there was understandable shock and dismay when Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr said: “While the purchase price ($4.5m) is significantly higher than the independent valuation of about $800,000, Councillors and I decided we were not willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of local business owners and residents.” 

No consultation

Two councillors, Abigail Noli and Scomazzon, publicly expressed their views and the latter led the way for an audit to review and provide detailed reports about the processes behind the Daintree Ferry Contract Renewal.

Said Clr Noli: “There was no consultation by this council as to whether the ratepayers wanted to buy a ferry; consultation was completely disregarded by this purchase.

“There was no transparency. The first time the public knew that buying the ferry might occur was 12 January 2021. The next time was in May of this year, a mere few days before it occurred.

“The speed for this purchase is not good governance; good governance of Council is one of the tasks that a councillor is assigned to do by law.”

Clr Scomazzon said she had spent many weeks researching the history of the contract from 2018 to date.

“I looked at the tender process, the current contract and the two-ferry contract, and negotiations which have now expired and based my vote on this research.

“I may not have been happy with the price we paid for the ferry, but I believe that the way I voted was the best long-term option for the shire,” she said.

The rules have changed. We have a $4.5m ferry, but there will now be an audit which will play out in due course.

To put this into context, Council has provided a background under the headline: Daintree River ferry options - May 2021.

Media coverage

It is also no surprise that the ferry receives a significant portion of media coverage in the region. Newsport’s headlines are aplenty. Here’s a sample of recent stories:

Key Dates/Facts:

1954: A steel punt was used as a ferry to cart timber trucks from the timber mill north of the Daintree River to the south side.

1958: The Douglas Shire Council built an outboard-driven ferry to service residents north of the Daintree River – this was eventually replaced by a new privately-owned ferry.

1962: The Daintree Ferry to Cape Tribulation Road was opened by Andrew Mason. The Mason family were the first white settlers of Cape Tribulation.

1966: Electricity was turned on in Daintree Village. Daintree was declared by the Queensland State Government.

  • The Daintree River Ferry provides the only local public service connecting the south and north sides of the Daintree River;
  • It provides a critical transport link for approximately 700 residents and tens of thousands of annual visitors per annum;
  • The only alternate route to the area north of the Daintree from Mossman is via Mulligan Highway, Wujal Wujal, and the Bloomfield Track, which is an unsealed track and inaccessible for part of the year;
  • The ferry is situated some 50 kilometres north of Port Douglas;
  • The 43.2m ferry carries a maximum of 27 vehicles, and takes about five minutes to cross the river;
  • It operates from early morning until midnight, seven days a week, and in recent times has been operated by a commercial contractor on behalf of the Douglas Shire Council;
  • The ferry was replaced in 2006, replacing the previous ferry which carried a maximum of 16 vehicles. This has substantially reduced any delays in making the crossing.

Tomorrow: Mayor Kerr puts it into perspective.

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