Cairns Regional Council

Cairns Regional Council

Cairns and Tropical Gardening » about » Cairns Regional Council

On the Cairns Regional Council Campaign Trail

Cairns Regional Council had become the focus of my attention by the start of 2008. My contract at James Cook University (JCU) ended on 31 December 2007 and my eyes turned to finding new employment.

Two ‘realities of life’ led me to a weighty decision about my future. Firstly, there are limited employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Secondly, for me specifically, one of those opportunities was in politics.

Edmonton was where my heart was, where I grew up. It was where I went to school and where I bought my first house. Furthermore, all my extended family and wider networks were located on the Southside. Division 2 included Edmonton and Fran Lindsay was the local Councillor. Fran had long been a fantastic local councillor and I felt she 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 the people of Division 2, who she served with distinction. While I did not call her to ask, I assumed (mistakenly) that Fran would run for Council in 2008.

Jeff Retires from Cairns Regional Council

Around this time another local legend, Jeff Pezzutti (the long-standing Councillor for Division 3) announced he would retire. Like a bull at a gate, I announced my decision to run for his patch. This jurisdiction included White Rock, Mount Sheridan 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 pioneering cane farming family. His house was located in the heart of the division, on land now occupied by Trinity Anglican School.

Councillors Jeff Pezzutti and Fran Lindsay
Councillors Jeff Pezzutti and Fran Lindsay

Simon Returns

Around this time my old friend Simon returned from China 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 decided to use all the holiday and long-service pay from my job at JCU to fund my election campaign. Consequently, I spent the summer of 2008 on the streets of White Rock, Mount Sheridan and much of Woree and Bayview, canvassing the area with my flyers and knocking on the door of every house in the hope of a brief chat with residents.

A German Mate

That summer, I met a young German man by the name of Mike Fischer. He had grown up on the east side of the German border prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mike helped me in my campaign. We 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 opinion of the skill level of some of our tradies. It was interesting to hear 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 remembered West-Side people 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. However, I am sure that like Australian tradies, most West Germans were not all that bad.

Cairns Regional Council Politics

Control of the Cairns City Council had alternated between administrations which supported ‘development at all costs’ and those which had more of a commitment to fairness and the environment.

The 2008 election saw a merger of Cairns City Council with the more progressive Douglas Shire Council. The merged entity would be known as Cairns Regional Council.

Val Shier ran as a mayoral candidate with her Cairns First Team. Val and her team were in the latter category, representing a left-of-centre alternative to Kevin Byrne’s Unity Team, which demonstrated a ‘development at all costs’ mentality.

What is Cairns Regional Council address?

Cairns Regional Council administrative headquarters are located at  119-145 Spence Street, Cairns, at the intersection of Draper and Spence Streets.

Cairns Regional Council Rob Pyne

Initially I took a position in Val Schier’s Cairns First Team as the Candidate for Division 3 of Cairns Regional Council. Consequently, I campaigned hard, and made every effort to get my name out there. Indeed I printed newsletters and distributed them personally door to door.

In what I believe was a sign of a lack of political experience, Val took offence at my self-promotion in Division 3. She 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 separately, 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.

Cairns Regional Council election 2008
Cairns Regional Council Election 2008

A New Council: 2008-2012

My opponent was the Deputy Mayor, Terry James. Terry was a loyal Deputy to Kevin Byrne and I felt no particular hostility towards him. He was not loud or outspoken. Indeed I found Terry to be 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. Indeed I remember one of my supporters, John Gayler (a former Member for Leichhardt) declaring “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 had elected the following Cairns Councillors:

Cairns Regional Council 2008
Cairns Regional Council 2008
  1. Division 1. Paul Gregory
  2. Division 2. Nancy Lanskey
  3. Division 3. Rob Pyne
  4. Division 4. Kirsten Lesina
  5. Division 5. Alan Blake
  6. Division 6. Linda Cooper
  7. Division 7. Diane Forsyth
  8. Division 8. Margaret Cochrane
  9. Division 9. Sno Bonneau
  10. Division 10. Julia Leu
  11. Mayor: Val Schier
Who was the first female Mayor of Cairns?

Elected in 2008, Val Schier became the first female Mayor of Cairns.
Val Schier

Cairns Regional Council Rates

Cairns Regional Council Management immediately put pressure on Val to increase rates and charges. The CEO Noel Briggs and council managers presented the proposition that due to Council’s financial position and ageing infrastructure, a significant rate increase was warranted.

