Exit Stage Left

Exit Stage Left
Exit Stage Left
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Exit Stage Left

Conservative Hatred

Exit stage left was the only way I could ever leave politics. I knew by 2022 I was facing my ‘political execution’ by Greg Hallam and the LGAQ. This coincided with the emergence of a new-right political extreme in Australia. It was a Nationalistic Australian version of Donald Trump’s ‘Freedom Movement’.

My uncompromising nature ensured I was hated by a number of my political opponents. I loved stories about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who wrote of his conservative opponents “They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

While I operated in a proverbial ‘fishbowl’ compared to the great FDR, I felt exactly the same way. The haters were simply confirmation of ‘a job well done!’ 

Haters Abound

The social media opened up a new world to haters and uninformed Facebook insults became commonplace. My brand of Socialism earned me death threats. One such threat was left in such a drunken stupor, the proponent failed to realise it had been delivered to my voicemail.

More common were grubby tactics such as making false complaints to the relevant regulatory bodies such as the Office of Independent Assessor. Of course, when it came to such complaints I was routinely cleared.

When your cause is the fight for justice and the very survival of human civilisation on earth, threats, even vile ones, don’t bother you. The issues you are fighting for really are bigger than any single life.

You may think no one actually enjoys being the subject of hate. However, when the hate was from far-right conservatives, I thrived on it! Sometimes the attacks even yeilded amusing results. In any event, after breaking my neck, spending 9 months in Princess Alexandra Hospital and having lived 30 years with quadriplegia, no threats were going to worry me.

Councils are not as overtly political as one may assume. Despite having served on two Conservative Councils (2012-2015 and 2020-2022) I never developed bitter relations with the other elected representatives. I had fierce disagreement on some issues, but no long-lasting personal animosity.

Socialist Alliance

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in Socialist Alliance activities. It was great to be a member of a party united by strong values and beliefs. Involvement in Socialist Alliance was a pleasing contrast to the ALP, which is divided among fractions.

It was also good to know members were there to support each other, rather than there to advance their own careers. Of course, there is no chance of a career when your party is unlikely to get 5% of the vote. However, I knew how corrupt the political system was and how government is bought and sold by those who could pay the most. Therefore, getting elected was no longer the key barometer as far as I was concerned.

An interesting development came in 2021 with Labor supporting an attack on small parties. The attack came in the form of legislation that increased the number of registered members a party required, to remain registered and stand candidates for election.

In the face and political oblivion, Socialist alliance members rallied around and embarked on a membership drive. As a result of membership renewals and new members coming on board our party was successful in renewing registration with the Australian Electoral Commission. It showed how strong the sense of community was within our passionate leftist supporters.

Covid-19 and Neo-Fascism

Neo-Fascism in Australia received a boost towards the end of 2021. So-called “Freedom” rallies were organised by right wing activists in cities across the nation. As a defender of freedom of speech I was happy to defend their right to protest, but just as passionate to express my views in favour of vaccination.

Conspiracy theorists had emerged over a range of issues, but opposition to Covid 19 vaccines in particular. These anti-vaxxers, along with religious conservatives and other right-wingers joined protests in opposition to public health measures and COVID-19 vaccines.

The far right used the opportunity to weaponise conspiratorial ideas, to forge a motley coalition of libertarians, neo-Nazis and Trump supporters.

council vaccine
council vaccine blast below

Mainstream right-wing politicians from the Liberals, Nationals, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) joined the far-right, seeking to capitalise on the anti-vax protest movement.

This was an issue I was keen to get stuck into. A lifetime of experience had shown me the need to listen to technical experts and follow the science. Together with other activists across Australia, I put the pro-vaccination position at every opportunity.

I had always been passionate about vaccination to stop disease and suffering. The fact the anti-vaxxers had aligned with the far right made the battle even more appealing. I took every opportunity to give them a jab.

Exit Council Stage Left

Cairns Council Climate Plan

I did not agree with other Councillors on many issues. However, I was delighted when Cairns Regional Council committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2030 and moving to 100% renewable energy for its operations.

On Wednesday the 23rd of March 2022, Council adopted the Cairns Climate Change Strategy 2030 to guide Council’s climate actions for the next decade.  The Strategy also supported the community to progress towards Queensland’s emissions reductions target of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

Mayor Bob Manning accurately observed that Cairns was particularly vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change and it was important that Council took a lead on action. He said, “A tidal wave of evidence is mounting that climate change is already impacting the environment – global temperatures are rising, glaciers have shrunk, and plant and animal habitats have shifted.

“In the past 22 years, we have experienced our warmest 20 years on record. Australian average temperatures are now 1.44C higher than when national records began in 1910.

“As the guardians of two World Heritage-listed natural environments – the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest – it is our responsibility to do all we can to protect these assets and our lifestyle. 

