Cairns Champion of the Underdog

Socialist Alliance

Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism

Champion of the Underdog » Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism

Far Right Hate

Conservative Hatred

Socialist Alliance is a very ‘minor party’ but I could feel Australians becoming more divided. With extremists promoting fascist ideologies to the electorate I knew my party would always have the courage to take on the far-right.

This period coincided with the emergence of a new-right political extreme in Australia. It was an Australian version of Donald Trump’s ‘Freedom Movement’, the organisers of which attempted to use the ‘anti-vaccine’ movement to gain political support.

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. Haters are simply confirmation of ‘a job well done!’ 

Haters Abound

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

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 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 Spinal Unit and having lived 30 years with quadriplegia, no threats were going to worry me.

Leftist on Council

Covid-19 and Neo-Fascism

As a consequence of Covid-19, conspiracy theories emerged over a range of issues, but opposition to Covid 19 vaccines in particular was weaponised politically. Anti-vaxxers, along with religious conservatives and other right-wingers, joined protests in opposition to sensible public health measures and COVID-19 vaccines.

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

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.

covid vaccine
Covid Vaccine

Exit Stage Left with Science

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

I had always been passionate about vaccination to control 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.

Freedom of Speech

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.

Some anti-vaxers felt my opposition to their position equated to “censorship”. They talked about people I disagreed with having been “cancelled”. Apart from having no capacity to “cancel” anyone, the criticism from the right was simply incorrect.

Supporting “Freedom of Speech” does not mean you have to spend countless hours listening to arguments you fundamentally disagree with or find offensive (especially in an increasingly noisy online world).

I continued to action my support for Freedom of Speech by opposing any attempts to censor or to penalise people for speaking out. I did this in parliament and I did this on Council.

Supporting “Ray Jones Speakers Corner” was another passion of mine. Ray was a former ALP Member for Cairns. He was a railway worker and a battler who loved speaking out. A Plaque in Fogarty Park signifies the right of anyone to stand up there and speak their mind.

Ray Jones Speakers Corner
Ray Jones Speakers Corner

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 and committed to Australian Socialism. Involvement in Socialist Alliance was a pleasing contrast to the ALP, which is divided among factions.

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 can pay the most.

Political Survival

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 of 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.

Socialist Alliance with Pat O’Shane

A few short months before the 2022 federal election, Pat O’Shane came to visit me at Council to discuss her intention to run for Leichhardt in the federal election. My friend and Comrade Renee Lees was also at the meeting.

Pat was well known to me as the first aboriginal woman to be a school teacher in Queensland and the first Aboriginal woman to become a barrister, the first Aboriginal person — and female — to head a government department, and the first Aboriginal magistrate anywhere in Australia.

Knowing Pat’s background and a lot about her family, I made the suggestion she run as a Socialist Alliance candidate. Pat said ‘yes’ and it was another ‘first’ as she became the first ever Socialist Alliance candidate for Leichhardt.

A Community Campaign

Most people don’t realise the money and planning that goes into a federal election campaign. In a marginal seat like Leichhardt the LNP for example would look at spending about $1M on the campaign.

However, our little Socialist Alliance committee was more like a P&C Committee then a well-funded and disciplined election steering committee. However, our members lived up to their values. Every member of Cairns Branch contributed in a fantastic ‘collective effort’.

A Good Result

Polling more than 4 per cent of the vote would mean Ms O’Shane’s campaign would qualify for the return of its $2,000 deposit.

The ABC quoted Socialist Alliance national co-convener Sam Wainwright. He said that there was a “small but nonetheless growing audience for activist, anti-capitalist politics. We’re sober about the fact we’re not likely to win or to form government.”

Sam added, “But we do enter election campaigns with a very deliberate purpose of trying to engage people in debate and trying to shift debate to the left.

The 2022 election was a promising result for Australian Socialism. The Conservative LNP were kicked out of office and a record number of Green MPs, (including several socialists) were elected. Micro parties such as Socialist Alliance and Victorian Socialists also did well at some booths.

Various communities were able to judge the extent to which capitalism was working for them. Pat O’Shane received less than one percent in the ‘well to do’ suburb of Bayview Heights. However, she received more than 33% in the indigenous community of Bamaga.

For me it was more important than ever to offer a real socialist alternative to disenfranchised communities and battlers everywhere.

Socialist Alliance and Locking Up Kids

Law and Order and juvenile justice seem to always be an issue in Cairns. Despite politicians claiming they can do nothing, and people generally begging for a solution, the answer is quite simple.

When children between the age of 0 to 5, are provided with the necessary social skills, as well a first world health and education services, they tend to go on and get jobs, rather than go to jail. It is hardly rocket science.

When I was the MP for Cairns (2015–2017) I was desperately arguing for the government to fund better health, education, and social services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in West Cairns. The Palasczcuk Government refused to do this and I resigned from the ALP.

However, just six or seven years later, first people’s children who were being born when I was the state MP, were now part of the vicious juvenile justice cycle, disengaged from school at odds with their parents, and with little chance of employment. That they turn to crime is hardly surprising, and wholly predictable.

Sisters Inside re locking up kids
Sisters Inside Re Locking up Kids

Traditional Owners

My bonds with Traditional Owner groups only grew stronger over this time. My links with Gudju Gudgu and the Yindinji people were long-standing and strong. In fact I can’t think of one issue we disagreed on.

Gudju Gudju
Gudju Gudju

Knifed by the LGAQ

What annoyed me most about the LQAQ campaign to eliminate me, was that the LGAQ is actually supposed to represent councils throughout Queensland. However, their persecution of me highlighted the organisation was run by just a few powerful Mayors and was all about furthering their interests.

This action had taken its toll.

Exit Stage Left: Betrayed!
Exit Stage Left: Betrayed!

Shame job

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

Growing up in Edmonton with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 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.

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 55-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 to me for most of her life.

All Chapters

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North