The budget which came to Council increased the overall impost on rate payers by around 10 per cent. I was the only councillor who voted against this budget. However, if there had been an agreement to exempt peoples ‘principle place of residence’ from the increase and move the burden to landlords, I would have supported the budget.

I believed a rate increase of this magnitude in one year was a poor decision. Looking back, I am sure Val would admit it was a mistake to increase rates this much. 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 up an opportunity for those who would seed division and play politics. I took whatever precautions I could to protect my own reputation, such as refusing to claim Councillor expenses for out of pocket costs.

One of the things the new council had to agree on was an appropriate logo for the new merged organisation. We were unanimous in our support for a fresh new logo based on the licuala palm.

Cairns Regional Council Logo
Cairns Regional Council Logo

Unfortunately, the media focus on this Council was more often on issues where there was disagreement, rather than on issues where Councillors had come together in agreement.

Early divisions emerge

In politics, even when a group is working well together, the media will try to find disharmony. Therefore, when people in a group actually do have differences, the media will have a field day with the ‘disunity and infighting’. This is exactly what happened with Val’s council.

When divisions arose, most frequently Councillors Lesina, Forsyth, Leu and I were on one side with the Mayor (who had a primary vote and also a casting vote).

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.

A small group of predominantly conservative, older white males instigated an aggressive campaign against Val from 2008 onwards. They repeated a number of fabricated lies over and over again. Their smear campaign was vicious, personal and unrelenting.

The fact that Mayor Val was a woman made things worse. She was targeted by this group of openly misogynistic men. They delivered their attacks via talkback radio and the tabloid Cairns Post.

Cairns Regional Council Deputy Mayor

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 working people.

This created a fractious situation because 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 magnified the perception of disharmony to the public.

Former Douglas Shire and Julia Leu

Another divisive factor was the merger which had created Cairns Regional Council by combining Cairns City Council and the Douglas Shire Council. Many people in the former Douglas Shire were not happy about the amalgamation and never would be.

These residents thought that their voice would not be heard, since only one councillor represented them on the 10 person Cairns Regional Council. They elected Julia Leu, a community-based councillor with a passion for people. She believed in caring for the environment and preserving our unique way of life in Far North Queensland. I thought she was great!

Factions on Cairns Regional Council

The frequent division of Council into two voting blocks gave me some influence at meetings. While my politics is 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 positive developments were unanimously supported. However, this was rarely reported, as the media was always more likely to report conflict.

I found it disappointing that people focused on Councillors’ political beliefs. The truth is, while politics is very important at the federal and state levels, it is not as important at the local government level. For me being on Council was about achieving results 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.

Positive Projects for Cairns Regional Council

CBD to Aeroglen Cycleway

One of the issues where my vote was decisive was the controversial Cairns CBD to Aeroglen cycleway. Indeed, cycleways were seen by some as a ‘greenie lefty’ idea, and Conservatives in the community were not supportive. However my vote in favour of the cycleway ensured this project would proceed.

Cairns Regional Council Cycleway from CBD to Aeroglen
Cairns Regional Council Cycleway from CBD to Aeroglen

Cairns Hockey

For many years Cairns Hockey had been an important sporting stakeholder in Cairns. They had big plans to develop their facilities. However, they depended on a combination of funding from local and state government to move forward with each stage of their redevelopment.

In 2010, Cairns Hockey received a state grant for a stage in their plan, but had not gone through the Council processes to get the matching funding required. Council then had to decide if we could find the money to match that state 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. For this reason, I voted with the Conservative Councillors to get the project over the line.

Portsmith Landfill

While division on Council attracted media attention and entertained onlookers, Councillors, in fact, often voted as one to pass resolutions that benefited our city.

The Portsmith landfill had been the main dumping ground for Cairns for decades. Rather than close the landfill when it reached ground level, the previous Council had simply continued dumping there, creating a landfill hill.

Recreational fishers and environmentalists were particularly keen to have the dump closed. They held concerns that toxins and pollutants were leaching from the dump into Trinity Inlet, harming an important fish breeding habitat.

In 2009, when the matter came to Council, I worried that conservative Councillors would keep the landfill open, since closing a landfill is a costly exercise. I was delighted when all Councillors voted in favour of its closure.

