The Daintree Ferry Fiasco
This is the time line of the 2018 Daintree Ferry Fiasco:
November 2017; somewhere during this month the Daintree
ferry contractor becomes aware they will have to dry dock the ferry.
18 December 2017: Douglas Shire Council becomes aware of
the need for a dry dock inspection but instead of looking for a replacement
vehicle ferry or contacting the North Douglas community and working together
towards the best solution they kept it a secret for another six weeks.
Some point in late December to January DSC contractor Gaye
Scott who usually handles all the public relations and complaints for
the council becomes aware of the impending ferry closure, but keeps it
a secret to the Daintree Marketing Committee of which she is Chair.
Late January; Port Douglas Daintree Tourism is informed
of the ferry closure and Tara Bennett makes comments for the upcoming
edition of the Gazette,, which starts allocating considerable space for
the issue with a full page ad from DSC, but it is still kept secret from
the North Douglas community and businesses.
1 February: The bomb drops on the North Douglas Community,
first through a post on the DSC Facebook page, so initially people think
it is a badly timed April Foolsday joke on 1 February instead of 1 April.
Closing the ferry for five days, that can't be real....
But the Mossman Gazette has the same story (showing the council kept the
secret an extra half a week to allow the Gazette to have a fresh spectacular
headline) and the council website has the news too so people are starting
to realize this is not a joke....
Announcements on DSC FB page and in local Gazette tell people the ferry
will be shut down for five days, a 30 person passenger boat and a shuttle
bus to Cow Bay will be provided and that is it.
Note that there is no request for public input.
Click to enlarge article
Sunday 4 February: Community meeting at CJ's Cafe Thornton
Beach. A small crowd turns up plus two uninvited people, mayor Julia Leu
and councillor Roy Zammataro, as well as ex mayor Mike Berwick making
a rare public appearance to support Julia. He does not normally appear
in public in the Daintree but tried to back up Julia by blaming the closure
on AMSA (not correct), stating that he was not worried about the closure
because it did not really affect him (so why turn up, this was about people
affected by the closure) and stating that there should be some transport
for fruit growers (but not worried about the effects on the tourism industry).
Knowing he is not very popular in North Douglas he vaporized again before
the meeting was over. Julia was given opportunity to speak towards the
end of the meeting and faced furious reactions from residents, even those
who are not normally heard and keep a low profile were incensed at the
contempt and disrespect coucil had shown by just announcing a five day
cut off without any proper alternative arrangements.
Click to enlarge
8 February; Gazette has article with mad as hell residents
on the front page.
Council has a half page ad where suddenly the 1st of February is declared
as the "start of the public consultation period".
15 February: No news coverage in the Gazette this week but
a letter to the editor
Click to enlarge
1 March: the ferry is out of the water being inspected and
council is quick to post that there is no major damage and all work is
progressing really well.
Residents have been worried that should there be serious damage then the
ferry may not be fixed on time and if they miss the high tide on the weekend
then it may be another month until the tide is high enough again to put
the ferry back in the water.
Local Facebook groups list numerous reports of inadequate
5 March: DSC has made last minute arrangements for the obvious
need for people to travel across the river to retrieve vehicles, but again
things are not running all that smooth...
7 March: It appears the Ferry Fiasco has taken its first
casualty; DSC Facebook page and local media report that the CEO Linda
Cardew has resigned, and found a new job in Cooktown, although they insist
this is unrelated to the ferry fiasco...
8 March: Gazette has several articles and letters on the
When the region returned to normal after all the chaos,
financial losses to North Douglas businesses were estimated around several
hundred thousand dollars. Some North Douglas business owners travelled
down to Mossman for a meeting with council where they were treated with
great contempt and did not achieve anything.
Comments made were; "so how much are you actually losing?",
"in March there's nobody up there anyway", "if you need
transport just call an Uber" (in an area without mobile phone signal?).
One business owner spent a considerable amount of time to lodge official
complaints with the Ombudsman which was rejected and even a second attempt
led to nothing.
