Losing to Labor

Losing to Labor

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Labor Party

Losing to Labor was always more likely than my re-election to State Parliament. This was especially the case after the government removed my highest polling suburbs of Woree and north Mount Sheridan from the Cairns electorate and included them in nearby Mulgrave.

However, I wanted to move solid left legislative reforms, not simply sit down and do what I was told. Issues are always more important than re-election.

Progressive Wins

As a member of the ALP, I could not make a difference, but as an independent, by voting with fellow Independent Billy Gordon, I could support good progressive legislation and stop bad legislation.

Indeed in this Parliament, the numbers dictated that crucial votes occurred regularly. Two such cases involved the cessation of sand mining on North Stradbroke Island and securing the legal rights of child abuse survivors to seek compensation.

North Stradbroke Island

My dad taught me through connections with Aboriginal people you must always protect people’s sacred status, regardless of the past.
– Steve Irwin

I am passionate about issues that address the high levels of disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As a result, I became very frustrated with the failure of the ALP to fund programs in West Cairns. I knew the need for programs around education, housing and employment in communities with high Indigenous representation.

In the Queensland Parliament, many pieces of legislation came forward that directly impacted on our First People. A Bill to stop sand mining on North Stradbroke Island was tabled in 2016. If passed, it would hand the land back to the Traditional Owners.

The Katter Party had decided to vote against the Bill, as had the LNP. Therefore, the votes of Billy Gordon and myself would determine the outcome. In support of the Bill, I made the following comments:

Support for Straddie

DATE: 25/05/2016
Mr PYNE (Cairns—Ind). I rise to speak in favour of the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2016. Sand-mining was always going to end on North Stradbroke Island. It could not go on forever. This bill has a plan to transition from mining jobs to long-term sustainable jobs. With a $28 million investment, this proposal will create jobs that can last well past the end of mining.

I support a strong plan to stimulate the economic transition of Straddie. This plan will create 151 direct and ongoing jobs across tourism, education and training, and business development sectors. I support the $5 million workers assistance scheme. It will support affected workers transitioning to alternative and diverse employment opportunities through real on-the-ground assistance. This will help mine workers with new employment opportunities.

In relation to sustainability, Straddie is the only place where mining leases sit on top of a national park. Indeed, it is the only place where park rangers and joint managing Traditional Owners cannot access a national park. This must change. Although mining only directly affects part of the island at one time, leases can cover 40 per cent. Many on both sides of this House refuse to transition away from a ‘dig it up at all costs’ mentality.

No Friend of Mine

We need to stop sand-mining on North Stradbroke Island and protect our special natural places for future generations. I know that my good friend, the member for Hinchinbrook, and other champions of the coal-mining industry choose to ignore—

Mr Cripps: Madam Deputy Speaker, I cannot tolerate being defamed like that and I ask the member to withdraw.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Farmer): Order! Thank you for introducing some levity into the debate at this time of night.

A Future for Straddie

Mr PYNE: I withdraw any imputation that I am a friend of the member for Hinchinbrook. We must transition to green jobs: jobs of the future. Adani is symbolic of this government getting it wrong. North Stradbroke Island is an example of this government getting it right. We are living in a time of unprecedented environmental crisis and catastrophic climate change.

Consequently, I say to all members that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Capitalism is a holy doctrine in this place. However, it is a doctrine based on infinite expansion through the exploitation of labour and the ransacking of nature.

There is another way. In relation to the traditional owners, let me say that the Quandamooka people are a proud people. They never ceded sovereignty of their land and they never signed a treaty with the colonial government. It was, is, and will always be Aboriginal land: people in this place must understand this.

When the Campbell Newman LNP government reneged on the existing undertaking with traditional owners, for the Quandamooka people it was—and I quote one traditional owner—’Just like terra nullius all over again.’

Tonight is about righting a historical wrong, and I for one embrace this opportunity. The wonderful thing about this bill is that it recognises the Quandamooka people’s connection with the island. It is giving native title justice to this region’s first people. That has been my overriding consideration in supporting this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill Passed

Along with fellow Independent Billy Gordon, I voted for the Bill, enabling it to pass. As a result, sand mining ended and the land was returned to the traditional owners. It was a joy to have delivered justice, especially for the  Quandamooka Elders. Billy and I were delighted!

