Cairns Regional Council

Cairns Regional Council infighting 2008
Cairns Regional Council infighting 2008
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Cairns Regional Council

On the Cairns Council Campaign Trail

My contract at JCU ended on 31 December 2007 and my eyes turned to Cairns Regional Council. 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, one of those opportunities was in politics. Thirdly, the south side of Cairns was where we planned to remain.

Edmonton was where my heart was, where I had grown up, 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, Forest Gardens 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.

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 my severance 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 trades. It was interesting to hear of 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.

Rob Pyne and Mike Fischer

Cairns Regional Council Politics

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

In 2008, 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.

2008 Cairns Regional Council Election Strategy

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. For this reason, I printed newsletters and distributed them 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.

A New Council

My opponent was the Deputy Mayor, Terry James. Terry was a loyal Deputy to Kevin Byrne and I felt no particular hostility towards him. Terry was not loud or outspoken – I found him 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. 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 of Cairns elected the following Councillors:

  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 Mayor:

Budget Blues

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. 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, and opened up an opportunity for those who would seed division and play politics.

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 and Leu 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, elderly 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.

New 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 the working man.

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 image 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 the Far North. I thought she was great.

Factions on Cairns Regional Council

The frequent division of Council into two voting blocs gave me some influence at meetings. While my politics remained 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 good outcomes 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 to CBD Aeroglen cycleway. Indeed, cycleways were seen by some as a ‘greenie lefty’ idea, and Conservatives in the community were not supportive. My vote in favour of the cycleway ensured this project would proceed.

Cairns Hockey

Cairns Hockey was an important sporting stakeholder in Cairns, and held long term plans to develop their facilities. They depended on a combination of funding from local and state governments to move forward with each stage of 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 divisions 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 the past few 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 because of concerns that toxins and pollutants were leaching into Trinity Inlet, harming the fish breeding habitat there.

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 great move for the environment and saved ratepayers a fortune. 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. The completed venue was a modern multi-purpose space incorporating an outdoor undercover amphitheatre and an air-conditioned room suitable for small cocktail functions, product launches and community meetings.

Kirsten Lesina and Earlville Library

Like myself, Councillor Lesina was a fifth-generation Cairns resident. At 21, she was the youngest person ever elected to Cairns Regional Council. I found Kirsten a joy to work with. 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.

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 service 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, along with Val Schier, Diane Forsyth and Julia Leu were also great allies in the fight to protect Cairns hill-slopes from property development.

Cairns Stockland Library opening with Kirsten Lesina and Rob Pyne

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.

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

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, to represent the Commonwealth Government.

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

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.

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

The Reys Family

Ken Reys

In my role as a Councillor, I met Ken Reys, who was delivering a ‘welcome to country’ on behalf of the traditional owners, 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.

Reys Park Cairns

Fred and Frank Reys

Ken and his father Fred 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 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 family.

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 classes, 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 operfectly and excelled at school. These young people were nothing short of ‘model citizens’ who went on to contribute significantly to Australian society.

Around this time, the LNP Government introduced the 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. Yet to deny these people access to our country would have robbed us of the contribution of their children. It convinced me that Australia would be the loser under the new racist 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 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, 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 from Vanuatu. He arrived in Australia on the ship ‘Stanley’ on the 14 August 1876, and landed at Maryborough, Queensland. He was brought to Queensland as a slave and worked in and around Maryborough. James’ son, Sterling Minniecon (born 15 September 1918), moved north into what is now the Cairns region, eventually settling in Edmonton.

The Indigenous name ‘Mundii Gunji’ was suggested for the park by the Gimuy Wallabarra Yidinji, to acknowledge their relationship to that land.

Mayor Val had a Good Heart

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 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 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, as the caring person she was, and acted in a less aloof manner, she would have made real ‘connections’ with a lot more people.

Traditional Owner Connections

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 Yidinji 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 results of what Bottoms called The Skeleton Creek battle (or bloodbath), which he describes as “the stuff of nightmares.” Aboriginal remains from the site had been 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 told him that Cairns Regional 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.

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. 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 dad’s funeral 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.

My sister Joann spoke 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 – A final goodbye

Cairns Entertainment Precinct

Despite her difficulties with other Councillors, Mayor Val developed plans for a massive infrastructure project known as the Cairns Entertainment Precinct. The project would provide great things for the community, from immediate jobs during construction to long term infrastructure and employment for the arts sector. To be honest, I didn’t think Val had a hope in hell of getting the funding required from the state and federal government.

Much to my surprise, Val was successful in getting massive state and federal commitments for one of the biggest projects in our area.

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. This involved promoting Cairns as a leader in Information Technology, 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 we could progress in pursuit of this vision was the Cairns Entertainment Precinct.

Bryan Law 1954 – 2013 (Bio at a Glance)

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.”

