Tuesday 2 April 2013

Lifelong social justice anti-war activist Bryan Law, passes away

Australian Anti-war and social justice advocate, veteran activist Bryan Law, has died in Rockhampton.  He was 58.

Bryan Law, who had recently moved from Cairns to Rockhampton awaiting trial for damage to a military helicopter, passed away after a long illness.  He was born in 1954.   

'War without end, not in our name'
He was a determined activist to the very end.

In the Cairns political landscape, the name Bryan Law is synonymous with speaking out and stirring the pot. Almost every Cairns resident is familiar with his actions and activism.  The Cairns Post infamously called him a serial pest, from a cub journo who had run out of adjectives. Serial he may be, but I prefer to label Bryan a veteran activist.

His partner, Margaret Pestorius, conveyed the news to CairnsBlog this morning. 

“Bryan passed away in Rocky.  They found him at home.  We heard this evening [Monday night].  We'll bring him home to Cairns.  We will hold vigil over the next few days in some way or another,” Margaret said. 

"He has been very sick for several years but wanted very much to stand trial for his ploughshares action - even though the trial really was a trial."

"Don't forget to stand up courageously for what is right like Bryan did," Margaret Pestorius said.

In November 2008 the veteran campaigner, political activist, and CairnsBlog columnist, underwent emergency open-heart surgery.  At that time, he had three Coronary Arterial bypass grafts, in a process that took over four hours.

"I'm still here," he told CairnsBlog at the time. "They've given me a 90% chance of surviving 10 years, so that's good I suppose."

Bryan ran for Mayor of Cairns.
Law stopping Prime Minister John Howard during a protest

Bryan Law with Steve Brech
What would the diggers say...indeed.
Bryan Law was a mighty man and a beautiful passionate soul with an amazing zest for social justice.

After he attacked an Australian Army Tiger attack helicopter with a blow from a garden mattock he told the judge at the initial mention of he elation.

“I’m glad I did it, your Honour," he told Magistrate Cameron Press.  “I’m glad that for however brief a moment that infernal helicopter death machine couldn’t fly. Couldn’t be used as a weapon.  In a time of depraved warfare in Afghanistan and of military slavery to the US empire, I’m glad I made this witness to the prophecy of Isaiah and the promise of our saviour Jesus Christ.  We must disarm."

Bryan was been arrested countless times, at least on 50 occasions.  He lost count.  He got under the skin of politicians who have taken him to court. Love or loath Bryan Law, he is one who draws a strong following from all sides. One thing is for sure - he is no armchair critic. He stands up, speaks out and acts with passion, vigor and compelling non-violent action.

He knew that after more than 30 years of activism, he was nearing the end of his battles, as his health deteriorated.

Under the banner of his organisation, Cairns Peace by Peace, he was there with his unique brand of civil disobedience and direct action.  

With Desley's "golden tiara"
With US peace activist, Kathy Kelly 
Bryan Law was there when the sealed road was being pushed through north of the Daintree River; when the Federal Government wouldn’t disclose the purpose of the top secret Pine Gap spy base; when Skyrail wanted to tear down the rainforest above Smithfield; when the USA boughtwarships into Cairns’ harbour; when the Queensland Labor government destroyed the historic Cairns Yacht Club building; when Cairns Community Radio blockedout locals.  He defaced hundreds of Cairns MP Desley Boyle's election signage, when she refused to stand up for locals of demolishing the Yacht Club building; when Cairns Council wanted to destroy City Place.  He participated in numerous protests and actions against US / Australia defence exercises, breaking into restricted zones and stopping events.  He caused a security scare when he swam in Trinity Inlet as the USS Blue Ridge was docking in Cairns.   

He took on The Cairns Post and won in court.

"It [Cairns Post] prints the most disgusting attacks on Aboriginal and Indigenous people, attacks which have no foundation in reality and which stir up the worst prejudices in our society and we’re here today to say stop it," Bryan Law said in 2002.

"Call me bitter and twisted, but the Yacht Club issue convinced me that the Labor Party has once again forgotten that it's job is to represent the community and engage with its values and desires," Bryan said in 2009.

Law was media-savvy, articulate and political astute, he always defended himself in court, standing up for his principles.

'War without end, not in our name' a slogan on his t-shirt he would stand by to the end.

“I will miss him for a multitude of reasons but most of all because of his beliefs, his integrity and his tenacity to right where he saw wrong,” former Mulgrave Councillor Ross Parisi said today.  “Ridicule and derision, by his political adversaries did not penetrate his shield of honor, it made him stronger and more determined to strive for what he believed in. It made him resilient.”

Ross Parisi said Law’s ability to articulate and persuade were some of his most endearing virtues.
He detested the abuse of power, particularly by those in authority.  He saw through the shallowness of impostors and pretenders.  

