Mayor Val and Cairns Council Divided
Too bad that all the people who really know how to run the place are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.
― George Burns
On the Campaign Trail with Friends
My contract at JCU ended on 31 December 2007, and two realities of life led me to a weighty decision about my future. The first was that while we love to say “people with disabilities can do anything”, there were limited employment opportunities for people like me, but one of those opportunities was in politics. The second reality was my passion for the southside of Cairns. This was where I was from and where we planned to stay.
Edmonton was where my heart was, where I had grown up, where I went to school, where I bought my first house. All my extended family and wider networks were located on the Southside. Fran Lindsey was the local Division 2 Councillor. She had long been a fantastic local councillor and deserved support. Dad had often told the story of approaching Fran and personally asking her to run for the old Mulgrave Shire Council. Fran never let him down or indeed the people of Division 2, who she served with great distinction. While I did not call her to ask, I assumed (mistakenly) Fran would run for Council in 2008.
Around this time another local legend, Jeff Pezzutti (the long-standing Councillor for Division 3) announced he would retire and not contest in 2008. Like a bull at a gate I announced my decision to run for his patch, which included White Rock, Forest Gardens and most of Woree and Bayview. Jeff had been a friend of the family for as long as I could remember and was someone for whom I had profound respect. He came from a cane farming family and his house was located in the heart of the division, on land now occupied by Trinity Anglican School.
My old friend Simon returned from China (via a stint cleaning windows in Melbourne), and re-joined me as a support worker. I knew we would make one hell of a team as we took on the world. My first goal was to win at the 2008 Local Government Elections.
I used my severance pay from JCU to fund my election campaign. The summer of 2008 was largely spent on the streets of White Rock, Mount Sheridan and much of Woree and Bayview. I letter-boxed the area with my flyers and then knocked on the door of every house in the hope of a brief chat with the householders.
This summer I met a young German man by the name of Mike Fischer. Mike agreed to help me in my campaign to be elected to Council. He had grown up on the east side of the German border prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mike and I spent weekend mornings walking together, door to door, canvassing and talking to local residents.
It was interesting to hear Mike’s views on the world. As a plumber he had a low view of the quality of some of our trades people and it was interesting to hear of his experience of the Berlin Wall coming down. He painted East siders as solid hard-working folk with a strong moral code. West siders however were not to be trusted. Mike said his experience was of people from the West Side ripping off honest East siders who were not savvy to the ways of capitalism. They were frequently taken advantage of by the hustling West siders. I liked Mike. His parochialism reminded me of being a Queenslander during State of Origin games. I am sure that like Australian tradies, most West Germans were not all that bad.
Control of the Cairns Council had alternated between administrations which were ‘development at all costs’ and those which were pro development but with some sense of a social conscience and commitment to the environment. In 2008 Val Shier ran as a mayoral candidate with her Cairns First Team. Val and her team were in the latter category and were a left of centre alternative to Kevin Byrne’s run Unity Team which had a development at all cost’s mentality.
The 2008 Election
I originally took a position in Val Schier’s Cairns First Team as the Candidate for Division 3. I campaigned hard and made every effort to get my name out there in every forum. I printed newsletters and I distributed them door to door. In what I believe was a tactical error and a sign of a lack of political experience, Val took offence at my self-promotion in Division 3 and insisted that I should promote her as my primary focus and only refer to myself as her candidate. In my view this was a poor strategy for both of us. Why promote just a mayoral candidate when you can promote both a mayoral candidate and a councillor, using each to feed votes to the other. I could not get her to see the logic of this and I resigned from the Cairns First Team and stood as an independent. Seeing how much I had already campaigned, Cairns First decided not to run a candidate against me, so I was very well placed leading into the 2008 council election.
My opponent was the Deputy Mayor, Terry James. Terry was a loyal Deputy to Kevin Byrne and I felt no particular hostility towards him. Terry was not loud or outspoken. I found him as conservative in his nature as he was in his politics.