Law in the North

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

Cairns activist Bryan Law
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. 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. Fellow campaigner Graeme Dunstan said Law’s death was the “passing of a courageous peacemaker. It is a sad loss and we have lost a real warrior working for all things good.”

2012 Local Government Elections

Hate and Misogyny in the Air

As the 2012 local government elections approached, I was feeling quite apprehensive about my electoral prospects. Criticism of Council had focused almost 100% on the Mayor Val. However, as a progressive councillor, I knew I would receive my fair share of electoral pain.

The hatred of Val was quite unfair, but I knew this sort of thing could be part and parcel of politics. After all, the Mayor becomes a public face for the council.

However, inside Council, there were the Conservative councillors who opposed Val and wanted to see her defeated. There were also some disloyal staff members with Conservative connections who were undermining her.

Misinformation Reigns

Opposition to Val was fomented by the Deputy Mayor and others in the media, who opposed the Cairns Entertainment Precinct. The project was lied about and demonised so often that it became the focal point of discontent.

Meanwhile, the misogynistic campaigns from elderly twisted and bitter white males in the community continued. Moreover, the radio talk back and the tabloid Cairns Post never gave Mayor Val a chance, and spewed hatred at every opportunity.

Cairns Regional Council: Opponents Emerge

The various forces of discontent coalesced as the election drew closer. Two opposition teams prepared to reap the benefits of this discontent. First, Deputy Mayor Cochrane formed her team early on to run against the mayor. The second was the Unity Team, a re- incarnation of the ticket which had governed Cairns for eight years prior to 2008 under Kevin Byrne.

It was clear to me that Val did not have a chance, but she decided to run again anyway. She must have thought she had a chance, given her professional conduct in office. However, media coverage always trumps performance in office and I saw she would lose well in advance.

The left-leaning divisional candidates had no interest in joining a team under Val. As a result, Val re-contested her position as an independent. Running for Mayor on your own, without a team behind you, is a mammoth task – even if you are popular. I have never seen such a strategy succeed, especially not in the Cairns region. You cannot win without the support of a team.

Tanya and Leigh

As an experienced political figure in the city, I did my best to support two other independent candidates, Leigh Dall’Osto in Division 2 and Tanya Brooks-Cooper in Division 8.

Both women were highly capable and would have made excellent Councillors. However, it was a very misogynistic time. Looking back it is hard to believe how anti-woman the sentiment in the community was.

Women Attacked

The Prime Minister of the time was Julia Gillard, and Tony Abbott was attacking her at every opportunity. Some Abbott supporters pretended gender was not a part of their attack, but the reality was otherwise. To demonstrate the hatred Abbott supporter Alan Jones from Radio 2GB suggested that Gillard be put into a chaff bag and chucked into the ocean. Such was the level of malice towards female leaders.

At a polling booth at Bayview Heights, I saw angry, elderly white men walking in to vote – often with their wives following dutifully behind them – all determined to get rid of our first ever female Mayor.

It was clear that Bob Manning’s Unity Team was the most popular with voters. My opponent in Division 3 was a likeable gentleman by the name of Ian Hodge. He had door- knocked the whole area and was going to be very hard to beat.

A Landslide and a New Mayor

On the night of the election, it only took a few minutes to work out that Mayor Val had been slaughtered at the polls and Bob Manning would be the next Mayor of Cairns.

Early in the night, it appeared the result of the race in Division 3 of Cairns Regional Council would be close. The first polling booth was counted and the vote split almost evenly. However, the first booth had been from quite a wealthy part of the area. When the vote started to come in from lower-income neighbourhoods, particularly with higher Indigenous populations, I moved ahead. I ended up winning relatively comfortably.

I was happy that people could see where my heart was. As a local Councillor, I had always supported the battlers in the suburbs of White Rock and Woree. I cared greatly for those doing it tough, particularly our Indigenous brothers and sisters. I loved championing the cause of the underdog, those who nearly always lacked a voice in government.

Unity Domination

My friend Leigh Dall’Osto lost in Division 2 and Tanya Brooks- Cooper lost in Division 8, despite a frustrating close race.

The former Douglas Shire area re-elected Julia Leu. Julia and I were therefore the only progressive councillors elected. Consequently this made it clear the Unity Team had the numbers, with the Mayor and 7 of the 10 divisions. As a result, I had to accept that I would not play as significant a role now as I had on the Val Schier Council.

However, my greatest fear was for the future of the city-shaping Cairns Entertainment Precinct. Bob Manning had campaigned against it; however, I maintained the hope that once he saw the benefits it offered Cairns, he would support the project.

I was proud of the achievements of the Cairns Regional Council of 2008 to 2012 and the work I had done in my local community. However, the austerity being imposed by the state government and the prospect of 4 years on a Unity dominated council had me turning my eye to the ALP and Queensland Politics.

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North

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