Cameron Costello and Rob Pyne
Cameron Costello and Rob Pyne

Child Abuse Survivor Calls

Early in 2016, a gentleman called at Parliament House and asked to see me. I went downstairs and in the foyer I met Alan (not his real name). A survivor of child abuse, Alan had support from a number of child abuse survivor groups. He raised the issue of the unfair impact of the statute of limitations on child abuse survivors.

The existing ‘statute of limitations’ required that anyone wanting to take civil action for a wrong against them had 3 years (from the date of that wrong) to commence legal action. Individuals become entitled to sue at the age of 18.

However, most survivors are reluctant to acknowledge or talk about their abuse before they reach 21 years of age. As a result of the statute of limitations, survivors’ window to take legal action had often closed before they could commence an action to hold their abuser to account. That was wrong!

I had legislation drafted to address this injustice. The Government did not want to act. However, I kept going. I knew losing to Labor on this issue would mean further injustice for victims of abuse.

Child Abuse Bill Tabled

My Bill was the Limitation of Actions and Other Legislation (Child Abuse Civil Proceedings) Amendment Bill 2016. I introduced it with what is called a first reading speech. In Parliament I subsequently gave the following speech, appealing for support from other MPs:

MR SPEAKER, I am here today to introduce to the Parliament a Bill on a matter of great importance to our society, especially to the welfare of our most precious asset – our children. I speak in particular of the protection of children from harm.

The measures this Bill will introduce to provide, for the first time, a financial incentive for all our institutions to protect the children in their care. It is the intent of this Bill that child protection will not only be a moral imperative but will also make financial sense for institutions.

Sadly, many of our children have suffered for decades because some of our most trusted organisations have protected known sex offenders instead of children. Institutions have treated children who report abuse as more of a threat to their finances than pedophiles who they employ.

Institutions have seen appeals for help from victims as a threat rather than as an opportunity to care for human suffering. This legislation reverses this destructive dynamic.

Child Abuse Exposed

It has been to the collective shame of our society that we have seen, over the past four years, harrowing evidence presented to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Trusted institutions in our society have too often failed our children. The legacy of these failures has been one of catastrophic damage to countless lives. Yet, until now, those harmed have not had effective access to the courts in this State.

Sadly, corporations and institutions such as schools were better off financially if they protected offenders and abandoned victimised children. Indeed, their lawyers and insurers knew that very few abused children are able to seek compensation because of strict time limits which almost all victims cannot meet.

Evidence presented to the Royal Commission shows that when a child is sexually assaulted or violently physically assaulted the associated trauma creates significant psychological barriers that prevent that child from reporting the abuse or taking legal action until decades later. One of the reasons for this delay is the innate psychological process of recovery. 

Limitation Unreasonable

Despite these impediments, victims must file a claim in Queensland before turning 21 years of age. If they are too late, they have no right to step into a court. The abusive institution therefore evades all legal consequence for their concealment of the criminal sexual and physical assault of children.

Only a handful of victims in Queensland have ever been able to seek fair compensation in this State for their suffering – to recover the costs of health care, education and economic loss – caused by abuse when they were children.

As painful as the Royal Commission’s work has been, it yielded important and necessary recommendations for reform. These reforms will make our children safer and change the way institutions respond to victims who have the courage to report abuse.

The exposure of the scandal of institutional protection of offending has only been possible because courageous victims have given evidence. Many of these victims have received paltry amounts of compensation in the past. They were given small ex-gratia payments by institutions that denied the abuse occurred, or if the abuse did occur, the institution claims they were not liable.

This Bill, Mr Speaker, takes a significant step forward. It will allow those victims who were forced to make unfair settlements because of time limits to have their deeds re-opened.

Child Abuse Royal Commission

Justice requires that those victims who have courageously stepped forward to report offenders are finally vindicated and fairly compensated for the harm done to them. The harm they suffer is a combination of direct harm caused by the abuse itself and in some cases equally, or in even greater measure, harm caused by being disbelieved and turned away for decades by institutions that knew about the abuse and yet failed to protect them.