As the election drew nearer, I booked the Balaclava Hotel for what I hoped would be election night celebrations. As the votes came in it became clear I was going to win. I can remember one of my supporters John Gayler, a former Member for Leichhardt, “This is going to be an epic victory of Pyne proportions!” That made me feel proud.
By the time counting had finished I emerged with almost 60% of the primary vote, the most resounding victory of the night. While I would not be able to serve with Fran or Jeff, I was looking forward to the challenge of being a councillor. The people of Cairns elected the following Councillors:
Division 1. Paul Gregory
Division 2. Nancy Lanskey
Division 3. Rob Pyne
Division 4. Kirsten Lesina
Division 5. Alan Blake
Division 6. Linda Cooper
Division 7. Diane Forsyth
Division 8. Margaret Cochrane
Division 9. Sno Bonneau
Division 10. Julie Leu
Mayor: Val Schier
Prior to our first budget, Val was put under pressure to increase rates significantly. The CEO, Noel Briggs and council managers presented the proposition that due to council’s financial position it was important to have a significant rate increase to properly fund council services.
The budget which came to council increased the overall impost on rate payers by more than 10 per cent. I was the only councillor who voted against the budget. A rate increase of this magnitude in one year was a bad miscalculation. Looking back, I am sure Val would admit it was a mistake to increase rates this much in one budget.
Val often made decisions which were not pragmatic. She was more inclined to act on the advice of council officers as opposed to acting on the political reality. The increase in rates passed in 2008 opened an opportunity for those who would seed division and play politics for their own political benefit.
A small group of predominantly conservative, elderly white males, instigated an aggressive campaign against Val during 2008. They repeated a number of fabricated lies over and over again. Their campaign was vicious, personal and unrelenting.
The fact that Mayor Val was a woman did not help. She became a big political target for a group of men who were openly misogynistic and who coalesced their attacks via talkback radio and the tabloid Cairns Post.
New Council – Early Divisions
In politics, when there is a group of people who are working together fairly well, the media will try to create disharmony and focus on the differences. Therefore, when people in a group actually do have differences, the media will have a field day on ‘disunity and infighting’, and that is exactly what happened with Val’s council.
As things turned out, this council was often divided on critical issues. When divided, most frequently on one side were Councillors Lesina, Forsyth and Leu taking sides with the Mayor (who had a primary vote and also a casting vote) and on the other side were councillors Gregory, Cochrane, Blake and Bonneau. If Lansky or Cooper voted with Councillors Lesina, Forsyth and Leu and I added my support, Val could tie the matter with her primary vote and then decide the matter with her casting vote.
One of my first mistakes as a Councillor turned out to be one of my biggest, and that was the vote on who would be Deputy Mayor. I decided to support Margaret Cochrane ahead of Paul Gregory. Paul was very conservative, which led me to vote for Margaret, who gave the impression of being there for the battler.
This created an ongoing situation where the Deputy Mayor was hostile to the Mayor and wanted her job. Margaret often failed to sing from the same song sheet as the Mayor, which created a real problem internally and magnified the image of disharmony to the wider community.
Another divisive factor was the merger which had created the council. The newly merged Cairns Regional Council included the former Douglas region. Many people in the former Douglas Shire were not happy about the amalgamation and never would be. They thought they could not have their voice heard, only having one councillor representing them on a 10 person Cairns based council. The councillor they had elected was Julia Leu.
Julia was a community-based councillor with a passion for people caring for the environment and preserving a unique way of life for those of us living in the far north. I thought she was great.
The fact that Council often divided into two voting blocs gave me some influence at meetings. While my politics remained to the left of the political spectrum, the non-ideological nature of Council issues meant that every now and then I would be the ‘swing vote’ who could decide a matter. Many good projects and good developments were supported by all Councillors, but this was rarely reported, as the media was always more likely to report where there is conflict.
I find it disappointing that people focus on what Councillors political beliefs are. The truth is politics is very important at the federal level, it is important at the state level, but it is not very important at the local government level. For me being on Council was about getting good outcomes for the community, so my focus was simply to get as many good outcomes as I could for Division 3 and the region as a whole. It is worth looking at some of those projects.
