There was an increasing number of people in Brisbane and Cairns wanting to support a more progressive independent politics. They could see you cannot actually do your job of representing constituents as a party MP, if you are told how to vote by nameless party bosses. Only an independent can really ask the questions you want to be asked, and vote the way you would like them to vote. Both in Brisbane and Cairns I was really proud of those who were supporting me and standing for office themselves. As NFL great Aaron Rodgers said, “Surround yourself with really good people. Because the people you surround yourself are a reflection of you.”
By the time the 2017 State election had been announced it really was a matter of standing up against the two major parties with a few good people. This was as much the case at the state level as it was locally.
At the state level there were some really decent people standing as Independents. This included Hetty Johnston (the founder and CEO of Bravehearts) Mick Kosenko and Rick Flori.
Hetty Johnston nominated for the seat of Macalister, south of Brisbane. Announcing she would run as an independent, the Bravehearts founder said she was committed to making Queensland the safest state to raise a child. She added that while her priority was child protection, she was not a one-issue candidate. “Of course political transparency is one of the key drivers — it’s actually the thing that tipped me over the line to say: ‘yes, I’m going to do this’.”
“I think that our political system is totally broken — it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work for the people — it works for the party and the people that fund the party,” Ms Johnston said.
Mick Kosenko, an internationally renowned tattooist had fallen victim to anti-association law introduced by the Newman Government. The law provided that when two or more people from the same motorcycle club gather together it is a criminal offence. As a result Mick’s business suffered. As a member of a club he could be arrested if the next customer to walk through the door was also a club member. Mick was very popular in the community and nominated for the seat of Pine Rivers.
Rick Flori was a former cop and much celebrated whistle-blower. He came to fame by releasing video footage of a member of the public being assaulted by police in an unprovoked attacked by police officers in 2012. He was then charged by Police with misconduct for his trouble. Flori was acquitted of the charge by a majority 11-1 verdict by a jury following a six-day trial. Flori then decided to run for Parliament to expose corruption and hold those in power to account.
I was also happy to support Trevor Palmer who stood for Woodridge and Amy MacMahon in South Brisbane. They were my fellow David’s taking on the establishment Goliath.
Campaigning in Cairns
In Cairns there was by definition no party or institutionalised support for my “Independent” Campaign for re-election. As I was quick to learn, campaigning as an Independent for the state seat of Cairns is a whole lot more challenging than running for a spot on Cairns Regional Council.
I did have a group of loyal supporters who were there when I needed them. People who could see through the major parties and wanted justice, fairness and an MP who could represent local people and not a political party. People like Susan Prince, Simon Perry, Anthony Too, Paul Spray, Cathy Jackson, Donna Mullaly, Steve Brech, John Pratt, Tayte Dalziel, Banyar Baing, Robert Baker, Margaret Morris, Margaret Pestorius, Jonathan Straus, Carla Gorton, Sarah Hoyle, Renee Lees, Liz Prince, Sandra McGuiness, Harrison George, The Dimara family and so many others. I will never forget their help.
Anthony, Paul, Simon and Donna did the bulk of the door-knocking with me. Any free time I found was spent securing one of them to go door-to-door with me. We could not control the media or the advertisements from the other campaigns, but I could appeal directly to people. Door-knocking in November in Cairns is nobody’s idea of fun. I was out on the streets of Cairns every day, calling on people to vote for me so I could keep providing real representation that meant something.
As a result of my support of the arts in Cairns I had made many good friends. A few of them worked with me to put together a couple of kick-arse video clips to use during the campaign.
My only regret was that I did not have more funds to get the clips a decent run on free to air television. It would have been good to have been able to properly compete with the endless party political ads that seemed to come on at every commercial break.
Mud Chuckers Run Amok
While we had campaigned valiantly, as polling day approached we were victims of two targeted attacks that really damaged the campaign. The first was what is known in politics as a ‘shit sheet’ that was letterboxed by the ETU. The material repeated the false claim Petros Khaliserad was a stalker and implied I let him into parliament to intimidate a pregnant MP. It was nasty and politically damaging. It was also based on lies.
The other attack came from the extremist religious group ‘Cherish Life’ who rang everyone in the electorate and told them that I supported 9-month abortions. It is an absolutely ludicrous thing to say as there is no such thing as a 9-month abortion. The only thing that happens at 9 months is delivery of what is hopefully a healthy baby. I thought people would see how ridiculous such a claim would be. Alas, some people were happy to believe I would support what would amount to infanticide.
It is almost impossible for an Independent to get elected in Queensland politics. Where it does happen, it is a result of our preferential system. It happens when an independent can garner enough votes to get ahead of one of the major party candidates. The success of an Independent is nearly always dependent on one of the major party candidates polling poorly. This usually happens in what are called ‘safe’ seats. They are called ‘safe’ because one of the major parties feels they are at no risk of losing them.
My big problem was the fact my LNP opponent Sam Marino was well liked by some sections of the community and had campaigned with great determination and energy. This meant he was going to get additional support (on top of the votes of people who ‘always vote LNP anyway’). So my greatest fear was that I would not be able to get ahead of Sam to benefit from some of his preferences. This fear was to prove well founded.
I knew that one of the big problems I faced was the decision to change the boundaries of the Cairns electorate. While I hoped the redistribution would favour me, the outcome was the opposite.
Worse still, Woree and Bayview, two suburbs I had represented on Council, had been removed from Cairns altogether. They were replaced with the suburbs of Whitfield and Brinsmead. I had never lived in these suburbs or represented the people who lived there.
Of course I was upset with the outcome. Some of my supporters cried foul saying that the political establishment would do anything just to get rid of me. However, I knew the Queensland Electoral Commission was at arm’s-length from government. There was no question of any government influence as far as I was concerned. Nevertheless there was no denying the new boundaries had gone against me. Again luck was not on my side.
The last two weeks of the election campaign really took it out of me. We had to have people handing out for us at the pre-polling booth. If I was not there I was out knocking on doors or making phone calls. The days were hot and I was very tired indeed by days end, but that did not mean sleep for me, it meant answering emails and a couple hours on the social media.
By election day on 25 November I was completely drained. It was a big day and another hot day. I rose early and during the day I took food to every polling booth, visiting and thanking all the volunteers who had come out to help me by handing out how-to-vote cards. When 6.00pm came and the polling booths closed there was a great feeling of relief that it was finally over. I may not have won, but nobody could say I had backed down or given up.
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