It was a good move for the local environment and saved ratepayers a fortune over the longer term. Closing a landfill today incurs a massively greater cost than it did back then. We made a bold decision and got it right!

The Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre

The Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre was another great initiative of the Schier Council. At the time, 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, the Visitor Centre was completed and finished with a reflective exterior that mirrored the surrounding landscape. Subsequently, this venue became a modern multi-purpose space incorporating an outdoor undercover amphitheatre and an air-conditioned room suitable for small cocktail functions, book launches and community meetings.

Kirsten Lesina

Like myself, Councillor Lesina was a fifth-generation Cairns resident. However, at 21 she was also the youngest person ever elected to Cairns Regional Council.

I found Kirsten a joy to work with. That is to say, she demonstrated a strong commitment to social justice and a real understanding of the need to work for and improve the environment and quality of life for local people.

Earlville Library

There is nothing a local Councillor likes more than their division receiving some funding and attention. So, Cr. Lesina was delighted when the new Earlville Library opened at Stockland Shopping Centre.

I was there on opening day to show support for Kirsten. We were both great advocates for taking government services to the people! Having a library at the local shopping centre was every bit as appropriate as having a McDonalds or a KFC, and far more beneficial to the community.

Kirsten Lesina and Rob Pyne
Kirsten Lesina and Rob Pyne

Cairns Youth Engagement Action

As the youngest Councillor, Kirsten also took the lead on youth issues. With help from Tanya Brooks-Cooper from the Community Services Dept., Council established a Cairns Youth Engagement Action group (Cairns YEA).

Cairns YEA was a vibrant group of young people appointed by Council to discuss youth issues, advocacy campaigns, ideas and to promote the voice of youth in the region.

Cairns Youth Engagement Action
Cairns Youth Engagement Action

Hill Slope and Green Space Protection

Kirsten, along with Val Schier, Diane Forsyth and Julia Leu were also great allies in the fight to protect Cairns hill-slopes and other key green spaces from property development. Together we voted to protect 18 hectares of bushland at Taylor Point on the Northern Beaches.

Cairns Regional Council Disaster Management Unit

As part of the Australian Government’s response to the 2008 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 the Local Disaster Co-ordination Centre in Woree was successful. This centre was constructed to provide administrative, financial and operational support for disaster response across Cairns and the Cape.

As the local Councillor, I was the MC at the opening. It was a great project to celebrate. Mayor Val Schier was present to help reveal the plaque, as was Senator Jan McLucas, representing the Commonwealth Government.

Since its completion, the unit has undertaken a range of projects aimed at prevention, preparation, response and recovery from disasters.

To this day, Cairns Regional Council staff from the Disaster Management Unit work directly with communities to help support response and recovery. This work is now more important than ever, in this time of catastrophic climate change.

Cairns Regional Council Disaster Centre Opening
Cairns Regional Council Disaster Centre Opening

Woree and White Rock

My focus as a Councillor was largely on doing what I could to improve life in the working-class suburbs of Woree and White Rock. I was passionate about these suburbs because I knew many people living there were doing it tough. Happily, during my time as the Councillor for Division 3, there was record infrastructure spending in Woree and White Rock. 

Woree work included construction of the regions first Disaster Coordination Centre, upgrading the sewerage treatment plant and the biggest highway upgrade the suburb had seen.

With so many projects having state funding as well, I developed a close working relationship with the local state MP Curtis Pitt. However, my greatest enjoyment came from events and projects with the staff and children from Woree State School and Woree State High School.

White Rock also had record investment, with kilometres more footpath, park improvements, road work, drainage work and the fencing of the rail corridor. The suburb also saw the opening of a new kindergarten, a school hall and an aged care facility

I also enjoyed attending everything from leadership inductions to presentation nights and the sports carnivals at White Rock State School.

Bayview and Mount Sheridan

Similar council works were rolled out in Bayview Heights and Mount Sheridan. This included road work, bus shelters and kilometres of new pathways. In Mount Sheridan, the private sector had the biggest project, with the expansion of the Mount Sheridan Plaza Shopping Centre. It was an experience to watch this under construction. The shopping centre even left a ‘hole in the wall‘ so shoppers could watch construction unfold. 

In addition, the Mount Sheridan to Woree pedestrian bridge was constructed, linking the two suburbs (across the creek) near Red Hill.