"Surrounded by all that, inside was a gentle man and a sensitive man, a caring man that loved his family, like only he could,” Ross Parisi said.

Cairns teacher and Greens political supporter, Steve Brech, said Bryan Law was his inspiration.
“After years of trying to ‘fight the system’, there I was presented with a real life Ghandi figure, full of peace, justice, democracy and a confidence I'd never encountered before,” Steve Breach said.  “Bryan will stay with me forever.”

Janine Aitken who stood for Council in 2008 and supported many of Law’s non-violent civil disobedience campaigns, remembers his passion for change.

Bryan Law with Aboriginal activist, Noel Pearson.
“While he may not have ever achieved the change he wanted, Bryan changed everyone he met,” Janine Aitken says.  “He challenged the way we looked at the world and was a great man with a brilliant sense of humour, guaranteed to make you laugh out loud.  I will miss him.  The thing with Bryan, there are plenty who knew him, but few that would stand up and claim him as a friend or even defend his right to say his piece when it differed from their own,” Aitken told CairnsBlog.  

“He was often banned from public discussions and in the last few years I've found myself arguing with others on why he shouldn't be blocked, an argument I would enviably lose.   But I am proud that I had the chance to call him a friend and I always did, despite our often opposing views.”

Former Cairns Councillor Diane Forsyth, who together orchestrated protests against the demolition of the Cairns Yacht Club in 2010, was saddened by the news of his passing.

“RIP Bryan Law my thoughts are with you Margaret, and Joseph,” Dianne Forsyth said.

Political commentator and blogger Leigh Dall'Osto says Bryan was a rare individual.

“He was one of those rare people who had passion and purpose and wasn't afraid to express either. He brought perspective, laughter and honesty to every conversation. We are all richer for having known him,” Leigh Dall'Osto said.  “He was the very definition of humanity and justice and fought along with his partner Margaret.  He will be sorely missed by many.”

In February 2011, Bryan Law wrote on CairnsBlog of his frustration over many years trying to make a change.

“I’ve spent 30 years proving to myself that an ordinary citizen is able to deploy the power of non-violence effectively to move towards peace and social justice.   I’ve learned that getting a 'Yes' from government isn’t enough. Government needs continual scrutiny and correction.

“I follow Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Dr King.  I’ve been given limited opportunities to organise collectively with others, and amplify that non-violence power to compel better behaviour from governments. The power that democratised Parliament still exists but is diffuse and uncoordinated.” Bryan Law wrote. 

Bryan always maintained a respectful relationship with the Police.
“On the whole I’d say that ‘our’ biggest weakness is a lack of experience in cooperation and mutual aid in our political life. Gossip, jealousy, fear, and ‘better than’ feelings disable us and make us smaller than we need to be.”

He said in February 2011 that he would not return to Cairns, in order to under-taken his most brazen act against Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, cemented his name in the history books for attacking a Defence helicopter.

He carried out the protest in July 2011 that saw charges of $200,000 of damage levelled against him by the Federal Police and Department of Defence.

“The final public event I’ll attend in Cairns will be the ANZAC Eve vigil at the Esplanade Cenotaph on Easter Sunday,” Bryan said.  “After this, I’m going to Rockhampton to prepare for and carry out a ploughshares action against a US warplane during Exercise Talisman Sabre.”

Law justified his actions saying that it was repugnant that the Australian government was spending $6 Billion in the budget for acquiring new defence weapons.

“That’s for tanks, fighter/bombers, air warfare destroyers, drones, cruise missiles, satellites, networked electronic C3 systems - and $5 Billion to maintain existing weapons systems,” Bryan said.  “Expect the same each year for at least for the next 20 years. There is already $57 billion committed by the Rudd-Labor government over the next 20 years to the large weapons acquisitions, and the current Defence Capability plan Plan calls for $159 Billion worth of acquisition commitment by 2018. There's a call in a recent issue of The Australian for 12 nuclear powered attack submarines, at $2 Billion each, so we can ‘defend ourselves against China’ - our bestest buddies and trading partners.”

In 2005, Bryan Law, along with three other peace activists, broke into the highly-sensitive US Defense communications facility in the Northern Territory desert at Pine Gap.  They were eventually acquitted of all charges under the Special Defence Undertakings Act 1952.  Al Jazeera TV interviewed Bryan Law after the action, when, at the time, he had 30 arrests and 4 jail terms to his credit.

In October last year, he went swimming in the ocean, for the first time in 15 months.

"I went for a swim in the sea yesterday at beautiful Yeppoon, Bryan said afterwards.  "Last time I swam was just around the corner at Rosslyn Bay, just before the Rocky Tiger ploughshares action. It's taken four surgeries and a lot of treatment to recover from complications of diabetes. Yesterdays' swim, while preparing for Talisman Saber 2013 was a real hoot."