Since its inception in 2013, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has conducted 44 Case Studies and 5669 Private Sessions, published 11 formal Issues Papers and 8 formal Research Papers, received 18 598 written submissions, and referred 1,619 matters to authorities including police. 

The Commission has heard extensive evidence of the actions of institutions to conceal crimes and the impact this has had on victims of abuse, including extending emotional trauma well into their adult years and obstructing justice by denying a right of access to the court.

In 2015, the final recommendations in relation to time limits were handed down. The Redress and Civil Litigation Report recommended that civil statutory time limits should be removed as soon as possible with retrospective effect.

Justice for Child Abuse Victims

Making these recommendations into effective law in Queensland will provide justice for past, present and future victims of abuse. It will strengthen the institutions of our society by giving them a financial incentive to protect children in their care. Most importantly, it will make our children safer today and into the future.

This links with the second objective of the Bill, which is to allow people who signed deeds of release to have their matters retried. In order to remove the effect of time limits from all victims equally, it is necessary to allow victims who were forced to sign unfair settlements to have them re-opened. Creating a legislated legal framework to remove past unjust settlements is essential. 

There was immense power and financial imbalance in these past cases. This is why it is not enough to just remove the time limits without removing the consequences of the unjust time limits.

Child Abuse Safeguards

Important safeguards are incorporated into this part of the Bill. I hasten to assure honourable members of the House that this Bill will not result in a rush of litigation. Not every past case will be able to be re-opened:

  • Cases that were tried on their merits, and any judgements given or settlements made for reasons other than the application of time limits, will not be re-opened.
  • Cases that were brought in time (where time limits were not a factor) will not be able to be re-opened.

I assure honourable members of the House that damages costs will be manageable for defendants. Any cases that are reopened and in which a judge awards a greater damages quantum, will take into account the amount of any previous settlement or judgement.

The third objective is to amend the Civil Proceedings Act 2011 to prevent an institution from having civil proceedings stayed on the basis of the passage of time.

Cost Justified

The cost of implementing the reforms is a necessary step for offenders and institutions to accept responsibility for their failures in the past and the tragic human toll of their previous decisions and actions. The cost of litigation quantums for institutions will be manageable through the preservation of the institution’s insurance policies.

However, the moral imperative of this law reform justifies the cost. The cost should diminish over time as institutions implement child protection policies such as staff screening and mandatory reporting, thus decreasing the risk of abuse.

Greater investment in child protection will become an investment in greater safety for our children, and in providing more prompt, caring responses to any future reports of child abuse.

Most importantly, prompt institutional responses to incidents of child abuse will prevent subsequent abuse of large numbers of children. This further reduces an institution’s liability. This will effectively reduce the heavy toll of human suffering and create a safer society for our children.

This scenario of prompt reporting, responsive care for the victims and timely arrest and judicial processes together create the best possible hope of full recovery for victims. It prevents further abuse, minimises the financial cost to institutions and restores stakeholder trust.

This private members’ Bill is not an attack on our institutions. Its a means for them to take responsibility for the past and begin rebuilding trust with stakeholders and the public.

A Win for Survivors – A loss to Labor

My Bill was an opportunity for Queensland to lead the nation on important reforms for child protection and ensure access to justice for victims of abuse. The intense media attention around this issue resulted in the ALP bringing forward their own Bill (as Governments rarely pass Bills initiated by the opposition or cross-bench, regardless of their merit).

However, the ALP Bill failed to remove the statue of limitations for non-institutional victims and did not give the court power to quash existing deeds of agreement (which had often been signed by the survivor under duress). Under most of these ‘agreements’ the statute of limitation had expired, leaving survivors without a cause of action.

I was delighted when the LNP sought amendments to the ALP Bill. These amendments included my clauses that removed the statute of limitations for non-institutional victims and allowed for courts to review previous unjust agreements.

When both amendments were passed by a vote, it meant they would become law. It was a huge win. ‘Alan’ and fellow survivor Kelvin Johnston were in the public gallery during the vote to celebrate this historic win for survivors. They were elated!

The support of the LNP leader Tim Nicholls proved crucial. I did not agree with Tim on many issues, but he did the right thing on this occasion. I can’t help but wonder if it was because most LNP politicians had attended private schools (where much abuse occurred). In my experience, when people are personally aware of an injustice, they are more likely to support legislation to remedy it.