Arrangements made by DSC had been woefully inadequate. They
thought that a passenger boat and a shuttle bus to Cow Bay could be an
adequate solution to keep the Daintree tourism industry running. Cape
Tribulation was totally forgotten, only after protests DSC arranged a
shuttle bus service to Cape Tribulation but it was only one 11 seater
Hiace which ran once every two hours. Tourists had to wait at the river
on the north side for a bus to take them to the Discovery Centre, then
wait there for a Cape Trib bus, and it was full wait for the next one
two hours later. There was no booking system or organisation of any kind,
tourists were expected to stand at the roadside to get a bus back. How
did they know what time this small bus would come past, or what it would
look like to flag it down, or how would they get from holiday homes on
back roads with their suitcases to the main road? What if it rained? What
if the bus was full? Tourists ended up being stranded in Cape Trib for
the night when the last bus for the day was full.
The members of the Daintree Marketing Cooperative who were
all financially impacted by this ferry closure were furious they had been
kept in the dark by their Chair Gaye Scott who is employed by DSC and
had kept the ferry closure a secret from them for at least six weeks.
This betrayal led to a new Chair being elected and Gaye Scott removed
from her position.
North Douglas residents who contacted Seaswift and Sealink
to enquire about ferries available to hire were both surprised and shocked
to hear that nobody from DSC had made any enquiries there. They had simply
put the ferry owners interests above the North Douglas community interest
and instead of dry docking elsewhere and finding a replacement ferry they
allowed him to pull the ferry out of the water on the landing area, blocking
the way for any other replacement vehicle ferry to operate.
DSC claimed that they had been given little warning about
the inspection, and said it was a legislated ferry closure.
Truth was that the inspection is legislated, but the closure was not.
They claimed that they normally apply for an exemption from dry docking
and due to a change in the rules the exemption had not been given this
An inquisitive local made contact with AMSA and found that an exemption
had not even been sought and there had been no change of rules.
(Australian Maritime Safety Authority)
A one vehicle barge was made available for the fruit growers
to get their produce to market, but when the Cape Trib Farm turned up
with a load of rambutans they were told the little barge was not operational
and they should come back the next day.
At Floravilla Icecream the freezer broke down and refrigeration mechanics
from Cairns were not able to get their truck on the little barge after
several phone calls to council.
Where else in Australia would a council cut off vehicle
access to half their shire just to save some money on a maintenance job,
instead of ensuring adequate replacement service was in place?
Council became aware on or around 18 December that the ferry
would have to be dry docked, but kept this a secret from the North Douglas
community for another six weeks until 1 February.
The working relationship with the ferry owner was given a higher priority
than the public interest of the North Douglas community by permitting
the ferry owner to pull the ferry on the southern ferry landing to do
the work, blocking access to any potential replacement vehicle ferry,
to save money by avoiding the expense of taking the ferry to a proper
dry dock facility and hiring a replacement vehicle ferry for the duration.
Council announced the ferry closure not through official channels with
the tourism industry but through a Facebook post, accompanied by the announcement
of some grossly inadequate arrangements which were supposed to “minimise
Only after a storm of protest erupted they scrambled to implement some
improvements, and claimed that 1 February had been the start of the consultation
period. This was a lie, no public input had been requested in the 1 February
Another lie was told when council claimed that in the past exemptions
from dry docking had been given but a change in legislation meant that
suddenly these exemptions were no longer available.
A local resident got in touch with AMSA and was told that there had been
no change to the rules, and in fact no exemption had been sought.
When local residents contacted Seaswift and Sealink to enquire about ferries
available to rent they discovered that council had not been in touch with
them to even attempt to find out if any vehicle ferries or barges were
available to rent to provide a replacement service. It was simply deemed
acceptable to cut off all vehicle access to half the shire for five days.
When North Daintree locals and businesses engaged with council through
letters and a meeting in the council chambers in Mossman they were treated
with utmost contempt and disrespect, any suggestion for compensation brushed
aside, and we were made to feel guilty for council having spent $100,000.-
on measures to minimise disruption “well and above contractual obligations”.
Economic impact of the Ferry Fiasco.
Direct financial losses for the North Douglas community and their businesses
have been estimated at close to $200,000.- but the longer term damage
to the Daintree tourism brand is larger although hard to quantify.
Large inbound tourism operators do not like cancellations and long term
damage to working relationships results from situations like this.