Positive Projects for Cairns
CBD to Aeroglen Cycleway
One of the issues where my vote was decisive, was the controversial Cairns to CBD Aeroglen cycleway. It is hard to believe now, but in Cairns at this time cycleways were seen by some as a ‘greenie lefty’ idea, of which Conservatives in the community were not supportive. My vote in favour of the cycleway allowed the project to proceed.
Cairns Hockey was an important sporting stakeholder in Cairns, with long term infrastructure plans to develop their facilities. They depended on a combination of funding sources from council and state government, to move forward a redevelopment.
In 2010, Cairns Hockey received state funding for a large scheme of work, but it had not gone through the council processes to get the matching funding required. Council had to decide if it wanted to find the money to match the funding.
There was no way I was going to have Cairns miss out on a worthwhile project just because the right bureaucratic boxes had not been ticked, so I voted with the Conservative Councillors to get the project over the line.
While divisions on council attracted media attention and entertained onlookers, there were many more occasions where Councillors voted as one to pass resolutions that benefited our city.
The Portsmith landfill had been the main dumping ground for Cairns for many years. Rather than close the landfill when it reached ground level, previous Councils had just kept dumping there, creating a landfill hill. Recreational fishers and environmentalists were particularly keen to have the dump closed because of the concerns that toxins and pollutants were leaching into Trinity Inlet, harming the fish breeding habitat.
In 2009 when the matter came to council, I was worried the Conservative Councillors would keep the landfill (which had become a mountain of dumped material several metres high) to take advantage of short-term savings. Closing a landfill is a costly business, but it was well passed time this one was closed. I was delighted when all Councillors voted in favour of its closure.
Kirsten Lesina and Earlville Library
Like myself, Councillor Lesina was a fifth generation Cairns resident. She was the youngest person ever elected to Cairns Regional Council. I found her a joy to work with. She demonstrated a strong commitment to social justice and a real understanding of the need to work and improve the environment and quality of life for local people.
There is nothing a local councillor likes more than their division receiving some funding and attention, so Cr. Lesina was more than happy when the Earlville Library opened at Stockland Shopping Centre.
I was there to show support for Kirsten. We were both great advocates for taking government service to where the people were. Having a library at the local shopping centre was every bit as appropriate as having a McDonalds or a KFC and was far more beneficial to the community.
Kirsten, along with Val Schier, Diane Forsyth and Julia leu were also great allies in the fight to protect Cairns hill-slopes.
Disaster Management Unit
As part of the Australian government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), funding was made available to councils for worthwhile projects. Cairns Regional Councillors agreed that one of our important projects would be a Disaster Management Unit.
Our application to build this new centre in Woree was successful. It was constructed to provide administrative, financial and operational support for disaster response, for Cairns and the Cape.
Since its completion, the unit has undertaken a range of projects aimed at prevention, preparation, response and recovery from disasters. Staff from the Disaster Management Unit have worked directly with communities to help support response and recovery.
Remembering, Recognising and Honouring Others
Sometimes doing good does not have a big price tag. It may just involve saying sorry or thank you. A council can say ‘thank you’ publicly to acknowledge a person’s outstanding contribution to the community. I felt this was a good thing to do.
Mount Emerald Air Crash
It was well overdue when, as a Council, we all voted to establish a memorial on Council grounds to honour those who tragically lost their lives in the Mount Emerald Air Crash of May 1990 (see Chapter 3). The memorial is just off Spence Street on the west side of the Council Offices, not far from a big shady fig tree.
In my role as a Councillor I met Ken Reys who was delivering a ‘welcome to country’ on behalf of the traditional owners. Ken became a friend and I learned about his amazing family. Ken reminded me that his uncle Frank became the most successful Cairns jockey when he won the 1973 Melbourne Cup on Gala Supreme.