Kelvin Johnston: survivor advocate
Kelvin Johnston: Survivor Advocate

Losing to Labor Kills Child Abuse Reporting Bill

Around this time I also became aware that ‘ministers of religion’ were not bound by mandatory reporting under the Child Protection Act. I was shocked and consequently determined to move a bill to make reporting of child abuse mandatory for ministers of religion.

This meant taking on the Catholic confessional. This is the notion that any sin can be confessed to a priest (but not the police) in exchange for penance and forgiveness. However, I argued that this ancient religious practice should not be put ahead of the welfare of children.

In speaking to my Mandatory Reporting Bill, I said it was high time religious representatives were subjected to the same ‘rule of law’ as all of the other groups who worked with children in schools.

My Bill passed the first reading, but before it returned to Parliament, the Premier had called the November 2017 election.

Losing to Labor – The Stalker Conspiracy

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Everyone makes mistakes, but by and large, most of the media outlets were fair to me. However, two exceptions were the Rupert Murdoch owned Cairns Post and Courier Mail. The most obvious example of their bias occurred as a result of what I came to call ‘stalker-gate’.

On Tuesday 5th of September 2017, I had a call from the reception at Parliament House letting me know that a Mr Khalesirad would like to see me. Prior to this day, I had never met Mr Khalesirad. There was no appointment in my diary for him, but I made time, as I would have for anyone.

Earlier in the day parliamentary security had admitted Mr Khalesirad into the public gallery without question. Like myself, security staff had no reason to refuse his admission.

I later learnt that Mr Khalesirad had been a critic of the government on his citizen blog. On a number of occasions Mr Khalesirad raised serious concerns regarding Hutchinson Builders and the ALP Member for Keppel, Mrs Lauga and her husband. As a result, there was a war of words between the ALP and Mr Khalesirad. The ALP called him many things, including:

  • a ‘stalker’, by the member for Keppel and her ALP Parliamentary colleagues.
  • a ‘dirty little grub’, by former ALP Minister Rob Schwarten.
Losing to Labor – Petros Khalesirad
Losing to Labor – Petros Khalesirad

ALP Sets Me Up

While I was meeting with Mr. Khalesirad, the ALP wrote to the Speaker of Parliament. They claimed I had let Khalesirad into Parliament to “intimidate the Member for Keppel, Brittany Lauga.”

The Member for Keppel did not contact me regarding these concerns. Had she done so I would happily have moved my meeting to a venue outside Parliament. Instead Lauga wrote to the Speaker and leaked the letter to the media.

The first person to contact me in person to discuss this matter was Anthony Templeton from the Courier Mail. He (unlike myself) had been well briefed on the Khalesirad/Lauga allegations. The politics of all this was played out very publicly, with myself the clear loser.

The Cairns Post and the Courier Mail led with front page articles accusing me of letting a stalker into Parliament House to stalk a pregnant MP. It was a bad look in anyone’s language. I had lost the politics of the situation. I was losing to Labor.

I responded by calling out the Palaszczuk Government for a politically motivated ‘set up’ to distract scrutiny away from Ms Lauga’s business affairs. After all, security staff had let Mr. Khalesirad into the public gallery two hours before I even knew he was visiting. To hold me to a higher standard than Parliament’s own security staff was unfair in the extreme.

ALP case does not stack up

The ALP did not want to discuss the Lauga’s dealings with Hutchinsons Builders, or Ms Lauga’s failure to provide proper disclosure pursuant to section 15(4) Integrity Services Act.

Lauga claimed that her financial situation regarding the expenditure overrun of her matrimonial home was cleared and disclosed to the Parliament. In truth, ‘stalker-gate’ was nothing more than a political stunt to remove the spotlight from these matters. Damaging my reputation was just a side benefit for the ALP.

Ms. Lauga had Mr Khalesirad charged as a stalker. The matter was referred for trial. However, before Mr Khalesirad’s legal team could cross examine Ms. Lauga’s evidence, Premier Palaszczuk called an election. The ALP was keen to avoid such a trial just before an election. After all, it could have emerged that Mr Khalesirad, a former Young Queenslander of the Year, was not a stalker after all. That would have been extremely embarrassing for the government!