Other Infrastructure

Lake Street

Other key achievements of the much derided Schier Council were protecting the hill-slopes from development when applications came to Council and passing a resolution to connect Lake Street through to Airport Avenue, to relieve congestion (and reduce emissions). This was a long awaited and much needed connection.

Walker Road Sporting Precinct

The Schier Council made massive investments in South Cairns. One initiative I supported was the purchase of land in Edmonton for the Walker Road Sporting Precinct. This followed a massive amount of work done in consultation with sporting groups and the local community. Councillor Nancy Lansky took the lead on much of this consultation and the results provided for the sporting needs of the next generation.

Walker Road Edmonton
Walker Road Edmonton

Cairns Council Bat Facts

Another sensible policy championed by Mayor Val was in relation to the spectacled flying fox (a species of fruit bat). This endangered species had lived in the city forever, so I was more than happy to support them remaining there.

There were vocal individuals in the growing CBD residential population who wanted to move the bats out of the city. We did not support this. Indeed, Council ran a wonderful campaign to educate people about the bat, to respect them and leave them be.

Council put out resources such as the 10 bat facts sheet which could be used by Councillors and Council staff, to help educate the community on a misunderstood but very important keystone species.

A Blossoming of the Arts

Val Schier’s time as Mayor saw a blooming of the arts in Cairns. There was a massive investment in infrastructure for the arts. This included events and activities that brought the city alive.

Council did everything from hosting local and international artists at the redeveloped Tanks Precinct, to supporting the Cairns Ukulele Festival. One of my favourite events was the Cairns Buskers Festival held on the Esplanade. Buskers came from far and wide, much to the wonder and amusement of locals, especially the children.

Cairns Buskers Festival on the Esplanade
Cairns Buskers Festival on the Esplanade

Cairns Council Lobbyist Rules

This Council also set down clear guidelines for Councillors when meeting with lobbyists, including property developers. Such initiatives are crucial to avoid the chance of corrupt conduct and the perception of corrupt conduct.

Faith in politicians was reaching an all time low, so I was keen to support this initiative which promoted transparency and accountability.

Getting Around

My biggest challenge was obviously mobility. However, I did my very best getting in and around the community. I did everything, from catching up with local morning radio personality Mark Littler and the NBL mascot Joe Blake, to attending school sporting days, rocking with Woree band Phoenix Rising and Mission Australia Communities for Children meetings in Edmonton with the delightful Sarah and Petra.

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.

Mt 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 Mt Emerald Air Crash of May 1990. The Mt Emerald plane crash memorial was constructed just off Spence Street, on the west side of the Council Offices, not far from a big shady fig tree. 

The Amazing Reys Family

Ken Reys

In my role as a Councillor, I came to know Ken Reys, who often delivered the ‘welcome to country’ on behalf of the Traditional Owners of Division 3, the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people. We became friends and I learned about his amazing family. 

Ken Reys had a long and distinguished career in the public service. Upon his retirement, Ken joined Bumma Bippera Media (BBM), becoming station manager. He was also active in national Indigenous media, becoming chair of the Australian Indigenous Media Association for a period. Ken was also part of the foundation team responsible for setting up National Indigenous Television (NITV). He was a determined person, with a strong direction; a fighter who stood up for his beliefs.

Fred and Frank Reys

Ken and his father Fred Reys lived on the family property in White Rock. Ken’s uncle, Frank Reys, became Cairns’ most successful jockey when he won the 1973 Melbourne Cup on Gala Supreme.

Fred fondly recalled his brother’s career as a jockey: “Frank was very well loved in Cairns. 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
Frank Reys

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.

I was keen to formally recognise the Reys family in White Rock. I successfully proposed that “Reys Park” be established, as a tribute to Frank and the whole family.

Reys Park
Reys Park

Bill Mills and Ben Wilson Parks

I also had two other parks renamed (in the area that I represented on Council) to acknowledge two great contributors. One for a lifelong contribution to local government and the other for his contribution as a small business owner, who had contributed greatly to Cairns.

Bill Mills was the last Mulgrave Shire Town Clerk and the first CEO of Cairns Regional Council. He was my father’s right-hand man for many years while Dad was Mayor. However, Bill had an impressive career in his own right. Identifying, naming and working to advance Bill Mills Park was a rewarding part of my time on Council.

Ben Wilson was a long-term Bayview Heights resident and a small business-owner who did a lot for the community to support education in the region. As a result, it was satisfying to see a park named after him in his beloved suburb of Bayview Heights.

