Louise Mahoney's proposed Whitsunday Coast and Island Shire boundary.
Louise Mahoney's proposed Whitsunday Coast and Island Shire boundary.

Business backs split

By Linda Brady

ONE-time local councillor Louise Mahony's push for a separate beach shire is gaining momentum, with almost 100 beach businesses throwing their support behind her proposal this week.

Ms Mahony lodged her submission for a smaller tourism-focussed beach shire with the Local Government Reform Commission on Wednesday, but not before testing the waters with locals.

"In only two days of releasing the submission for a Whitsunday Coast and Islands Council, over 90 businesses sent in a letter of support, and they are still coming off the fax," she said.

"I think they realise an opportunity as good as this, to have our own shire to manage and take control of our future, only comes once in a lifetime."

Some of the beach's biggest players have indicated their support including PRDNationwide, Adelyn Retail, Beaches, Barefoot Cruises and Hamilton Island's Trader Pete.

Ms Mahony's proposed shire essentially splits the coast from Prosepine along the Bruce Highway, taking in Laguna and Midge Point, and Gloucester in the north. It also veers west around Gunyarra to take in the Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) Airport.

The Airlie Beach Chamber of Commerce also conducted a poll on the separate shire notion last week, with 53% of respondants putting a beach shire as either their first or second preference.

But critics say there is no way the state government will consider the creation of a new small shire at a time when they are looking to merge shires to improve efficiencies and the financial viability of smaller areas.

There is also the fear that a specialised tourism shire puts all the region's eggs in the one proverbial basket, leaving it vulnerable to tourism slumps caused by things such as cyclones or travel scares.

But Ms Mahony said those risks already exist.

"We are already predominately a tourism shire and unless that is well managed, we are already vulnerable," she said.

"Part of the beach council plan is to put good management strategies in place to diversify the industry base so we aren't at risk."

The Whitsunday Shire Council meanwhile has signed off on its own submission to the Reform Commission, assessing four likely amalgamation options and making it clear they would oppose any "super-shire" merger with Mackay.

Council's first preference is to retain the status quo, the second option being to incorporate the areas south to Bloomsbury and Elaroo, with the third adding both Bowen and south to Elaroo.

Council's submission also includes an annexure of notes and discussion points from two community workshops on amalgamations ? including one held in Airlie Beach on Tuesday.

Workshop participants were largely in favour of maintaining the current boundaries, but clearly preferred a merger with Bowen than Mackay.

There was an air of inevitability around the council table on Tuesday as the Whitsunday shire's submission was endorsed, with Mayor Mario Demartini explaining that councillors were resigned to the idea of amalgamation. He said coucillors were "ok" with that and just wanted to make the best of it.

His claim drew a prickly response from Cr Kieran McCarthy however, who said he, at least, was certainly not "ok".

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