Many tourists had to either cancel their plan or ended up having the enjoyment
taken out of their holiday with long waiting times for overcrowded buses
and some people got stuck with no transport or simply turned around at
While council says they planned this closure for the wet season (low season)
to minimise impact (in February there’s nobody up there anyway,
they disrespectfully told business owners) it was far from a perfect time
as this is the time of year where it is really hard to break even for
businesses, and five days of no traffic means a big financial loss.
Many local staff who work in the resorts and restaurants already have
their hours reduced that time of year and many of them did not get any
work or got paid for those days.
Social impact of the Ferry Fiasco.
Many people who commute across the river for work had to either pay for
accommodation on the south side that week, or have a car on both sides
of the river.
For tradesmen with tools this was extra difficult.
Using the ferry as a traffic limiter
The ferry is designated as a traffic limiter in the council’s planning
scheme and FNQ Regional Plan, and the question must be asked if it is
ethical to restrict the wellbeing of a community with a traffic limiter
which has created unacceptable queues for over fifteen years now, with
no solution planned any time soon.
There is no solid evidence that a second ferry or even a bridge that can
eliminate the queues would bring exceptionally large volumes of traffic
in to the area, there are other rain forest areas in far north Queensland
who have unrestricted free road access and none of them have run out of
Council holds a paranoid belief that any solution to the queues will mean
over development, cutting down of rain forest and large amounts of money
spent on upgrading roads, none of them backed up by solid evidence.
Using the ferry as a cash cow to prop up general budget
With the exception of the Jardine River ferry which will soon be replaced
by a bridge, the Daintree River ferry is by far the most expensive in
Australia, and for many years the profits that the ferry makes have been
placed in a Ferry Reserve, which has grown by around half a million dollars
Many times local residents have asked for some of these millions to be
used for some much needed infrastructure but the reply was always that
this money was strictly for the ferry.
In 2017 council played a rather unethical trick where they capped the
Ferry Reserve at four million and quietly changed the General Policy so
that all the profits from the ferry goes in to consolidated revenue and
can be used in Port Douglas or where ever they choose.
This quiet unadvertised change is totally unethical, because this expensive
ferry has a detrimental impact on the economy and community of North Douglas
it is only fair that the profits should benefit the community that deals
with the negative impact of this inadequate ferry.
General sabotage measures
- No support for electricity supply;
Even though council is obsessed with climate change initiatives, green
policies and reducing carbon emissions, we see them do nothing towards
a normal electricity supply for North Douglas, and they appear content
to keep the hundreds of generators burning up four million litres of fuel
per year, a price they consider worth paying to hinder the economic development
of the northern half of their shire.
- No garbage collection or Cape Trib transfer station.
Another long running issue, Cape Tribulation residents and businesses
have a 70 km. roundtrip to the nearest transfer station to get rid of
their rubbish, many complaints and requests have been made with council
which only resulted in a Cape Trib transfer station for a few weeks for
a few businesses, and has now been closed and unused for a long time.
- Neglect of Noah Creek Bridge;
This bridge and the way it has been managed has also cost Cape Tribulation
a lot of money during failures, closures and repairs with delays and load
- Denying safe access to communities in the far north of the shire.
Communities in the far northern corner of the shire and across the border
in Wujal and Cooktown want the road from Cape Tribulation to Wujal sealed
to have a safe access road, and a bridge over Emmagen Creek. Douglas Shire
Council stubbornly rejects any suggestion of this as it does not fit in
with their personal desires.
- Forgetting about North Douglas in all their environmental initiatives
and other publications.
Local Government Act
Local government principles underpin this Act
(1)To ensure the system of local government is accountable, effective,
efficient and sustainable, Parliament requires—
(a)anyone who is performing a responsibility under this Act to do so in
accordance with the local government principles; and
(b)any action that is taken under this Act to be taken in a way that—
(i)is consistent with the local government principles; and
(ii)provides results that are consistent with the local government principles,
in as far as the results are within the control of the person who is taking
(2)The local government principles are—
(a)transparent and effective processes, and decision-making in the public
(b)sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure,
and delivery of effective services; and
(c)democratic representation, social inclusion and meaningful community
(d)good governance of, and by, local government; and
(e)ethical and legal behaviour of councillors and local government employees.
DSC is in clear breach of local government principle 2a; transparent processes
and decision making in the public interest;
There was no transparent process in keeping this ferry closure secret
for six weeks, and then announcing the closure and plans without asking
for public input.