Young Australian of The Year

As a Councillor, I often received calls from residents about neighbourhood disputes. One of those residents was Terry Chang of White Rock. Terry had immigrated from China, and spoke very limited English. It was hard for me and Terry to understand each other.

Terry’s daughter Marita Chang was announced as the Young Australian of the Year in 2012. 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 class, Marita rounded up her engineering peers. 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 through innovation and sheer will. Marita then expanded Robogals throughout Australia, the UK, the USA and Japan. Today the group runs robotics workshops, career talks and various other community activities to introduce young women to engineering.

A Migrant Story

All of Terry’s children behaved perfectly and excelled at school. These young people were nothing short of ‘model citizens’ who went on to contribute significantly to Australian society.

At this time the Howard LNP Government had introduced an English-speaking test for new immigrants. I found it concerning that there was no way Terry (or many like him) would have passed such an exam. Had such a discriminatory policy been in place earlier, people like Terry would not have had access to our country. This would also have robbed us of the contribution of their children. Children like Marita. So I knew that Australia would be the loser under such a policy.

South Sea Islander History

I regularly attended events held by the Pacific Islander community in Cairns. There were numerous cultural celebrations, with the various island nations all celebrating their food and dance. I really enjoyed participating and supporting the community.

Almost 150 years had passed since the first South Sea Islanders were kidnapped and put to work as labourers in the sugarcane fields of Queensland.

I thought it was important to commemorate this landmark, to acknowledge the real history and also celebrate the contributions that generations of Pacific Islanders have made to Australia.

Together with representatives from the community, we formed a committee. It included descendants of those brought here from islands such as the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

We organised a whole week of events, South Sea Islander commemoration events, including a park-naming and a concert. The newly named park recognised the Minniecon family.

Minniecon Park

The Minniecon family has a long standing connection with the sugar industry in the region. James Minniecon was brought here as a slave from Vanuatu. He arrived in Australia on the ship ‘Stanley’ on the 14 August 1876, and landed at Maryborough, Queensland.

James worked in and around Maryborough. His son, Sterling Minniecon (born 15 September 1918), moved north into what is now the Cairns region, eventually settling in Edmonton.

Under the new dual naming policy, ‘Mundii Gunji’ (the Yidinji name for White Rock) was adopted for the park, as suggested by the traditional owners, to acknowledge their relationship to the land.

Mundii Gunji / Minniecon Park
Mundii Gunji / Minniecon Park

Traditional Owner Connection

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 Aboriginal 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. 

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. 

Tragic History

In the Far North, as across Australia, there were massacres of Aboriginal people on the frontier during the 19th century. Skeleton Creek in South Cairns marked the location of one such massacre.

Dr Timothy Bottoms‘ book, Conspiracy of Silence, states that following a massacre at that creek by European settlers, 16 skulls were placed on posts. These skulls were just part of the legacy of what Bottoms called The Skeleton Creek battle (or bloodbath), which he describes as “the stuff of nightmares.” Aboriginal remains from the site were sent to British Universities and other institutions for ‘scientific analysis’.

Bringing Bones Home

Gudju Gudju 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 to lay the bones to rest. I identified Council owned land in the Yidinji traditional area, in Mt Sheridan, not far from Skeleton Creek.

This land bordered the existing cemetery, down from Mundii Gunji (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.

Cairns Regional Council Mayor: Val Schier

Mayor Val Schier was always supportive of projects and proposals to promote diversity, multiculturalism and advancing the rights of our first people. While I was grateful of this support, it enraged a handful of local Conservatives who never accepted her as Mayor and undermined her at every opportunity.

I had many disagreements with Val Schier over a range of issues. She did not like it when I provided scrutiny to, or criticism of, Council reports. However, she did have a passion for social justice and for looking after vulnerable members of the community.

I remember accompanying Val Schier when she was providing some money from her Mayoral Fund to the special education unit at Woree High School. The funds would enable some of the children with disabilities to go away on a trip. It was a lovely gesture, and certainly meant a lot to me at the time.

I honestly believe that if Val had been more transparent, allowing people to see the caring person she was, and acted in a less formal manner, she would have made real ‘connections’ with a lot more people.

Tom Pyne Farewell

On the 27th of October 2011, I received a call from Mum, telling me that Dad had a stroke. I went straight to the hospital to see him. Mum was by his side holding his hand. I could not 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. Then, with his family around him he passed away in Cairns Base Hospital at 5pm on the 30 October at the age of 76. I thanked God that Dad’s suffering was brief.

