Queensland Labor (ALP)
Lenin had more accurately described the ALP as a ‘Liberal Labor Party’.
– Rick Kuhn
The Manning Council
The 2012 elections saw the people of Cairns elect the following Councillors:
Division 1. Steve Brain
Division 2. John Schilling
Division 3. Rob Pyne
Division 4. Terry James
Division 5. Ritchie Bates
Division 6. Linda Cooper
Division 7. Max O’Halloran
Division 8. Jesse Richardson
Division 9. Greg Fennell
Division 10. Julia Leu
Mayor: Bob Manning
The only two progressives elected were myself (Independent Labor) and Julia Leu (Independent Green).
Those in Favour? Two Against!
When there were divisions on the Manning Council, the vote would always split 8:2 – Julia Leu and myself on one side and the remaining Unity-dominated Councillors on the other. Division was usually around issues of inappropriate development, 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.
The previous Schier administration had introduced social and environmental selection criteria for every agenda item that came before Council. This assessment involved reporting on the projected impact of each agenda item, considering issues such as climate change (fossil fuel emissions) and the contribution to social sustainability in Cairns.
When a new Councillor proposed that the environmental and social criteria be removed (as a consideration on Council agenda items), it signalled a real value statement by the new Council.
Despite objections from Cr. Leu and myself, the Conservative majority carried a resolution to have this crucial assessment removed from future agenda items. This indicated a clear shift away from the social justice and environmental values we held dear.
ALP Pre-Selection Battle
The Newman LNP Government elected in 2012 was the worst Queensland Government I had experienced in my lifetime. Their cuts to public sector funding meant a reduction in public health and education services for those who needed them most. I wanted to work to hold Newman and the LNP accountable.
To run for the electorate of Cairns, I had to win a ‘preselection ballot’. The ALP is legendary for factional 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 was 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.
Counting the Votes
During the pre-selection race, ALP members in Cairns each received 1 postal ballot. 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 he was an auditor with a reputation for honesty and independence. There was no chance the ballot papers would be tampered with.
The ballots were sent to Brisbane, where they were opened with scrutineers from both the right and the left factions of the party present. I won the ballot, and became the first left candidate for Cairns for a very, very long time. This was also the first time a major party had pre-selected a quadriplegic to run for the Queensland Parliament.
Fighting Campbell Newman
Not long after the preselection, I commenced my campaign against the Newman government. It was deeply satisfying to hold 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 increased corruption in local councils in Queensland.
Being ‘on the stump’ was a joy. I loved talking to crowds of workers at union rallies and other events. I spoke to any group in the community I could access. It was gratifying 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 of privatisation and austerity. The people elected ALP members in Mulgrave, Baron River and Cook, and me as the ALP Member for Cairns.
The win was overwhelming! I had won Cairns and was well and truly prepared to be an ALP opposition member. However, the ALP had a majority, and Annastacia Palasczcuk would be Premier. Not in my wildest dreams had I believed that the ALP would win State Government. The question was, could I defend the ALP in Government? I would give it a go.
Puppet Politics with Queensland Labor
Essentially, the day-to-day work of a party MP is a con on the community. This is the case because the one thing a Member of Parliament exercises 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.
MPs can’t even ask their own questions in 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 child.
To compensate MPs for their useless existence, Ministers contact local MPs when a departmental project is ready to be announced, and then pretend the MP had a role in instigating it. If an MP is well- behaved, they may even get their name on a plaque.
Positive media is another plus, but mine was not due to Queensland Labor. Any positive media I received was due to the independence of the ABC and smashing the glass ceiling for people with disabilities.
The Sugar Bill and The ALP
Late in 2015, legislation came to Queensland Parliament concerning regulation in the sugar industry. The debate was over who was to have the greater say in the marketing of sugar – the big sugar milling companies or cane-growers themselves.
On the side of cane growers stood 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 doing so, supported the big sugar milling companies over my own constituents. I felt sick in the guts about it, especially as in the public gallery of Parliament there were sugar cane farmers from Far North Queensland.
Having grown up and gone to school with children from cane farms, I knew I had done the wrong thing. Worse, I could see that if I didn’t leave the Labor Party I would be forced to do the wrong thing ‘over and over again’. 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 wrong in Queensland. He admonished 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.
The reply from an LNP member pointed out that the ALP was far more responsible for this state of affairs than the LNP, since Queensland Labor 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 of ALP hypocrisy 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), Queensland Rail Freight Assets, and State forest plantations. The ALP had already implemented policies that they had criticised the LNP for at the election.
The major parties were almost as bad as each other, not just in terms of policy but also in terms of behaviour. I saw LNP representatives criticise female ALP members over their attire, and ALP members also described LNP representatives in the most childish ways.
No Reward for Loyalty in the 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. Miller 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). The only reason I was given was that more people lived on the Sunshine Coast, where her replacement would be based. That decision was a real blow for Cairns and the Far North.
ALP Fallout and Threats
Fed up with the party machine, I resigned from the ALP early in 2016. The party’s inaction on local government corruption, their support for the Adani coal mine and the wider coal industry, and their failure to fund services in west Cairns drove me to leave.
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. I was most surprised to receive hatred and attacks 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 fought for the rights of minorities.