Ken Reys had a long and distinguished career in the public service. On retirement he joined Bumma Bippera Media (BBM), becoming station manager. He saw that BBM were given a full-time broadcasting license (one of a small number of full time Indigenous licenses). Kenny was also active in national Indigenous media, becoming chair of the Australian Indigenous Media Association for a period, and was also part of the foundation team responsible for setting up the National Indigenous Television service (NITV). He was a determined person, with a strong direction; a fighter who stood up for his beliefs.
Ken and his father Fred lived on the family property in White Rock. Fred recalled his brother’s career as a jockey, “Frank was very well loved in Cairns and when he won the Melbourne Cup it was a great moment not just for our family and Frank but for the people of Cairns.”
Frank Reys grew up in Cairns and did his apprenticeship before leaving to race professionally in Brisbane. “He won his first ever race in Gordonvale, and went on to win on almost every track in Australia”, recalled Fred.
Frank Reys died aged 51. He remains the only known indigenous jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.
As a Councillor I was disappointed that there had been no formal recognition of the Reys family in White Rock. I successfully proposed that “Reys Park” be established as a tribute to the family.
Bill Mills Park
Bill Mills was the Mulgrave Shire Clerk for 16 years and was the last CEO of Mulgrave Shire before amalgamation with Cairns City Council in 1995.
Bill Mills was a local born Queenslander, and was Shire Clerk of Atherton until 1979, when he became the Shire Clerk for Mulgrave. He was awarded the public service medal for service to local government administration.
As the local councillor for Division 3, I was determined to have a park named after Bill as an acknowledgement of his contribution to our region.
I prepared a resolution to have a park in Mount Sheridan named after Bill. This was passed unanimously by council.
Young Australian of The Year
As a Councillor I was often contacted by residents in relation to neighbourhood disputes. One of those residents was Terry Chang of White Rock. Terry had migrated here from China and had very limited English. It was hard for me and Terry to have a conversation in which we understood each other.
In 2012, Terry’s daughter Marita was announced as the Young Australian of the Year. Marita was recognised for demonstrating vision and leadership as the Founder and Executive Director of Robogals Global. Noticing the low number of girls in her engineering classes at the University of Melbourne, Marita rounded up her fellow engineering peers and they went to schools to teach girls robotics, as a way to encourage girls into engineering. While on academic exchange at Imperial College London, Marita expanded the group to London and through innovation and sheer will, Marita then expanded Robogals throughout Australia, the UK, the USA and Japan. The group runs robotics workshops, career talks and various other community activities to introduce young women to engineering.
All of Terry’s children were perfectly behaved and excelled at school. These young people were nothing short of ‘model citizens’ who went on to contribute significantly to Australian society.
Around this time the LNP government introduced the English-speaking test for new immigrants. I found it interesting to consider that there was no way Terry (or many like him) would have passed such an exam. Yet to deny people like this access to our country would have robbed us of the contribution of their children. It convinced me that Australia would be the loser under the new racist policy.
Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre
The Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre was another great initiative of the Schier Council. Council staff were working out of dongas to service the Botanical Gardens and the Tanks Arts Centre. In addition to offices for staff we needed a building suitable to welcome the public and showcase the area. Thus, the Visitor Centre was born.
Located on Collins Avenue, Edge Hill between Flecker Garden and the Tanks Arts Centre, it was completed and finished with a reflective exterior that mirrored the surrounding landscape. The completed venue was a modern multi-purpose space incorporating an outdoor undercover amphitheatre and an air-conditioned multi-purpose room suitable for small cocktail functions, product launches, corporate seminars and community meetings.
South Sea Islander History
I regularly attended events held by the Pacific Islander community in Cairns. There were numerous cultural celebrations with the various islands all celebrating their food and dance and I really enjoyed participating in them and supporting the community.
It was almost 150 years since the first people were kidnapped and put to work as labourers in the sugarcane fields of Queensland. I thought it was important we commemorate this landmark to acknowledge the history and also celebrate the contribution generations of Pacific Islanders have made to Australia.
We formed a committee with descendants of those brought here from islands such as the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. We organised a whole week of events, including a park-naming and a concert. The park naming recognised the Minniecon family who were descendants themselves.