Losing to Labor

Surround yourself with really good people. I think that’s an important thing. Because the people you surround yourself are a reflection of you.
– Aaron Rodgers

You cannot properly do your job of representing constituents if you are a party MP. You must vote how you are told. Even the questions you ask in Parliament are written for you by party officials. However, an independent MP can ask any questions citizens want to be asked and vote the way constituents want them to vote.

When the 2017 State election was announced, my campaign was a matter of standing up as an Independent against the two major parties with just a few good people around me.

Quality Candidates with Progressive Politics

I lacked resources and organisational support. This was also the case for other Independents running at the state level. In Brisbane, there were some really great people standing as Independents. They included Hetty Johnson, Mick Kosenko and Rick Flori.

Mick Kosenko, an internationally renowned tattooist, had fallen victim to the anti-association law introduced by the Newman Government. The law provided that when two or more people from the same motorcycle club gathered together, it was a criminal offence. Mick’s business suffered, since (as a member of a club) he could be arrested if the next customer to walk through the door was also a club member. Mick was very popular in the community, and nominated for the seat of Pine Rivers.

Rick Flori was a former cop and a much celebrated whistleblower. Rick had released video footage of a member of the public being assaulted by police. Meanwhile, Hetty had shown great leadership on the issue of child abuse as the founder and CEO of Bravehearts.

I also pledged to support Trevor Palmer, an Independent who stood for Woodridge, and Amy MacMahon, Greens Candidate for South Brisbane. They were my fellow Davids fighting against the establishment Goliath.

Cairns Supporters of Progressive Politics

There was no institutionalised support for my re-election campaign, but I did have a group of loyal Cairns supporters. These people could see through the major parties and believed in justice and fairness. They wanted an MP who would represent local people rather than a political party.

These people included Susan Prince, Lizi Prince, Simon Perry, Anthony Too, Paul Spray, Margaret Pestorius, Donna Mullaly, Steve Brech, Mick Russell, Marcela Brassett, John Pratt, Tayte Dalziel, Banyar Paing, Jonathan Strauss, Carla Gorton, Sarah Hoyle, Renee Lees, Sandra McGuiness, Harrison George, Som Tamang, Susan Devitt, the Dimara family, and so many others. Sue Price (a friend from the Socialist Alliance) flew up from Sydney for the week of the election to lend her support. I will never forget those people who helped.

Losing to Labor
Losing to Labor

We campaigned valiantly. However our green-left progressive politics did not resonate with many in Far North Queensland. As polling day approached, we were victims of two targeted attacks that really hurt the campaign.

The first attack was a highly negative flyer left in residents’ mail-boxes. It was what is known in politics as a ‘shit sheet’. It repeated the false claim that Petros Khalesirad was a stalker and implied I knew this and let him into Parliament to intimidate a pregnant female MP. The flyer was as nasty as it was politically damaging.

Losing to Labor – Extremists Attack

The second attack came from ‘Cherish Life’, who rang constituents in the Cairns electorate and told them that I supported 9-month abortions. This was a ludicrous lie about a fictitious procedure (the only procedure that occurs at 9 months is child-birth). I was proud of my record on abortion law reform, and I hoped people would see how ridiculous the politically motivated lies of Cherish Life were. However, there is no denying the abortion issue did cast a shadow over the election.

Despite the difficulties with my campaign, I received strong support from the environmental movement and the local arts community. My friends in the arts sector helped me produce a couple of slick campaign videos. It was a shame I did not have more funds to put them on free-to-air television.

It is almost impossible for an Independent to get elected in the Queensland Parliament. When it does happen, it is a result of our preferential voting system. Independents win when an independent receives enough votes to get ahead of one of the major party candidates. The success of an Independent is nearly always dependent on one of the major party candidates polling poorly, and then passing on their preferences.

Sam Marino, my LNP opponent, was well-liked by much of the community. My greatest fear was that I would not be able to get ahead of Sam to harvest his preferences. Unfortunately, my fear proved to be correct.

State Election Results

The evening of Saturday 25 November was sombre, as we gathered at the Balaclava Hotel to watch the votes come in. The rational part of my brain had already told me there was little chance of victory. However, being on the campaign trail and talking with local people had increased my hopes.

