ALP Qld and Aftermath

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Lenin had more accurately described the Qld ALP as a ‘Liberal Labor Party’.

– Rick Kuhn

ALP Qld Pre-Selection Battle

I had to win a ‘preselection ballot’ to run for the Qld ALP in the seat of Cairns. The Qld ALP is legendary for factional wars during these local ballots. I was a member of the left faction. However, the seat of Cairns had always been held by the right. It would be a big deal for me to win preselection, but I worked my backside off and had strong support from Queensland Unions.

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. 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 preselection race, ALP members in Cairns each received a postal ballot. I went to each of their houses and knocked on their door, telling them why they should vote for me. I even offered to personally drive each member’s ballot paper direct to the Returning Officer, Clive Skarrott.

Skarrott was in the right of the Party, but he had a reputation for honesty and independence. There was no chance the ballot papers would be tampered with. The ballots were then securely posted to Brisbane, where they were opened and counted, with scrutineers from both the right and the left factions of the party present.

I made history by winning the ballot and became the first ‘left candidate’ for the ALP in Cairns for a very, very long time. This was also the first time a political party had pre-selected a person with quadriplegia to run for the Queensland Parliament.

Fighting for Queensland Workers

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 hurt the most vulnerable in our community. In addition, many public sector workers lost their jobs.

The Queensland Unions campaign was separate from the ALP campaign. However, I had always been closer to the labour movement than the ALP, so that suited me down to the ground.

The Newman Government’s austerity policies motivated workers to get out in force. Union rallies filled the City Place.  It was great to be campaigning on behalf of emergency service workers, paramedics and health workers. All public servants felt targeted by the Newman Government. By this time my union had been rebranded as Together and it was a joy to have their members like Dr Sandy Donald campaigning in defence of public service sector workers.

Every year I marched on Labour Day and in 2014 I set up a stand with comrades. The day was massive, with so many workers radicalised by the Newman Government’s agenda of job cuts and privatisation.

I loved being ‘on the stump’. I welcomed talking to crowds of workers at union rallies and other events, with comrades like Bob Paten and Steve Rogers from the Australian Services Union. It was gratifying to rip into the LNP Newman Government and well and truly hold them to account.

ALP Far North Qld candidates
ALP Far North Qld Candidates

Campbell Newman Defeated by Qld ALP

At the 2015 State election, the people of Far North Queensland rejected the LNP and their campaign of privatisation and austerity. The people elected ALP members in Mulgrave, Barron River and Cook and me as the Member for Cairns.

Quadriplegic ALP Qld MP in Parliament

The win was overwhelming! I won Cairns and made history as the first Quadriplegic elected to the Queensland Parliament. I was well and truly prepared to be an opposition MP.

However, the ALP had won a majority of seats, and Annastacia Palaszczuk would be Premier. Not in my wildest dreams had I believed that the ALP would win 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 because the role is purely a legislative one. The only thing a Member of Parliament exercises control over is their vote. However, once you join a political party, you don’t even have that! You have sacrificed your vote to the party machine.

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 for simply putting up their hand on command.

The ‘con’ is to convince the people that you can ‘get things for Cairns’. You can’t and the separation of powers ensures that. So to compensate party 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, in addition to this ‘fake credit’ they may even get their name on a plaque.

I was happy to celebrate achievements, especially in areas like public housing, including new homes in Manunda and Woree. Mental health was another priority and it was good to see support for mental health consumers.

Annastacia Palaszczuk at Woree School
Annastacia Palaszczuk at Woree School

More Local Announcements

At the same time I enjoyed participating in the promotion of positive initiatives such as the upgrade of the Convention Centre, opening of Central Queensland University (CQU) Cairns Campus, purchase of the new PET-CT scanner for Cairns Hospital and the Cairns Hospital upgrade.

Cairns hospital upgrade
Cairns Hospital Upgrade

Indeed these were all good initiatives accompanied by the obligatory media interview. However, the truth is that funding from Brisbane was usually inadequate and was quickly swallowed up by my community’s unmet needs.

Rob Pyne (2016)
Rob Pyne (2016)

Recreational fishers had some ‘wins’ while I was the local MP. At this time Trinity Inlet was declared a Net-Free Fishing zone, which I felt was a big win for the environment and sustainability. The Tingira Street boat ramp was also constructed to improve access and safety.

Other announcements included sporting facilities such as the Cairns Netball upgrade and wins for soccer with a new building for Edge Hill United at Tiger Park and the completion of the Endeavour Park lighting upgrade.  

Joann Pyne and TAFE

My sister, Joann Pyne had also seen her career go from strength to strength. Jo had been appointed as the Regional Manager of Technical and Further Education (TAFE). It was a pleasure to catch up with her at functions such as the opening of the refurbished J block with new nursing training rooms at the Cairns TAFE.

The new Great Barrier Reef International Marine College at Portsmith was another great initiative TAFE was involved with at this time and it was a joy to be at the opening and see it completed.

I couldn’t be any prouder of Joann, or indeed of TAFE. Time and time again TAFE impresses me, in contrast to some of the very average private training organisations.

Joann Pyne
Joann Pyne

The Sugar Bill and the Qld 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 Springborg (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 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 Qld ALP I would be forced to vote against my conscience ‘over and over again’. I didn’t want to be part of a corporate machine. I wanted to do what was right!

ALP Qld Membership

Sometimes the 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.

However, the reply from an LNP member pointed out that the Qld ALP was far more responsible for this state of affairs than the LNP. After all, 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 Qld 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).

Miller resigned after she had fell out with corrupt Mayor Paul Pisasale and was attacked by 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 betrayed by many of my colleagues (after decades of loyal service). Her Senate position was given to Murray Watt from the Sunshine Coast. The only reason I was given, was that more people lived on the Sunshine Coast, so there were more votes there. That decision was a real blow for Cairns and the Far North.