The Minniecon Family has a long connection with the sugar industry in the region and were originally South Sea Islanders. The original James Minniecon was brought to the area from Vanuatu. He arrived in Australia on the ship ‘Stanley’ on the 14 August 1876 and landed at Maryborough Queensland. He was brought to Queensland as a slave and worked in and around Maryborough and also worked on cattle stations in the surrounding district. James’ son, Sterling Minniecon (born 15 September 1918), moved north into what is now the Local Government Area settling at Edmonton.
An Indigenous name was suggested by the Gimuy Wallabarra Yidinji to acknowledge the Traditional Owners. Our policy encouraged dual naming to acknowledge Traditional Owners. Minniecon Park was the first park to be dual named, which was significant milestone in acknowledging Traditional Owners.
Mayor Val had a Good Heart
I had many disagreements with Val Schier, including the way she seemed to feel obliged to adopt council officers reports. She did not like it when I provided scrutiny or criticism to such reports. However, I do believe she had a passion for social justice and for looking after vulnerable members of the community. I remember accompanying Val when she was providing some money from her Mayoral Fund to the special education unit at Woree High School, to enable some of the children to go away on a trip. It was a lovely gesture and certainly meant a lot to me at the time. I honestly believe if she had been more transparent, as the caring person she was, and acted in a less aloof manner, she would have made real ‘connections’ with a lot more people.
Traditional Owner Connections
The Oliver family was a well-known Edmonton family. Unlike most families, their ancestors had lived in the area for thousands of years. This proud Yidinji family lived on the corner of Graham Street and Mill Road. Alan Oliver was the family patriarch and worked for Council. I went to school with many of their children. Alan’s wife Mavis was a descendent from one of the tribes of small people who lived in the rainforest which once covered the Atherton Tablelands. Her and Allan had 6 children and their daughter, also named Mavis, was in my class at school (bottom-right in above photo.).
As well as going to school with Mavis, I knew her brothers from rugby league. They were rugby league mad, as was their father.
Recalling my father’s friendship with Alan Oliver, I worked to develop my own relationship with the Yidinji people, holding a number of meetings with community leader Seith Fourmile who later became known by the tribal name Gudju Gudju.
In the Far North, as elsewhere, there were massacres of Aborigines on the frontier during the 19th century. Skeleton Creek in South Cairns marked one such massacre. Dr Timothy Bottoms’ book, Conspiracy of Silence, states that following a massacre by European settlers, there were 16 skulls placed on posts. The skulls were just part of the results of what Bottoms called The Skeleton Creek battle (or blood bath), which he says was “the stuff of nightmares.”
In the years that followed, aboriginal remains had been sent back to British Universities and other institutions for ‘scientific analysis’.
Seith Fourmile travelled to England where he collected the bones of his ancestors to bring back to Cairns. When he returned, he asked me about finding a suitable place for them to put the bones to rest. I told him that council owned land in the Yidinji traditional area, in Mt Sheridan, not far from Skeleton Creek. The land was on the border of the existing cemetery, down from Mundi Ghundi (White Rock) which was important to the Yidinji people. The remains were laid to rest there with approval from Gudju Gudju and the Yidinji people.
Tom Pyne Farewell
I remember getting a call from mum in October of 2011 telling me that dad had a stroke. I went straight to the hospital to see him. Mum was by his side holding his hand. It was hard to make sense of his words and he was restricted to bed unable to move.
There was no change for the next few days and then dad had another stroke. He was then placed on a ventilator. With his family around him he passed away in Cairns Base Hospital at 5pm on the 30th October at the age of 76. I thanked God that dad’s suffering had been brief.
While our family are from a Uniting Church background, the only place venue in Cairns big enough to hold dad’s funeral was Saint Monica’s. The Catholic Bishop for Cairns, James Foley was more than happy for it to be held there. Leaders from all the main religious faith groups attended, which reflected the high esteem in which dad was held by the community.
Joann spoke on behalf of the family with great courage and eloquence about dad’s contribution to the community. The president of the LGAQ and good friend of dad’s Greg Hallam, spoke of their work together for local government in Queensland.
