Socialist Alliance

Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism

Cairns and Tropical Gardening » Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism

Far Right Hate and Socialist Alliance

Socialist Alliance is a very ‘minor party’ however by 2020 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. It was in our DNA.

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 for their ‘small government agenda’ that only served the interests of the super wealthy.

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 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 including the demand for climate action 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.

Council during Covid and Budget Blues

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 gain votes from the anti-vax protest movement.

covid vaccine
Covid Vaccine

Follow the 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. However, I remained a passionate supporter of freedom of speech.

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. However, I was just as passionate to express my own 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 a particular 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

Council Budget Blues

Around this time, inflation moved upwards, dramatically increasing the cost of local government inputs such as steel, concrete etc.

However, there were no big rates increases by council. How did this council pay for those additional costs? We put it on the credit card. Cairns Regional Council would soon have a higher level of debt than ever before.

In politics, nobody likes to put up rates, and Mayor Bob Manning was no exception. As a result, before long Council was paying more interest on debt than ever before. Clearly responsibility for righting the books would be passed on to the next council.

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 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. For example, in a marginal seat like Leichhardt the LNP would look at spending about $1M on an election campaign.

Our little Socialist Alliance committee was more the scale of a local 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’.

Socialist Alliance Pat OShane
Socialist Alliance Pat OShane

A Good Result for Socialist Alliance

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.

Renee Lees – An FNQ Bio

At the 2022 Federal Election Renee Lees ran for the Senate as a Socialist Alliance candidate. At this time Renee had been a practising lawyer in the community sector of Cairns for 17 years, providing free legal help to locals dealing with debt, housing troubles, domestic violence and crime. Prior to that she had worked in Northern Territory and NSW.

Renee was the president of a respected local housing, homeless and domestic violence service for the past 4 years.

For  two decades Renee worked to bring legal rights to people who were homeless, in poverty, in prison, or dealing with family violence – across north Queensland, Cape York, central Australia and NSW. She was also active in community movements for a safe climate, stopping the Adani coal mine, criminal justice reform, a rise to JobSeeker, LGBTIQ+ rights and women’s rights. She’s a long-standing union member and president of a family violence and homelessness organisation.

She believes we can join up our movements and build a democracy run by and for working people: “We can survive climate change, regenerate our natural world and look after each other’s needs.

Socialist Alliance
Socialist Alliance

Socialist Alliance and Locking Up Kids

Law and order and juvenile justice always seem to be an issue in Cairns. Despite incumbent 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 as 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 desperately argued for the government to fund better health, education, and social services for 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 these children turn to crime is hardly surprising, and wholly predictable.

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

Socialist Alliance and Traditional Owners

When white people arrived in Cairns, Aboriginal people were pushed to the fringe of the city. This was the same story in many towns around Australia. In Cairns, this meant being forced out to Woree where Gordon Creek is today. This was four miles from the new Cairns CBD.

As a result, white people came to describe Aboriginal people living there as the Fourmiles. In fact the Fourmiles were an important part of the traditional owner group for the area, the Gimuy Wulabara Yidinji people.

Like my father before before me, I built strong links with the Fourmiles and the wider Yidinji clan. My bonds with Traditional Owner groups only grew stronger over this time. My links with Gudju Gudgu (Fourmile) 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

During this time I was still waiting for my defamation judgement to be handed down by the District Court. Council Mayors had become a powerful force, using politics and the courts to silence critics.

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.

It had been years since this action was launched and it certainly had taken its toll.

Exit Stage Left: Betrayed!
Betrayed by the LGAQ

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

  1. Far North Queensland
  2. Growing up in Australia
  3. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
  4. Queensland Political Culture
  5. Princess Alexandra Hospital Spinal Unit
  6. People with Disabilities
  7. Cairns Regional Council
  8. Conservative Cairns Council
  9. ALP Qld
  10. Abortion Law Reform
  11. Fighting Fossil Fuel
  12. Local Government Corruption
  13. Losing to Labor
  14. My Cairns Council Return
  15. Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
  16. Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism
  17. Jenny Pyne, Life and Pain
  18. Cairns Council Members Swing Right
  19. Fightback and Farewell

Struggle & Resistance in the Far North