There was and is no decision-making in the public interest with this ferry,
either in the ferry fiasco or in the general day to day management of
The decision to pull the ferry out of the water on the southern landing,
blocking access to a possible replacement ferry, was not in the public
interest, but in the interest of the ferry owner who saved money not having
to take the ferry to a proper dry dock facility and provide a replacement
The decision to keep the ferry closure secret for six weeks was not in
the public interest, North Douglas businesses and their staff could have
better planned their down time, maintenance and holidays around this closure
had more notice been given.
They could have stopped taking reservations, which now had to be cancelled,
angering travel agents and inbound tourism operators who may look elsewhere
to book customers next time.
The decision to drag the ferry up on the bank may have resulted in the
easiest cheapest quickest way to get the ferry inspected and maintained
for the ferry owner, but was definitely not in the public interest of
the community and the FNQ tourism industry, as this blocked the landing
ramp and no replacement vehicle ferry could use this space.
The decision to only run a passenger boat and not even look for, or attempt
to find a replacement vehicle ferry was not in the public interest.
The decision to not implement the second ferry recommended in the 2004
study creates massive queues during the tourist season, and this decision
is not in the public interest.
The decision to designate the Daintree ferry as a traffic limiter in the
DSC Planning Scheme is not in the public interest, it has an economic
impact on the community, and it has a social impact on the community.
The decision to change the rules in the Ferry Reserve Policy which previously
required all profits to be used for the ferry itself, to now siphon off
profits to use in the rest of the shire in consolidated revenue is not
in the public interest of the North Douglas community.
The high fares charged on the ferry make a certain percentage of travellers
turn around, and this has a negative impact on the North Douglas local
economy, it would be ethical if the profits derived from this traffic
limiter stay in the northern area.
The decision to raise the price of the ferry crossing each year to maintain
the profits on this traffic bottleneck is not in any public interest;
not in the interest of the travelling public and not in the interest of
the North Douglas community that loses customers.
Except for the Jardine River ferry (which already has money for a bridge
allocated and may soon be gone) the Daintree River ferry is the most expensive
cable ferry in Australia.
4(2)(b) DSC is in clear breach of local government principle 2b, delivery
of effective services:
The current ferry service Douglas Shire Council delivers is far from effective.
During the tourist season there are daily queues of up to two hours in
the morning heading north, and up to two hours in the afternoon heading
south. This is not a new problem, it has been going on for nearly two
decades. In 2003 this issue was already reported in the local newspaper
(see attachment) and council had a meeting with local tourism organisations,
this prompted council to conduct the Daintree River Ferry Crossing Future
Options Study in 2004 which recommended a second ferry. Fourteen years
later there is still no sign of a second ferry or any plan to do implement
this, despite everyone knowing that the queues will be there again this
Community meetings have resulted in dozens of suggestions for improvements
to the ferry service, which all get ignored.
4(2)(c) DSC is in clear breach of local government principle 2c; democratic
representation, social inclusion and meaningful community engagement
Meaningful community engagement on the ferry closure was non-existent,
the closure of the ferry was kept secret for six weeks from 18 December
until 1 February, and was then announced on Facebook and in local newspaper
accompanied by some plans to run a 30 person passenger boat and a shuttle
bus to Cow Bay only, there was no request for public input at that time,
and no community engagement.
Only after a storm of protest erupted over the ferry closure council went
in to damage control and a week later stated that 1 February had been
the start of the public consultation period”.
Only then did we see a shuttle bus service to Cape Tribulation announced,
which was totally inadequate in size, frequency and route, with no booking
system of any kind.
Social inclusion is defined as “participate in society through employment
and access to services”
The North Douglas community is denied many basic services and parents
who wish to drive their kids to after school activities in South Douglas
get stuck in ferry queues and run late for activities, or just decide
not to go any more.
4(2)(d) DSC is in clear breach of local government principle 2d; good
governance of, and by, local government.
Intentionally maintaining a traffic bottle neck against the wishes of
the community and against the recommendation of a study, is not good government.
Cutting off all vehicle access to half the shire, after keeping it secret
for six weeks, without even attempting to maintain vehicle access with
another vessel, and then implementing some totally inadequate replacement
services is not good government.