Renowned jazz singer Norma Redding sang beautifully at the funeral. Dad and I were both fans of St George Rugby League Club and as the funeral ended and they played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was deeply moving.
Cairns Entertainment Precinct
Despite differences on Council, Mayor Val came up with a massive infrastructure project known as the Cairns Entertainment Precinct. It would provide all these great things and be wonderful, but I didn’t take too much interest in the beginning because, to be honest, I didn’t think she would have a hope in hell of getting the funding required from the state and federal government.
Much to my surprise, Val was successful in getting massive state and federal commitments for one of the biggest projects in our area. It would have created an enormous number of jobs during construction, and afterwards, in the arts and tourism industry.
The Cairns Entertainment Precinct was planned to be a world-class regional performing arts precinct, including the lyric theatre rehearsal space and a secondary theatre, external performing spaces and a regional museum within an existing heritage listed industrial building.
Mayor Val Schier had a vision of Cairns as a pre-eminent Pacific rim city. A city that embraced the arts, creativity and innovation and was Australia’s greenest city.
I supported this vision and was also keen to focus on generating the jobs of tomorrow by promoting Cairns as a leader in information Technology, as Australia’s Silicon Valley, and a hub for higher education in Northern Australia. Consistent application of a vision over an extended period of time can really impact the identity of a city. The biggest project we could progress in pursuit of this vision was the Cairns Entertainment Precinct.
Bryan Law (1954 – 2013)
Bryan law was a peace activist who became well-known after breaking into the Pine Gap surveillance base in 2005 as a passive protest against the Iraq War. Law and his wife Margaret Pestorius coordinated the Cairns Peace by Peace organisation.
Law was born in the Brisbane suburb of Moorooka and attended Yeronga State High School, excelling in the sciences. He briefly studied chemistry at the University of Queensland, before dropping out. He then worked briefly for the Education Department as a clerk. He subsequently drove taxis for 15 years in Cairns.
Law was radicalised during the Bjelke Petersen era and was arrested more than 30 times. He revelled in the intellectual stimulation offered by the court room process. He was acknowledged by judges, barristers and adversaries as an honourable challenger. Anti-war resister Ciaron O’Reilly wrote of this time:
“Of the thousands arrested and bashed during that period, some of us remained “beat up but upbeat”, turning towards, exploring and sustaining nonviolent resistance against war and war preparations. As some turned towards the U.S. traditions of the Catholic Worker and Berrigans, Law turned to a deep exploration of Gandhi.”
From the late 1980’s, Law was at the forefront of the political debate in the Far North, on numerous issues. He campaigned over the building of SkyRail, the protection of the Daintree and took part in many anti-war demonstrations. In 2004, he ran for Mayor of Cairns as an independent against Kevin Byrne and Val Schier. He took 6% of the vote, proving an important vote splitter.
In late 2005, along with three others, Law was arrested for breaching a perimeter fence to conduct a citizen’s inspection of the US spy base Pine Gap in the Northern Territory. The four were acquitted of charges under the Special Defence Undertakings Act. In 2011 Law was arrested for breaking into a military base in Rockhampton where he was attempting to hammer a hole in a military helicopter prevent it from operating Law master-minded several protests to draw public attention at the ALP State Government’s decision to demolish the historic Cairns Yacht Club building on the Cairns waterfront. He was arrested three times during that campaign. He said at the time, “We achieved significant mileage and exposed the government’s inaction and inability to listen to the people.”
Bryan law died in 2013 in his Rockhampton home. Fellow-campaigner Graeme Dunstan said Law’s death was the “passing of a courageous peacemaker. It is a sad loss and we have lost a real warrior working for all things good”.
Hate in the Air
In Queensland local government elections are held every four years. As the 2012 local government elections approached, I was feeling quite apprehensive about my electoral prospects. Criticism of council focused almost 100% on the Mayor Val. However, as a non-conservative councillor, I knew I would receive my fair share of electoral pain at the election.