His first beach swim in years.
“After the Talisman Saber exercise, I expect to spend the rest of my life either in prison, or carrying out further acts of disarmament. I feel like I’ve reached a place of calm clarity - OK there’s a bit of fear too, and I’ll be sad to be separated from my family. Persistence is king.”

Bryan lived by his own mantra.  He said if you want peace, work for justice.   A year ago, I asked Bryan if it was all worth it.
Making peace lanterns 
“If more citizens of good conscience in Cairns took up nonviolence and civil disobedience as a tool for political and social formation in Cairns we might achieve a better class of politician, and a better class of democracy than the standard we presently,’ Bryan said.  “Meanwhile my family will do what it can.  So I’ll end where I began. Is it worth it? Yup!”

Bryan is survived by his partner Margaret Pestorius and their son Joseph.  

A vigil will be held over the next few days at Bryan’s home in Fernley Street.

Saturday 12 January 2013

Entsch fountain dream to save City Place

The latest plan from Federal MP Warren Entsch for a redeveloped Cairns City Place, is causing a stir.

City Place in the heart of Cairns CBD has been redesigned more often than a Baghdad shopping mall.  The latest pipe dream still has zero shade or tropical trees.  What next?  A giant mosquito?

Even Warren's pretend love-child, Jack Andrew Wilkie-Jans is far from amused.

"I'm sorry, I am a great supporter of Warren Entsch and he is a friend of my grandmother's and has always supported me, but Land of the Fountains is cray-cray!" Jans said this morning.

Jans says the proposal looks way out of proportion and too much emphasis on rocks, the characters used to symbolise Far North Queensland look to be a mish-mash of tourist souvenirs.

"So if Lake Street doesn't get opened up, we could get stuck with this?'  Jack Jans says.   "Please send in better ideas or designs for fountains!  If people want to go down the central, fountain approach then that's fine, but at least get the design to be apart of public art or something with sculptural artists such as Gianni Sabaini, to design a water feature/sculpture. Otherwise fountains depicting events of significance to our history will end up looking like a god-awful child's diorama."

The design and plan has been created by local architect Garry Masters, and Warren Entsch says it is part of a project called Land of the Fountains, which they say will bring both short and long-term economic benefits to Far North Queensland.

"Before going too much further, think about your photo album from a holiday overseas, whether these travel snaps are of ancient ruins, pretty villages or a modern city, there is a common theme – people love to pose in front of fountains," Warren Entsch wrote in today's Cairns Post.   "Then what do they do? They send their photos to friends all over the world, and in doing so are promoting the region at no cost to the tourism industry."

"Now picture a Far North Queensland take on this, with a network of 21 large, individually designed and constructed fountains depicting our early history and significant events. Located throughout the Cairns, Douglas, Cassowary Coast, Cook and Tablelands regions, they would provide a meeting place and hub for residents and visitors, Entsch says.   "These fountains would be built from a combination of reinforced concrete, polished granite and marble, bronze statues and natural materials such as the boulders seen at Mossman Gorge, with programmable light and water displays."

Warren Entsch says this is especially timely given that a public consultation process for City Place will take place over the next two months, where people have the chance to outline their vision for the CBD.

"As you can see from the artist’s impression, there’s no doubt that a spectacular water feature would provide a much-needed heart for Cairns," Entsch said.  "Just up the road, Munro Martin Park is another key CBD area that has never reached its full potential.   Wouldn’t it be great to drive down Sheridan St and see people having a lazy picnic on the grass around the fountain, while their kids play nearby?"

There was mixed support for the idea, which would mean the saving of City Place.

Local political and community activist Margaret Pestorius says it's a good idea.

"It's Lake St because there was a lake there. I reckon a system of water features and fountains would be great. Seems it may have been a meeting place - a food place. Water and food, sounds good," says Margaret Pestorius.

However Beverley Prescott says it's not correct to say that Lake Street was named from the fact of its being a lake.

"The street was named after Captain Lake, of the A.S.N. Company’s steamer, Victoria," Prescott says.  "The steamer, Victoria, conveyed the Government officials to open up Cairns as a port of entry, which was done in the customary style by a luncheon on the steamer on November 1, 1876."

As the debate rises over the future of City Place as a public space, Nickie Comley is pleased with the discussion.

"Keep community spirit alive and City Place is the perfect place to inject some real sense of spirit in this city...  Lets not just become another boring city with no soul."

Well said.

Douglas rate rise disputed ahead of de-amalgamation referendum

In just under two months, on 9th March, residents of the former Douglas Shire, which in part embraces the Division 10 of Cairns Regional Council, will have a referendum to decide if they will go it alone.

Estimates are that ratepayers will have to fork out up to $1,000 each extra in the first year to help fund the $9m cost of amalgamation.  Some proponents have argued they should have been returned to the financial position they were prior to joining up with Cairns Council.

Details and postal vote forms for the poll are available from ECQ.

