Review request from Douglas Shire Councillor David Carey - 26/1/20

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On 26 January 2020, the ICEO received a review request from Cr David Carey a member of the Douglas Shire Council. His review related to an interview that day on local radio in which Cr Carey alleges that Cr Michael Kerr, who is a candidate for Mayor at the up-coming elections, made a false statement to the effect “we are slugging investors more than they pay anywhere else in the country”. Cr Carey provided a link to a segment of the interview which the ICEO and his team have heard.

A copy of Cr Carey’s review request and attachment was sent to Cr Kerr who provided a comprehensive response to the request on 2 February 2020 to which he attached a number of documents and links. He confirmed that only a segment of the interview had been sent to the ICEO.

In the opinion of the ICEO, in determining whether Cr Kerr said these words or what he said was purporting to be a statement of fact or an expression of his own opinion, the context in which he spoke about this topic is important. He was at the station to discuss an entirely different topic to do with the Arts. Cr Kerr was asked about a recently formed Ratepayers Association which he strongly supports. He also expressed his concerns about attracting investors to the Douglas Shire. In this context he said (in effect) that investors might be discouraged from investing in the Shire “if we are going to slug them more than they pay anywhere else in the country”.

It follows therefore that Cr Kerr did not say what is alleged he said in the review request. Rather, by prefacing his comment with “if”, it was a qualified statement, rather than a statement of fact.

In his response, by reference to a large number of documents including emails from interstate owners of apartments in Port Douglas, Cr Kerr states he was merely expressing his opinion. It is clear from his response and the attachments that his focus on the issue is on Port Douglas, and on owners of units in community title schemes who do not have Port Douglas as their electoral address. He states that he is the only present member of Council who lives in Port Douglas. He also provided tables which show comparisons of rating increases since de-amalgamation with Cairns City Council and the CPI.

He has provided emails from absentee owners that allege that, in their State (e.g. Victoria), the rating charges are less than what they pay in the Douglas Shire. He has also extracted some information from a Victorian Government web site and argues that this supports his opinion that rates for these types of dwellings are higher in the Shire. The ICEO simply does not have the resources to compare rating practices in every local government area in Australia. It is clear that other States adopt different methodology and electoral practices to that which pertain in Queensland.

At a Special Meeting of Council held on 25 June, 2019, rating resolutions were passed unanimously. Both Cr Carey and Cr Kerr were present at that meeting. The budget for the pending financial period including the Mayor’s budget address were carried unanimously. In that address she described the increase in rates of 1.8% as the lowest in recent years which is confirmed by the table provided by Cr Kerr referred to above. It is also appears that residential rating categories do not depend on whether the ratepayer is a local resident or an absentee owner whose electoral address for voting purposes is somewhere else.

In those circumstances the ICEO does not uphold the review request. Firstly, it is clear from the recording of the interview Cr Kerr qualified his comment. Secondly, in the context of the interview, his actual comment seems to be an expression of his personal opinion and not a statement of fact. Finally, because this issue is obviously one of public interest in the Shire and in particular in Port Douglas, the ICEO, pursuant to its charter, does not wish to interfere in robust debate about such issues leading up to the 28 March election.

John Robertson

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