The hatred of Val was quite unfair, but I knew it could be part and parcel of politics. The mayor becomes a public face for the council. The hostility had started from the first rates increase in 2008. Mayor Val was attacked constantly both from inside council and out.
From inside council there were the Conservative councillors who opposed Val and wanted to see her defeated, as well as some disloyal staff members with Conservative links who to be quite honest, the Mayor should have dismissed at the time.
Opposition to Val had been fermented by the Deputy Mayor and others in the media, who supported a misinformation campaign against the Cairns Entertainment Precinct. The precinct was lied about and demonised so often that it became the focal point of discontent.
The misogynistic campaigns from elderly twisted and bitter white males in the community. The radio talk back and the tabloid Cairns Post never gave her a chance and spewed hatred at every opportunity.
The various forces of discontent coalesced as the election drew closer. Two opposition teams picked up on this discontent in the community. Deputy Mayor Cochrane formed her team early on to run against the mayor. The second was the Unity Team which was a re-incarnation of the ticket which had governed Cairns for eight years prior to 2008 under Kevin Byrne.
It was clear to me that Val did not have a chance but she decided to run again in any event. She must have thought she had a chance. People in such leadership positions who know they have done the right thing, often feel they will be rewarded at any upcoming election, even when all the evidence is to the contrary.
The fact that Val was politically on the nose meant that any left-leaning divisional candidates had little interest in being in a team with her. As a result, Val recontested her position as an independent. Running for Mayor on your own, without a team behind you is a mammoth task. I have never seen such a strategy succeed, certainly not in the Cairns area.
For those of us who wanted to re-contest our positions or anyone wanting to run as a divisional councillor, there was little alternative than to run as an independent. Running independent as I say is always hard without the collective support as a team.
As an experienced political figure in the city I did my best to support two other independent candidates, Leigh Dall’Osto in Division 2 and Tanya-Brooks Cooper in Division 8. Both women were highly capable and would have made excellent councillors. However, it was a very misogynistic time. It is hard to believe how anti-woman the sentiment in the community was. The Prime Minister of the time was Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott was attacking her at every opportunity. Some Abbot supporters pretended gender was not a part of their attack. 2GB’s Alan Jones even suggest she be put into a chaff bag and chucked into the ocean, such was the level of malice towards female leaders.
I remember being at a polling booth at Bayview Heights and seeing a number of angry, elderly white men walking in to vote. Often with their wife following dutifully behind them, usually equally determined to get rid of our first ever female mayor.
It was clear Bob Manning’s Unity Team was the most popular with voters. Most concerning for me was that my opponent in Division 3 was a likeable gentleman by the name of Mr Ian Hodge. He had door-knocked the whole area and was going to be very hard to beat.
On the night of the election it only took a few minutes to work out Mayor Val had been slaughtered at the polls and Bob Manning would be the next Mayor of Cairns.
Early in the night it appeared the result in Division 3 would be close as after the first polling booth was counted the vote split almost evenly. However, the first booth had been from quite a wealthy part of the area and when the vote started to come in from working class areas and lower socio-economic places particularly with higher indigenous populations. I moved ahead in the count and ended up winning comfortably.
It was gratifying to see that people know where your heart is, and my heart as a local councillor had always been with the suburbs of White Rock and Woree, with those who are doing it tough, particularly our indigenous brothers and sisters.
My friend Leigh Dall’Osto lost in Division 2 and Tanya Brooks Cooper lost in division eight, despite coming frustrating close.
Julia Leu was re-elected by the former Douglas Shire area. Julia and I were the only 2 non conservative councillors elected.
I was apprehensive about the new council that would be sworn in and as it was clear the Unity Team had the numbers, with the Mayor 7 of the 10 divisions. I had to accept I would not play as significant a role as I had on the Val Schier Council.
However, my greatest fear was for the future of the city shaping Cairns Entertainment Precinct. I was worried the project and associated infrastructure would be lost to Cairns. Bob Manning had campaigned against the Cairns Entertainment Precinct, but I maintained the hope that once he saw the benefits it offered Cairns, that he would support the project.