ALP Qld Fallout and Threats

Fed up with the party machine, I resigned from the ALP early in 2016. The reasons I resigned were the ALP’s:

Suddenly, as an Independent, I could proudly support issues I believed in. Further, I could vote with my conscience on issues such as women’s reproductive rights and the right of the terminally ill people to die with dignity. 

dying with dignity
Dying with Dignity

West Cairns Neglect

The West Cairns suburbs of Manunda, Manoora and Mooroobool rated in the lowest 3 per cent of the state in terms of socio-economic status. There had been revelations of horrific rates of sexual abuse in West Cairns and I was desperate for funding for services in this area.

In a bid to help this disadvantaged area I met with Ministers and requested funding for highly effective programs, such as those offered by Choice Australia, which was run by Todd Hartley and Terry O’Shane. The ALP knocked us back time and time again. The most disadvantaged members of my community were not a priority for the party hierarchy in Brisbane.

The Heiner Affair and Losing Friends

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. However, after meeting people like Kevin Lindberg and finding out about scandals such as the Heiner Affair, I knew I had made the right decision.

When I resigned from the Qld 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 endured hate mail, abuse in the street and death threats. It was surprising to receive hatred and attacks from my former comrades, especially erstwhile comrades at the Electricity Trade Union (ETU). However, I knew my place was, and always would be, standing with workers as I did on an MUA picket line.

While I remained a passionate supporter of the union movement (unlike several members in the Qld 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.

Keeping Promises

There was no inconsistency in me completing my term as an Independent. I honoured all the policies that were part of the 2015 platform I was elected on. Central to this was my support for the highly successful anti-privatisation Not4Sale campaign. It was on other issues, not in the platform that I refused to support the ALP.

I supported state programs, including making announcements and talking to children at state schools, such as Trinity Bay State High. While there was never enough, I passionately supported education and training initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth

Conservatives and the corporate media complain when people with very few life opportunities turn to crime, but never actively offer them opportunities. That was my passion, offering positive opportunities to those who would otherwise not have them. 

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!

The Crossbench

After leaving the ALP I became part of a highly influential crossbench. It consisted of Billy Gordon (former ALP) Robbie Katter (KAP), Shane Knuth (KAP) and myself (former ALP). While there were many issues we could not agree on, we were united on the need for greater infrastructure and funding for North Queensland, where all our seats were held.

We pressured the government on everything from increased funding on roads to community legal centres. I even supported the call for a separate North Queensland state and from memory I was the only progressive voice to do so.

Voting Independently – Not the Qld 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 a desire to defeat the ALP government, not a commitment to working people. I felt happy to vote with my conscience and do what I knew was right!

Other proposals I voted differently from the ALP on, included motions to increase spending and infrastructure in regional Queensland. I had to stand up for the area I represented, as it was clear regional communities were missing out on their fair share.

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 Qld 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 had never actually managed to walk the walk.

West Cairns Community

Working for disadvantaged West Cairns suburbs was my passion. I loved forging my relationship with refugee communities, such as the newly arrived Bhutanese community. I continued to personally support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as well, including sponsoring a rugby league team in Mooroobool.

West Papua

Nobody enjoys losing friends and burning bridges, but that is exactly what happened when I resigned from the Qld 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.

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’. Supporting civil liberties and standing up for minorities is central to who I am as a person. 

West Papuan independence
West Papuan Independence

Marijuana Law Reform

Cannabis law reform was another passion of mine. I met with mothers of children with disabilities. These children had seizures every day and marijuana was the only thing that stopped their seizures. These parents broke the law for their children and I would have done the same. After hearing these stories I couldn’t believe that only myself and one other member were prepared to support the decriminalisation of marijuana.

The Labor Party did eventually make a move in this area. They allowed medical marijuana, in a move that gave the pharmaceutical companies power over any administration of marijuana. It was typical of the disappointing outcomes I had come to expect from the Qld ALP.

ALP Qld cannabis law
ALP Qld Cannabis Law

LGBTIQ Apology

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 Bjelke-Peterson regime.

As a socialist independent, I was also able to apply pressure that would lead the Palaszczuk Government to introduce legislation to quash past convictions of homosexual men and abolish the gay panic defence.

Plea to Parliament

I delivered the following speech to Parliament:

Mr PYNE (Cairns—Ind) (5.19 pm). Last week I marched with pride 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.

Panic defence must go

Furthermore, I said to Parliament, “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 defence allows murder to be downgraded to manslaughter if it is alleged a homosexual advance was made.”

No place for hate

Such an interpretation of this law is completely archaic. It has no place in our legal system. This affects the way LGBTIQ people live their lives day to day. It is 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.

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, the Cairns Tropical Mardi Gras will take place from 30 September, with many events planned. I look forward to participating and celebrating with Cairns’ LGBTIQ community and the wider community.

Marriage Equality Cairns
Marriage Equality Cairns

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.

(Author Unknown)

All Chapters:

  1. Far North Queensland
  2. Growing up on Australia
  3. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
  4. Queensland Political Culture
  5. Princess Alexandra Hospital Spinal Unit
  6. People with Disabilities
  7. Cairns Regional Council
  8. Conservative Cairns Council
  9. Qld ALP (Queensland Labor)
  10. Abortion Law Reform
  11. Fighting Fossil Fuel
  12. Local Government Corruption
  13. Losing to Labor
  14. My Cairns Council Return
  15. Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
  16. Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism
  17. Jenny Pyne, Life and Pain
  18. Cairns Council Members Swing Right
  19. Fightback and Farewell

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North