Last week Friends of Douglas Shire wrote to State Minister of Local Government David Crissafulli and challenged the assessment by the Queensland Treasury Corporation about the future financial sustainability of a new Douglas Shire, with the QTC concluding that a new Douglas Shire is not financially sustainable in the long term.

"Friends of Douglas Shire vehemently disagrees with this assessment," Robert Hanan told CairnsBlog.   "We have commissioned an independent assessment of our own, using a highly regarded economics consultant."

In the report, the consultant commissioned by Friends of Douglas Shire found glaring anomalies in the QTC's assessment.

"There was a $100 million error in the assessment of the assets of a new Douglas Shire," Hanan said.   "The consultant has also raised concerns about an apparent significant over estimation by QTC of the annual costs of materials for the new Shire and an over estimation of the numbers of new staff to be employed, both of which add millions of dollars annually to the costs of running the Shire."

FODS has informed the Minister about these "errors and anomalies" and has requested he instruct the QTC to properly inform residents of Douglas Shire about how these costs estimates have been arrived at.

"The Minister has also been provided with a copy of the report of the independent consultant," Robert Hanan said.  "It is understood the Minister has referred the report to the QTC with a request for an explanation of the concerns raised by FODS.  These are serious matters and if they are not properly resolved could lead to mis-information being provided to the community in the lead up to the referendum on de-amalgamation.  Indeed this is already happening."

Hanan says FODS is adamant that a new Douglas Shire is financially sustainable.

"We will have the capacity to fund capital works and ongoing operational commitments into the future without any need to increase rates and charges beyond annual CPI increases," Robert Hanan said.   "Importantly, the assessment by the independent consultant supports this view."

"FODS is planning public meetings in the near future to inform the community about these matters.  We are  making every attempt to get more information from the Minister about how the QTC has arrived at its numbers and the justification for them."

Hanan is also asking those who support de-amalgamation to donate to the campaign in the led up to the referendum.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

'Insurance companies prey on Cairns' financial misery' - Darren Hunt

Katter's Australian PartyFar North Queensland spokesperson, Darren Hunt, has claimed that the multi-million dollar profits of insurance companies since the 2011 summer of disasters, highlights the need for the return of a state government insurance office.

“The recent announcement of the obscene amount of profit posted by insurance companies since the summer of disasters shows they are preying on the misery of Far North Queensland residents," Mr Hunt said.

"While they count their money like Scrooge McDuck, we still have people in affected areas unable to return to their homes and that is not good enough.  We are sick of hearing Warren Entsch, the Member for Leichardt, and others bang on about how bad it is and do nothing or call for another pointless review," Hunt says.

Darren Hunt says there is no need for another report or review.

"We don’t need one," he told CairnsBlog.   "We need an alternative that will keep these insurance companies to account. These companies are out of control and the only way to bring back affordable premiums for the people of FNQ is the re-establishing of a State Government Insurance Office.”

“Without the need to make multi-million dollar profits an SGIO could have taken the money received in premiums to secure or subsidise the cost of re-insurance."

Hunt says Queenslands have had enough and threatened to leave their insurer and join a State Government Insurance Office and watch how quick the premiums of the others would drop.

“A SGIO will be able to offer much more reasonable premiums as they don’t need to make these obscene profits we are seeing here and we call on the Newman government to implement this as a matter of urgency,” Darren Hunt says.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Cairns Solar Eclipse hopes for a cloud-free sunrise

With just over 8 days to go, the Solar Eclipse that will sweep across Cairns and Far North Queensland next Wednesday 14th November morning, will be a hit and miss with a lot of cloud cover spasmodically appearing in recent days.

I snapped this stunning cloud-free sunrise a few days ago from Yorkeys Knob beach, just a few kilometers north of Cairns.

You can see False Cape in the background with near-perfect viewing conditions for our eclipse next Wednesday morning.

Sunrise is around 5:42pm approx at the moment, so don't forget to rise early and get a great spot to capture this wonderful moment.

My friend and confessed eclipse freak Michael Aisner from Boulder, USA, who is coming here to catch his tenth eclipse since 1979, says it's a total obsession with an insanely elegant rare phenomenon.

"What a charge-up seeking out and standing in the moonshadow of perhaps the grandest of all imaginable celestial and natural events," Michael Aisner says.  

"The sun at 93 million miles, the moon at only 250 thousand and they happen to 'appear' the same size in the sky. Bizarrely the sun is 400 times farther - our round moon 400 times smaller – voila a perfect fit."

Aisner says if you add to this utter rarity – looking up are sentient creatures contemplating the majesty and specialness of it all.

"Are we the singular creatures in all the infinite universe to be thusly treated?  Rush! Plugs me in every time. Bonus is I get to see much of this earth, meet odd bearded people and share it with appreciating worthy eclipse partners," Michael Aisner says.