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  • Renee Cluff

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    Anger over lack of diversity on Council's 'future of Cairns' committee

    No young people. A few women. One Indigenous representative. And a whole lot of old men.

    If a picture says a thousands words, a photo released by Cairns Regional Council to announce its 2050 Shared Vision Advisory Committee speaks volumes about the glaring lack of diversity in the city's leadership cohort.

    The committee was formed by council to guide a vision for the city over the next 30 years but is almost entirely made up of men over the age of 50. Two of the eldest committee members are Mayor Bob Manning, who is 74 this year, and former mayor Kevin Byrne, who turns 70 this year.

    The youngest male member of the committee appears to be Cairns Chamber of Commerce president Nick Loukas, who is 49.

    Only one woman - Sharon Dawson - was included in the photo released by council. There are five females on the 19-person committee.

    Local entrepreneur Darren Barber from Three Wolves, Gin Social and Flamingos Tiki bar, condemned the lack of diversity on the advisory committee.

    “I think it’s an absolute joke that this is who's representing the future of Cairns,” he said.

    “I’m really surprised there’s no younger generation included at all, and particularly young business owners who can actually represent what’s happening economically and where Cairns needs to go."

    His sentiment was echoed by community advocate Amy Eden. 

    “I am disappointed that the advisory committee doesn’t reflect our community’s demographic,” she said. 

    “Additionally, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity to strengthen our city’s leadership pipeline. The advisory committee would have been a perfect opportunity for established leaders to mentor emerging leaders.”

    Jilinda Lee is the North Queensland representative for the Australian Local Government Women's Association, is a director of Vital Leaders, and runs ElevateHER Lean in Circles in Cairns.

    “It comes across as a boy’s club,” she said. “It’s predominantly all male and this is the same stuff we’re dealing with at a federal level.

    “There needs to be more diversity of not only gender, but age, racial backgrounds and thinking.

    "I just saw the same faces as always and if you keep having the same type of people around the table you’ll end up with the same results.”

    Cairns Regional Council Mayor Bob Manning told Tropic Now that rather than being individually hand-picked, the committee members are representatives of the organisations involved.

    But at least five members of the 19-person committee were selected by council as "industry representatives" - with four of those five members chosen being male.

    "The Shared Vision was developed as the result of workshops that included a broad and diverse cross-section of the Cairns community," Cr Manning told Tropic Now. This included school students, representatives from social services, the arts, community groups, Indigenous regional Councils and others.

    "Committee members were selected based on the key regional stakeholders groups or industries they represent," he said.

    "Unfortunately, not all members were available to attend the first meeting and, therefore, the photo does not represent the full committee membership.

    “It is our expectation that membership will evolve throughout the life of the project.

    “In particular, we have commenced discussions with the Chamber of Commerce regarding the newly announced Chamber Emerging Leaders and how we can draw upon the valuable insights and networking opportunities that exist within that group.”