Ignoring the issue of long queues that has been in existence for at least
fifteen years with no current plan to reach a solution any time soon is
not good government.
4(2)(e) DSC is in clear breach of local government principle 2e; ethical
and legal behaviour of councillors.
For years the North Douglas community has been asking for some of the
Ferry Reserve to be used for some much needed infrastructure north of
the Daintree river, but the answer was always that the rules of the Ferry
Reserve dictate that money can only be used for the ferry, not for other
In 2017 council quietly changed the Ferry Reserve Policy, capping it at
$4 million, moving a considerable amount in to consolidated revenue, and
from then on will use the profits of this ferry anywhere in the shire.
This is totally unethical behaviour of councillors.
It is well established that the high fares of the ferry and the long queues
have a negative economic and social impact on the North Douglas economy
and community, therefore profits derived from this inadequate ferry service
should remain in North Douglas to compensate the community. Using this
money to prop up the general budget and siphon ferry profits in to consolidated
revenue to use in South Douglas is unethical.
There is also the question if this is legal, imposing a bottle neck on
half the shire that negatively impacts the community, and using profits
elsewhere in the shire.
Responsibilities of councillors
(1)A councillor must represent the current and future interests of the
residents of the local government area.
(6)When performing a responsibility, a councillor must serve the overall
public interest of the whole local government area.
Council is in clear breach of the section above.
To keep running one single ferry instead of two, or to resist improvements
suggested by the community, does not serve the current interest, or the
overall public interest of the whole local government area, and especially
the public interest of the northern part.
All Douglas Shire businesses that provide services or supplies to North
Douglas are faced with unacceptable waiting times at the ferry.
To keep running one single ferry instead of two does not serve the future
interest of the whole local government area, and especially the northern
It has placed the North Douglas community and economy in a very vulnerable
position, before this ferry closure residents made numerous calls to ferry
companies and found that there are no vessels for rent that could provide
an efficient service similar to the current ferry, this means that a catastrophic
event during tourist season that puts the ferry out of action for considerable
time or even permanent, would devastate the North Douglas tourism industry
as vehicle access could be cut for weeks or months.
(2)A conflict of interest is a conflict between—
(a)a councillor’s personal interests; and
(b)the public interest;
that might lead to a decision that is contrary to the public interest.
Council is in clear breach of the section above.
Council insist North Douglas must have a traffic limiter in an irrational
fear of development getting out of hand, rain forest being cut down and
having to spend money on roads and services.
Normally councils work for the public interest while considering the environment,
but in this case the Planning Scheme states that in North Douglas protection
of the environment is paramount, meaning residents take second place.
Council is obliged by the Local Government Act to serve the public interest
of the community, but they operate like an environmental organisation
when putting the environment in first place.
Several of the councillors have such a strong, dedicated personal interest
in environmental protection that it leads to decision-making contrary
to the public interest of the North Douglas community.
A conflict of interest arises when councillor’s own strong personal
environmental interests lead to decisions that are contrary to the public
Conduct and performance of councillors
(3)Misconduct is conduct, or a conspiracy or attempt to engage in conduct,
of or by a councillor—
(a)that adversely affects, or could adversely affect, (either directly
or indirectly) the honest and impartial performance of the councillor’s
responsibilities or exercise of the councillor’s powers; or
(b)that is or involves—
(i)the performance of the councillor’s responsibilities, or the
exercise of the councillor’s powers, in a way that is not honest
or is not impartial; or
(ii)a breach of the trust placed in the councillor; or
The DSSG represents a broad cross section of the Douglas community from
Bloomfield to Wangetti Beach and has established extensive networks including
Low Isles Preservation Society (LIPS), Cairns and Far North Environment
Centre (CAFNEC), The Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO), Queensland
Conservation Council (QCC), Rainforest Rescue, The Wilderness Society
(TWS), the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Greenpeace and Getup.
12 March 2014: “Community engagement for all councils is a cornerstone
of good governance,” Ms Cardew said.
“There is also an increasing public expectation that all levels
of government are transparent and accountable in the way they do business.
“Citizens are seeking more direct ways to get involved in public
life and decision-making, particularly concerning issues that will have
an impact on their lives, and our community engagement policy facilitates
this relationship between Council and our communities.”