Conservative Greens?

Climate action had long been associated with left activism in Australia. In adopting a strategy to cut emissions, moving to renewable energy, and mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change, my colleagues were helping me to exit stage left.

I was bemused that my conservative colleagues on Council were supporting such strong action on climate. Nevertheless, I was delighted! It meant that environmental considerations would be embedded in Council’s governance, leadership and decision making, to support a Smart Green Economy. It seemed to me most of my fellow Councillors were starting to ‘get it’.

By 2022 the wider Cairns community was also starting to ‘get it’. Extensive consultation was undertaken in developing the Strategy with engagement with more than 2,300 people, including subject matter experts, industry representatives, climate action advocates, community members, Traditional Custodians, youth representatives and researchers in the tertiary sector.

The Cairns Climate Change Strategy 2030 reinforced that Council recognised the important role it has in preserving the natural environment, supporting the community to make greener choices, and assisting in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Decline of Mr. and Mrs. Pyne

A fair amount of literature discusses the experience of ageing with a disability. However, it doesn’t adequately capture the ‘human side.’ In April 2022, I will be 55 years of age. Statistics show that the average life expectancy for a young man who breaks his neck at the age of 23 is about 49 years. I had already lived for several years longer than what I called my ‘disability adjusted life expectancy.’

Ageing took its toll. The biggest thing I noticed was a decline in energy. There were also issues around my bladder and bowels and other problems. For example, my bones were starting to break more easily. While these breaks were all in parts of the body I could not use anyway, they did cause difficulties for me, such as increased muscle spasm.

Kidney Failure

Rob Pyne and Jenny Pyne
Jenny Pyne and Rob Pyne

I also found I was not as intellectually quick as I have been in the past, perhaps partly the result of my experience with drug addiction and almost certainly as a consequence of ageing. However, far more concerning to me was the bad news in relation to Jenny’s health. While she had lost weight, grown stronger, and was going to the gym every day, Jenny had to face the tragic news that her kidneys were failing. It had always been my intention to exit this world prior to Jenny, and her health and well-being was important to me. I had no desire to live without her.

Jenny and Rob Face Harsh Reality

Jenny and I faced harsh realities. Jenny was notified that she would need to go on dialysis in the New Year. This also meant that Jenny would go on the kidney transplant list.

Jenny had cared for me – got me up and about, looked after me – every day for 30 years. Now I was worried what would happen to her.

I overheard Jenny confessing to one of my support workers that if she needed to go to Brisbane for a must-have kidney replacement, she just wouldn’t go unless she had someone she trusted to look after me. While Jenny’s commitment to me was admirable, I was equally determined that she would get the care she was entitled to. It was the least I could do to repay her for all the many years of care and love she had provided to me.

With this in mind, my support worker Maja Betts and I started training up staff who would be able to get me up and bath me every morning and get me in my wheelchair.

Shame job

Growing up in Edmonton with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends, I learned to use the same expressions. One phrase for when you are made to do something uncomfortable, like speak in front of a class or do something else awkward in front of people, is ‘shame job’. In other words, it’s shameful to do things that you don’t really want to do, or experience things you don’t really want to go through.

Jenny’s health decline had immediate impacts. One of the most immediate was having someone to get me up and bath me.

It is quite confronting having someone you hardly know bath you and help with personal care in an intimate way. It was a shame job for me, a 53-year-old who had been cared for by his wife for the previous 30 years. The experience made me realise what a massive commitment Jenny had made most of her life.

Exit

There was a humble circularity in being born in Edmonton, experiencing the ups and downs of my life, and finishing my story as the local Councillor. 150 years after my European descendants arrived in the Far North Queensland, there is more inequality in our community than ever before. Our First Peoples remain deeply disadvantaged. Many minority groups still suffer under the heel of a capitalist superstructure that demeans and devalues them. As long as those in leadership positions continue to support capitalism and neoliberal policies, things will not improve.

I am proud of my record of political activism – on Council, in State Parliament, and in my community. I have no way of knowing, as 2022 progresses, if I am entering my final months or years. While I hope to continue my activism, the truth is that longevity does not motivate me. In the grand scheme, my journey does not have far left to go.

Exit Stage Left

Generational Change

As I was forced to exit stage left it caused me to reflect that our generation of progressive warriors have failed to save our environment from destruction and protect the disadvantaged in our community. However, the battles we fought matter,  even if we did not win the war.

These issues are all consistent with and in some respects dependant on success in the battle for Socialism.

The work we do is about standing up to the force of darkness, no matter how difficult the fight. In the words of Chris Hedges, “I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists”. Perhaps the late Tony Benn put it best when he said, “Every single generation has to fight the same battles, again, and again, and again. There is no final victory and there is no final defeat.”

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