ALP Take Far North
Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. – John F. Kennedy
In the 2015 State election the people of Far North Queensland voted ALP and rejected the LNP Newman Government and their campaign for privatisation and austerity, electing ALP members in Mulgrave, Baron River and Cook and myself as the ALP Member for Cairns.
The win was overwhelming! I was confident I would win Cairns and was well and truly prepared to be an ALP member in opposition. However, not in my wildest dreams did I believe the ALP would win government. The question was could I defend the ALP in Government? I would give it a go.
Free Ride as a Party MP
“We owe our loyalty to each other and to our children’s children, not to party politics.”
― DaShanne Stokes
Essentially the day-to-day work of a party MP is a con on the community. This is the case because the only thing a member of Parliament has control over is their vote. However, once they join a political party they don’t even have that! They have sacrificed their vote to the party organisation. They can’t exercise it and you can’t even ask questions in the parliament. Questions are prepared, written down and put in front of them as if they were five years old. It is hard to see how politicians can justify getting paid when they are doing something that could adequately be done by a five-year-old. To compensate for their useless existence, Ministers in the Cabinet will contact local MPs when a departmental project is ready to be announced and pretend the MP had a role in it. If an MP is well behaved, they may even get their name on a plaque.
A Bolt from the Blue
“Blind party loyalty will be our downfall. We must follow the truth wherever it leads.”
― DaShanne Stokes
Sometimes truth hits you in the face with one great almighty slap. During one sitting of the Queensland Parliament in 2015 an ALP Member was speaking about all that was bad in Queensland and admonishing the former LNP government over asset sales, neglect of public housing and the disadvantage of indigenous Queenslanders. I could not have agreed more with every word he said. However, in reply an LNP member responded by pointing out that the ALP was far more responsible for the state of affairs than the LNP, after all the Queensland ALP had been in power for 26 of the last 30 years! It hit me like a slap in the face. He was right. There was no better example than asset sales. Former ALP Governments had sold so many assets, everything from the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO), a string of ports (including the Cairns International Airport), QR Freight Assets to Forest Plantations. The ALP had already implemented many policies they criticised the LNP for advocating at the election.
Clearly the major parties were just as bad as each other, not just in terms of policy but in terms of behaviour. I heard LNP representatives criticise female ALP members over their attire, ALP members also described LNP representatives in the most childish and insulting ways and a Premier in Palaszczuk who would deny even members of her own team when they needed support, from Billy Gordon through to her own Police Minister Joann Miller, who was forced to resign after she fell out with Paul Pisasale and certain elements in the Queensland Police Union. She should have been backed, not sacked! Miller never received so much as a ‘how are you call’ from one of her Cabinet Colleagues. These people had no decency.
Around this time Cairns based Senator Jan McLucas was knifed by many of my colleagues (after decades of loyal service) and the only reason I was given was that more people lived on the Sunshine Coast, where her replacement would be based. How about that for a slap in the face for the Far North? Was that enough to cause me to resign from the ALP? No, but it was a start.
The Sugar Bill and Puppet Politics
Late in 2015 legislation came to Parliament concerning regulation in the sugar industry. At issue was who was to have the greater say in the marketing of sugar, the big sugar milling companies or cane-growers themselves. The Bill was referred to by parliamentarians simply as ‘The Sugar Bill’. On the side of cane growers was the Katter’s Australia Party (KAP) and the Liberal National Party (LNP) which at that point was led by an ex-National and a sheep farmer, Lawrence Springborg (as opposed to an inner city liberal).
The ALP’s favoured the big milling companies at the expense of farmers’. To my shame I voted with the ALP, despite the presence of some northern cane growers in the public gallery.
I remember when voting for the bill and thinking of the cane growers in the gallery and the children from cane farming communities I went to school with. I thought of my Year 7 teacher Tom Murray and my dad’s late sister and brother-in-law, Ethel and Frank Hunt and the sugar farm they had in Mena Creek outside Innisfail.
Thinking of how I had just voted made me feel sick to my stomach. I really felt I had done the wrong thing, what’s more I knew if I didn’t leave the Labor Party I would get used to doing the wrong thing over and over again. I had seen people who had become part of the party and done the wrong thing for years. I didn’t want to be like the machine and I wanted to do what was right!
Jarrod Bleijie was a member of the LNP opposition who I never really had much time for. He was arrogant and had been the Attorney General in the Campbell Newman government, so I didn’t support him or the policies he stood for.
However, one sitting day Bleijie spoke emotionally and in detail about a coronal inquiry into the deaths of 11 people in a fire in Slacks Creek in 2011. The deceased were from the Pacific Islander community and it was a truly tragic event that shook the state.
As a former attorney general Bleijie knew Parliamentary process and I was very surprised when the ALP advised me they were voting against the Bill. While they argued Bleijie’s Bill was somehow legally deficient, I was later taken into the confidence of an ALP member who said “It’s just the way things are done, we can’t possibly let his bill get up. That would be a win for him.”
The ALP then introduced a Bill implementing recommendations from the inquest mirroring Bleijie Bill. It included a requirement that new houses are fitted with photo voltaic fire alarms to prevent tragedies like this happening again. It thad the same effect as Bleijie’s Bill.