I out-polled The Greens and One Nation, but when their preferences were distributed, I received only 26.6 per cent of the vote. I was 10 per cent behind the major party candidates. Queensland Labor (ALP) had won back the seat of Cairns.

The Independent candidates in Brisbane were all defeated as well. These were people of great merit and integrity, and to see them all defeated by party politicians was nothing short of soul-destroying.

Losing to Labor and Letting People Down Hurts

Not many people know, but when an MP loses their job, their staff lose theirs. Paul and Anthony had been working four days a week, with Simon and Terri chipping in with a day each. In my mind, I had let them down.

During the 2015-2017 Parliamentary term I had never focussed my disability. I had felt this inappropriate and feared my opponents accusing me of using my disability as a crutch. However, secretly one of my greatest fears was that should I not be re-elected, it would be taken as evidence that a person with a profound disability was not up to serving as an MP. So I felt I had failed the disabled community as well.

Down and out in Mount Sheridan

Losing to Labor took its toll. The 12 months after losing to Labor were one of the lowest periods of my life. Physically, financially and emotionally, I was a wreck. I found it hard to cope with socialising and became a virtual recluse.

All the work I had been doing campaigning meant I had lost focus on looking after my health. After losing to Labor I discovered I had a pressure sore on my backside (which can be quite dangerous for quadriplegics) and I had started sweating profusely for no apparent reason. I had also developed a chronic pain in my neck.

Fortunately, those important to me rallied around me, especially my sister Joann, who helped me financially. She, along with the rest of my family, picked me up when I was down.  The financial impact of not having an MP salary was a bit like ‘back to the future’, as I had experienced long periods without much money in the past.

Rob Pyne Jenny Pyne and Kate Pyne
Rob Pyne Jenny Pyne and Kate Pyne

The transition from being financially independent to being back in the Centrelink disability system was very time-consuming. I spent the first six months of 2018 negotiating the bureaucracy – ordering a new wheelchair, jumping through all the hoops for Centrelink, and negotiating access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

In typically sensitive fashion, the Cairns Post published an article under the heading “Pyne to go on Dole”. The heading suggested it was a conscious decision of mine to go on Centrelink payments. As usual that was wrong (and it was not unemployment benefits – but the Disability Support Pension).

I don’t know what options for mainstream employment the Cairns Post thought would be available to a C5 quadriplegic. However, for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, kicking people when they are down is a national sport.

The Cairns Post and News Corp had a long history of propping up the Conservative establishment at the expense of progressive politicians. Losing to Labor at the election was largely a result of the media bias of the Cairns Post. I embraced their hate as a great endorsement of my efforts to hold power to account and to champion the underdog!

Politics Refuses to let me go as LGAQ Sue

As we moved into 2018, there was nothing I wanted to do more than leave Queensland politics and put losing to Labor behind me. However, early in my Annus Horribilus a gentleman arrived unannounced at my front door. All he had to say was, “These papers are for you.” He served me with a pile of legal documents alleging I had defamed the CEO of the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ),[1] Mr. Greg Hallam.

The Brisbane Times reported ‘LGAQ boss sues‘ and detailed Mr. Hallam’s claim of $2.25 million in damages from four people over Facebook posts. These posts allegedly defamed him by likening him to Star Wars character Jabba the Hutt.

Subsequently, Hallam filed a claim in the District Court in Brisbane. This claim alleged that local government corruption campaigners Jason Ward, Lyn O’Connor, her husband Desmond O’Connor and myself had defamed him. It asserted that Lyn O’Connor or her husband had made posts under a false name.

The post in question depicted a creature who bore a resemblance to the fictional Star Wars character, Jabba the Hutt. The claim suggested that the creature’s head depicted a passable likeness to Mr Hallam.

Losing to Labor – Depression Sets In

Politics had kept me very busy making a difference in the world. Now I felt so helpless that during this time, I actually went into an extended period of depression.

Watching Australian politics from the outside was like watching a train wreck, and internationally the toxic politics around Brexit and Donald Trump dominated. Everything was depressing! It seemed progressive politics was being defeated everywhere.

