Chapter 7

Mayor Bob, State Politics and the ALP

Those in Favour? Two Against!

When there were divisions on the Manning council it would always be 8:2 with Julia Leu and myself on one side and the remaining Unity dominated Councillors on the other. This was usually around issues of inappropriate developments, the environment and protecting our unique tropical lifestyle. Julia and I saw eye to eye on many things, whereas the new Councillors had a different perspective.

An initiative of the previous Schier administration was the introduction of social and environmental selection criteria for every agenda item that came before council. This assessment involved reporting on the impact of each agenda item, on issues such as climate change (fossil fuel emissions) and the contribution to social sustainability in Cairns.

When at a council meeting it was moved that the environmental and social criteria be removed (as a consideration on council agenda items) it seemed to me to signal a real value statement by the new council. Despite protest from Cr. Leu and myself, the Conservative majority carried a resolution to have this crucial assessment removed from future agenda items. It signalled a clear shift away from the social justice and environmental values we held dear.

ALP Pre-Selection Battle

The Newman LNP Government was the worst Queensland Government I had experienced in my lifetime. Their cuts to the public sector meant cuts to public health and education services for those who needed them most. I wanted to work to hold Newman and the LNP to account.

To run for the electorate of Cairns I needed to win what is known as a ‘preselection ballot’. The ALP is legendary for faction wars during these local ballots. I was a member of the left faction and the seat of Cairns had always been held by the right, so it would be a big deal for me to win preselection.

My opponent was Michael Healy from the right wing of the party. He was from the business community and an obvious choice for the right of the party. I found him a very difficult person to hate, because he came across as a fairly likeable bloke. Nevertheless, I was determined to defeat him.

ALP members in Cairns each year received 1 postal vote. I made sure I went to each of their houses to knock on their door and tell them why to vote for me over my opponent. I even offered to drive their ballot paper direct to the Returning Officer, Clive Skarrott. Skarrott was in the right of the Labour Party, but was an auditor with a reputation of honesty and independence. There was no chance the ballot papers would be interfered with.

The ballots were sent to Brisbane where they were opened with scrutineers from both the right and the left fraction of the party. I won the ballot and became the first left candidate for Cairns for a very very long time. It was also the first time a major party had pre-selected a quadriplegic to run for the Queensland Parliament.

Not long after the preselection, I commenced campaigning against the Newman government. I cannot express how satisfying it was holding this rotten government to account. Their cuts to health and education services had affected the most vulnerable in our community and many good public servants had lost their jobs. I also believed that Newman’s reforms to local government through their changes to the Local Government Act would lead to increase corruption in local council throughout Queensland.

Being ‘on the stump’ was a joy, whether talking to large crowds of workers at union rallies or other events where I was given access to large groups from the community. It was really enjoyable to rip into the government and well and truly hold them to account.
At 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.

Puppet Politics and The Sugar Bill

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 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 MPs for their useless existence, Ministers in the Cabinet 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.

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 canegrowers themselves. On the side of cane growers was the Katter’s Australia Party (KAP) and the Liberal National Party (LNP) which at that point in time was led by ex-National Party Member Lawrence Springboard (as opposed to an inner city liberal).

I voted with the ALP and in so doing supported the big Sugar milling companies over my own constituents. I felt sick in the guts about it and in the gallery there were sugar cane farmers from Far North Queensland. Having grown up and gone to school with children from cane farms, I really felt I had done the wrong thing, what’s more I knew if I didn’t leave the Labor Party I would have to 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 part of the machine and I wanted to do what was right!

A Bolt from the Blue

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 many assets, including the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO), a string of ports (including the Cairns International Airport), QR Freight Assets and Forest Plantations. The ALP had already implemented 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 ways. ALP Premier Palaszczuk denied members of her own team when they needed support, including Billy Gordon (who was expelled) and her own Police Minister Joann Miller, who was forced to resign after she fell out with corrupt Mayor Paul Pisasale and powerful figures in the Queensland Police Union. She should have been backed, not sacked! Miller never received so much as a ‘how are you’ call from any 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 Queensland for the Far North? Was that enough to cause me to resign from the ALP? No, but it was a start.

Fallout and Threats

If ever a sitting member from one of the major political parties wanted to find out who their real friends were, resigning from their party was a sure way to get an answer.

When I resigned from the ALP, while a few loyal friends stayed with me, most party members did not. I was the subject of anger and vitriol from many quarters, but nowhere was I more surprised to receive such hatred and horrible attacks, as from my former comrades at the Electricity Trade Union (ETU).

While I remained a passionate supporter of the union movement (unlike several members in the ALP party room), standing up to bullies was the only way I knew. I drew strength from the fact that everything I did was recorded. My speeches, Bills and how I voted in parliament were all a matter of public record. If in the future anyone did bother researching me, they would see I had been consistent in all the things I had stood up for during my career. I had been pro-worker, pro-environment, anti-corruption and I voted for the human rights of minorities.

I regret losing people I knew as friends and my family felt the fallout as well, but I knew that above all I had to be true to ‘the man in the morror’.

ALP Members and the clarity of independence

You cannot complain about bullying from ALP branch members. Personal disputes and factional Infighting in the branches is central to the ALP. Anyone who stands for any office, whether a voluntary branch role, or as an MP, knows that beforehand.

Unsurprisingly, there were some people within the Cairns branch who never accepted me, even after I became the local MP. For example, I was contacted by the Cairns Post told “a senior source from the Cairns Branch of the ALP has accused you of “blah, blah, blah”.”

While resigning from the ALP eliminated any need to deal with ALP enemies, it also lost me the support of the majority of ALP branch members. This surprised me somewhat, as I felt when I had voted differently to the Parliamentary ALP, my vote had been more in tune with what branch members would have wanted!

One of the first resolutions voted on after I left the ALP was “that the Palaszczuk government establish a Commission of Inquiry into the re-emergence of black lung disease in Queensland.”

Once I had read and understood the resolution it was clear to me I would vote for it and there could be no other way. Interestingly the LNP also voted for the resolution. I have no doubt this was more from a desire to roll the government then any long-term commitment to working people. However, history will show the ALP voted against the resolution. I still remember poor Jo-Ann Miller being in tears as she voted. Her own family had experienced this evil disease first hand, but she was in the party and had to vote as she was told.

When I witnessed career politicians with their game playing, back stabbing and often ridiculous behaviour, I started seeing things differently.

As an Independent I made a rational assessment of ever bill and vote. My new common-sense analysis challenged their faith in a party they remained committed to. If I was right, they were still operating on a footing based on emotion and mythology rather than reality.

Perhaps my in-depth understanding of labour history also gave me a different insight to branch members. For example I knew that from much of the 20th century the ALP have not been a friend of many trade unions but had in fact been at war with the Trades and Labour Council (TLC).

Nevertheless, I learned that in the end, what I really had to do was to be able to live with the man in the mirror:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife,
Whose judgement upon him must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in life,
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, dif cult test,
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But the final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
(Author Unknown)

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North

The Fight for the Underdog