ALP Members and the clarity of independence
In politics, you cannot complain about robust criticism from party members. Personal disputes and factional infighting in the branches are central to the ALP. Anyone who stands for any office, whether a voluntary branch role or as an MP, knows it is a space full of conflict.
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 and told “a senior source from the Cairns Branch of the ALP has accused you of “blah, blah, blah”.”
Resigning from the ALP eliminated any need to deal with ALP bullies. However, it cost me the support of the majority of ALP branch members. This surprised me, as I felt that where I had voted differently to the Parliamentary ALP, my vote had been more in tune with what branch members would have wanted!
Voting Independently – Not the ALP Line
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.”
I made sure I had read the motion and understood it clearly. After that, it was obvious to me that I would vote for it. There could be no other way. Interestingly, the LNP also voted for this resolution. I have no doubt their vote was more from a desire to defeat the ALP government than from any long-term commitment to working people. Above all, I felt happy to vote with my conscience and do what I knew was right!
Other proposals I voted against the ALP on included motions to increase spending and infrastructure in regional Queensland. I had to stand up for the area I represented. I felt that was my job.
Progressive Voting with Values for Justice
As an Independent, I made a rational assessment of every bill and vote. I could even have legislation drafted and move it myself. I could do my job!
My new values-based approach challenged the faith that some ALP members had in the party. Many party members did not like me exposing the hypocrisy of the ALP and therefore reacted with anger towards me, rather than at their party.
My in-depth understanding of labour history also gave me a different insight than other branch members. For instance, I knew that for much of the 20th century the ALP had not been a friend of many trade unions. In fact, the ALP was often at war with the Trades and Labour Council (TLC). In other words, the ALP talked the talk, but never had managed to walk the walk.
I had supported Independence for West Papua for as long as I could remember.
As a Councillor, I had met and offered my support to West Papuan community leaders.
One of my first acts after leaving the ALP was to join ‘International Parliamentarians for West Papua’.
Nobody enjoys losing friends and burning bridges, but that is exactly what happened when I resigned from the ALP. For me, it was important to know that I had ‘walked the walk’ of my progressive beliefs – that I had lived those values, every day.
Supporting civil liberties and standing up for minorities is central to who I am as a person. With this in mind I was determined to show leadership for the LGBTIQ community in Queensland.
To the best of my knowledge, I was the first Queensland Parliamentarian to apologise to the LGBTIQ community for the injustice and discrimination they had suffered in the past, particularly under the Conservative be Bjelke-Peterson regime.
As a socialist independent, I was also able to apply pressure that would lead the Palasczcuk Government to introduce legislation to quash past convictions of homosexual men and abolish the gay panic defence.
I delivered the following speech to Parliament:
Mr PYNE (Cairns—Ind) (5.19 pm): Last week it was with great pride that I marched with the Tropical Mardi Gras float at the Cairns Festival Parade. I have many friends who are part of Cairns’ vibrant and active LGBTIQ community, of which I am very proud. It was great to celebrate with them.
It is with a heavy heart that I would like to express my personal sorrow for the way Queensland’s LGBTIQ community has been treated in the past, as well as for a number of injustices that continue today.
We all know that being a gay man was a criminal offence in this state prior to 1989 and of the injustice and victimisation the LGBTIQ community had been subjected to. While I may lack the stature of a Prime Minister, Premier or even an opposition leader, as a humble MP I say to Queensland’s LGBTI community, ‘I am sorry!’
However, it is not just for past injustices that this parliament should feel sorry, because injustice and inequity continue. Three areas stand out in this regard. The first is criminal convictions for sodomy.
It is ridiculous that in this day and age elderly gay men have convictions hanging over their heads from the time when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was Premier.
Secondly, the gay panic defence continues in Queensland. A petition tabled this morning draws our attention to the discrimination faced by LGBTIQ people in Queensland through the use of the provocation defence, section 304 of the Criminal Code, colloquially known as the gay panic defence.
That partial defence allows for a charge of murder to be downgraded to manslaughter if it is alleged that an unwanted homosexual advance was made by the deceased towards the defendant.
Such an interpretation of this law is completely archaic, has no place in our legal system and affects the way LGBTIQ people live their lives day to day, by curbing freedom of expression and association in the public sphere with the threat of violence. It is impossible to articulate just how offensive, dangerous and destructive it would be to allow this defence to remain unaddressed in our Criminal Code.
I agree with these petitioners and likewise request the Attorney General to introduce legislation to remove the potential for provocation to be used in defence of an individual who has committed an act of murder by enshrining in legislation that an alleged unwanted homosexual advance cannot be used as an application of the provocation defence.
Thirdly, unequal age of consent laws in this state continue to discriminate against gay men. The government has said that it will standardise consent laws, but has not yet done so. I say to the government, draft the legislation and bring on the vote.
To end on a positive note, the Tropical Mardi Gras will take place in Cairns from 30 September, with many wonderful events planned. I look forward to participating and celebrating with Cairns’ LGBTIQ community and the wider community.
The Man in The Mirror
I regret losing people I knew as friends. My family also felt the fallout when I left the ALP. However, I knew that above all, I had to be true to ‘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, difficult 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.