For a person with my disability, employment in the mainstream economy is rare. However, I did not want to be on a disability pension for the rest of my life. As a result of the impending litigation and possible resulting bankruptcy, I felt I could not move forward with anything. I was in a state of limbo.

As the defamation matter dragged on, it had an increasing impact on my mental health. As usual, Jenny got me through it. Indeed her support and the love of my family kept me going. However, self-pity was holding me back. I used the legal action hanging over my head as a reason not to move forward. Realising this gave me the ‘kick up the backside’ I needed to at least try to build new opportunities.

Discovering gardening was an important part of my therapy. I started planting trees and vegetables and even started to blog on tropical gardening. Gardening during a Cairns winter is a joy and it greatly improved my mental health and my outlook on life.

wheels falling off
Wheels Falling Off

The Wheels Fall Off

For me, the idea of the wheels falling off became more than just a metaphor. Travelling down Anderson Street in Cairns one day, I watched with horror when I turned into a side street, only to see one of my wheels continue down Anderson Street, rolling away all on its own.

Doing a face plant into the pavement is intimidating when you are a quadriplegic. Thankfully, my friend Anthony Too was with me, and his quick thinking kept me upright. It was an analogy for what was happening with my life: good friends are so important!

Around this time another good friend, Ailsa Rayner, came back into my life. Ailsa began assisting me as a support worker under the NDIS. In addition to her support work, Ailsa had extensive mental health experience. I found her counsel very useful in developing a more positive outlook and getting myself back on track.

Vindication on Climate, Stalker-gate and Corruption

To summarise, the issues that ended my career in state politics were; a) the allegation I allowed a stalker to intimidate a female MP; b) The accusation I slandered Councils with false claims of corruption; and c) My focus on climate change and opposition to Adani. I do not include abortion law reform in this list, because I am confident that pro-choice reform actually had majority support in the community.

I was subsequently vindicated on the three issues I believe fatally damaged me in politics. However, vindication is an interesting concept to me. The people had judged me at the election. Losing to Labor was a fact. At the end of the day the umpire is always right. Subsequent vindication holds little satisfaction, whether you are a batsman or a failed politician.

Losing to Labor and Stalker Lie Exposed

In December 2017, the court threw out the unlawful stalking charges against blogger Petros Khalesirad. Much of the court hearing centred around an issue involving Ms Lauga’s husband, which Mr Khalesirad was investigating.

Rockhampton Magistrate Cameron Press ruled that Mr Khalesirad had no case to answer. He said, “The weight of evidence was not strong enough to prove a stalking charge.” Khalesirad had never been a threat to anyone.

Indeed Petros himself was unapologetic. He said, “Democracy’s an important thing in Australia under a representative government”. Outside court he added, “I think we have a right to ask questions about government decisions, indeed policy decisions, about members of parliament. I think it’s everyone’s obligation to do that.”

Losing to Labor and Council Corruption

In 2018, the CCC charged more mayors with fraud and corruption, vindicating my actions as an MP. Consequently, the Local Government Minister sacked the entire Ipswich Council. This gave credence to the document I had tabled in Parliament called “Ipswich Inc”. Later, I was contacted by journalists from Fairfax and the Queensland Times. He said that I must feel good to be proven right.

Losing to Labor and Climate Change

On Climate Change, vindication will come when we are past the point of no return. Cairns has above the average number of ‘climate sceptics’ per head of population. However, climate change is already damaging lives and livelihoods. Indeed, it is causing problems from salt water intrusion of water supplies to devastating natural disasters. Many people continued to live in denial. However, by the 2020s my actions on climate change had been vindicated.

Despite losing to Labor, my position on these and other issues was winning acceptance. However, the pending legal action the LGAQ’s Greg Hallam had initiated made it hard for me to move forward. It was a bit like having the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. It did get me down.

Fortunately, I remembered what I had known for years: you have to stand up to those in power. Like that little Jones boy, you can’t afford to back down, so you just keep swinging. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. What matters is that you keep fighting! All you have to know is three words, “Never give up!”

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 Lurches Right
  19. Farewell Comrades

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North


[1] The LGAQ is a private company. It is owned by Queensland’s 77 councils. It runs procurement, executive employment, call centre and insurance services used by councils in Queensland and NSW. The LGAQ had income of more than A$70 million in 2018.