While our family are from a Uniting Church background, the only venue in Cairns big enough to hold the funeral service for Tom Pyne was Saint Monica’s Cathedral. Leaders from all the main religious groups attended, reflecting the high esteem in which Dad was held by the community.

Val Schier and former mayors were in attendance, as were Councillors past and present. Tom Pyne and his contribution to Cairns was acknowledged at the funeral and by Cairns media. Indeed Mayor Val Schier gave a lovely eulogy. My sister Joann spoke for 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 Wilma Reading sang beautifully at the funeral. It was deeply moving.

Tom Pyne funeral
Tom Pyne Funeral

Cairns Entertainment Precinct

Despite her difficulties with other Councillors, Mayor Val developed plans for a massive project known as the Cairns Entertainment Precinct. The project provided great things for the community, from immediate jobs during construction to long term infrastructure and employment for the arts sector.

Sadly, I didn’t think Val had a hope in hell of getting Cairns Regional Council the funding required from the State and Federal Government. However, much to my surprise, Val was successful in getting massive State and Federal commitments to one of the biggest projects for our area.

Cairns Regional Council’s World Class Precinct

The Cairns Entertainment Precinct was planned to be a world-class regional performing arts precinct. Indeed, the plans included a lyric theatre rehearsal space, secondary theatre, external performing spaces, and a regional museum within an existing heritage-listed building (White’s Shed).

Val Schier had a vision for 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. Accordingly, this involved promoting Cairns as a leader in Information Technology. That is as Australia’s Silicon Valley and as 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 Cairns Regional Council could progress in pursuit of this vision was the Cairns Entertainment Precinct.

Bryan Law 1954 – 2013: An FNQ Bio

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. Law later worked for the Education Department as a clerk. He subsequently drove taxis for 15 years in Cairns.

Radicalised under Joh

Law was radicalised during the Bjelke Petersen era and was arrested more than 30 times. He revelled in the intellectual stimulation offered by the courtroom process. Anti-war activist 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, [Bryan] Law turned to a deep exploration of Gandhi.”

Cairns Regional Council candidate Bryan Law
Cairns Regional Council Candidate Bryan Law

Law in the North

From the late 1980s, Law was at the forefront of the political debate in the Far North. Thus he campaigned against the building of SkyRail. He also campaigned for the protection of the Daintree, and took part in many anti-war demonstrations. Later, in 2004, he ran for Mayor of Cairns as an independent against Kevin Byrne and Val Schier. He strongly opposed local government corruption. Consequently, Law took 6% of the vote, proving an important vote splitter.

Cairns Yacht Club

Law masterminded 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.”

Pine Gap

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. However, the four were acquitted of charges under the Special Defence Undertakings Act.

Bryan the Copter Chopper

Police arrested Law for breaking into a military base in Rockhampton in 2011. During his break-in, he had attempted to hammer a hole in a military helicopter to prevent it from operating. He was later jailed.

Bryan Law died in 2013 in his Rockhampton home. Following his passing, fellow campaigner Graeme Dunstan said Law’s death was the “passing of a courageous peacemaker. Further, it is a sad loss and we have lost a real warrior working for all things good.”

Cairns Council and the Occupy Movement 2011 – 2012

I have always felt more at home among activists than politicians.  One of the most successful and enjoyable activist movements I have seen, was Occupy Wall Street and its counterparts around the globe.

It was a wonderful experience to be a part of Occupy Cairns in the Cairns City Place. There is something sadly poetic in that this public space for communal activities was removed not long after the Occupy Movement had come to pass. 

However, ‘Occupy’ did change political dialogue for me, permanently. It did this through the language of the 1% and the 99%. This notion of a wealthy elite with very specific interests, contrasted to the rest of us, resonated with me.

Unlike middle-class liberals (who these days ironically dominate the ALP Qld), those who participated in Occupy were proponents of real systemic change.

The type of people who participated gave me optimism for the future. Their passion for the environment and social justice offered hope for the continuation of human civilisation. As a result, I made friendships that last till this day and encountered wonderful people like musician Jeremiah Johnson

occupy cairns
Occupy Cairns

All Chapters:

  1. Far North Queensland
  2. Growing up in 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. ALP Qld
  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 Lurch Right
  19. Fightback and Farewell

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North