It may be one of the most important discussions Noosa has had in years, but the Council’s Destination Management Plan (DMP) has deteriorated into a shambolic mess. Or, as one participant put it, the DMP has “hit the fan”.
What was promoted as a far-reaching plan to balance competing resident and tourism priorities for the years ahead has been described by participants as dysfunctional, overbearing, secretive and paying lip-service – at best – to community views.
The “inside” group doing the actual planning and discussion is dominated by the tourism industry and Noosa Council, chaired by Mayor Clare Stewart, with a few add-ons with practical and academic knowledge of the issue.
It’s exactly one year since I first wrote about this group and the early warning signs of this talkfest going nowhere and excluding a genuine channel for community input.
Some improvements were pushed through by Deputy Mayor Frank Wilkie and Councillor Brian Stockwell who tried to encourage a “whole of community” approach, but when it came to the actual management process things started to go off the rails with delayed or cancelled meetings and a growing perception that the “outside” group was merely for show.
That group, including community representatives, is the External Reference Group, and it’s not a happy bunch.
The Non-Disclosure Agreement that’s on the nose
Last Wednesday was this group’s second meeting (the first this year). They were kept in the dark about what the ‘Inside’ group had been up to, and on the eve of the meeting were told they must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement if they wanted to carry on.
This was one of those generic, off-the shelf, documents full of jargon, threats and intimidatory language. The members were blindsided by this stipulation. Had they been warned about it earlier, they may have considered whether to take part.
Volunteer participants representing their communities were told to sign and agree not to disclose any details of discussions, or the draft plan itself, even to their own community groups. Any breach would leave them liable to court action and would result in the disbanding of the entire external Reference Group.
What could possibly be so dangerous in public hands to warrant this level of intimidation of volunteer participants? And who signed off on it?
Some mutinied, refusing to sign such an onerous document. The Noosa Shire Residents and Ratepayers Association (NSRRA) was the first to pull the plug, saying;
We will soon have a discussion paper but we are required to sign a legal non-disclosure agreement to proceed further, make no comment to anyone then support an unknown result.
NSRRA has been ready to participate in the process as members of an External Reference Group, but the current communications from Council indicate so much uncertainty as to our role and value. The lack of transparency and accountability together with almost no progress do not instil any confidence.
It is with regret and concern over the possible outcome over this process that Noosa Shire Residents and Ratepayers Assn have decided to withdraw from the program effective immediately.
Years of seeking solutions to the problems impacting Noosa have produced reports but almost no action except to endorse increased tourism. We hope that this does not simply create a tourism marketing plan.
Others questioned the cloak of secrecy around a conversation on tourism and refused to sign.
At the time of writing there’d been two resignations, with more expected.
Several on the External Reference Group echoed the concerns that they were being used to give the process ‘political cover’…the appearance of community involvement, while in reality they were only being asked to help publicise a plan formed without their input.
As one member put it; “we’re not here to contribute to the discussion paper, just to comment on ‘the vibe’ and the punctuation”.
Of course the “inside” group has been treated more like the adults in the room. No Non-disclosure Agreement for them, just the expectation that they would act responsibly.
Aside from the obvious erosion of community goodwill, insiders in this process say it’s symptomatic of deeper leadership issues in Noosa Council, which is already accused of being captured by the powerful local tourism lobby. (which ratepayers support to the tune of $2.6-million each year)
A ‘circuit-breaker’ is required to revive the process
The DMP process is being chaired by Mayor Clare Stewart, and there’s a rapidly growing groundswell within Council and those directly involved suggesting she should do the right thing and stand aside from the Project Control Group.
Ms Stewart has announced she will step down as Mayor in March to run for the LNP against Sandy Bolton, the Independent member for Noosa. She is very clearly already in campaign mode with her focus on George Street in Brisbane.
Leaving aside the mismanagement so far, our sources in Council say it’s essential that such a crucial and complex process for Noosa be run by Councillors who intend to remain there beyond next March and see the Destination Management Plan through to implementation.
Whoever takes over as Mayor next year, as the LNP incumbent steps away to take her tilt at State politics, their first priority will be to restore a resident-focused ethos in Council and to find a new CEO capable of righting what is clearly a dangerously listing Council ship.
We can’t fix Noosa’s Destination Management debacle without first fixing the lack of Council leadership that caused it.