In a regular series, Bryan Law writes about the recent history of local politics.
Kevin Byrne had been Mayor of a much smaller Cairns City Council from 1992-1995, first winning a by-election against then Councillor Desley Boyle, after which he suffered a hostile divisional membership, and then one election in his own right in which he was more successful. He was strongly supported by the Cairns Post and its then Editor, David McGuire. In 1995 Cairns City and Mulgrave Shire were amalgamated and Tom Pyne, who had been Mayor of Mulgrave Shire and was a popular Labor Party figure, soundly defeated Kevin in an election for a five year term. Kevin spent most of those five years working in exile in Russia and Papua New Guinea.
He came back to Cairns for the 2000 election, which he won by default after one of the shoddiest and grubbiest local government campaigns the ALP has ever been responsible for. Max Plummer ran as Tom Pyne’s designated successor with a team that included Jason O’Brien as candidate for Division 5. The sitting Councillor for Division 5, Bob Burgess was retiring to run as an independent candidate for Mayor. A “community-based” team headed by Frank Lanza also ran with at least moral support from Warren Pitt (who was motivated by factional hatreds within the ALP).
Those internal divisions within the ALP created the conditions under which Kevin Byrne became the Mayor we had to have. Byrne’s Unity team raised plenty of developers’ money and outspent everyone else combined. The two ‘Labor influenced’ teams attacked each other and split their vote. That old political slogan “Disunity is Death” played once again. Preferences just didn’t flow under the new optional preferential voting, at least in part due to the internal hatreds.
Kevin Byrne got his nose in front of independent candidate Alan McPherson and kept it there. Lanza, Plummer and Burgess were left out. Jeff Pezutti, and Jason O’Brien were the only Labor team members elected. Byrne as mayor had to work initially with a minority of Divisional councillors. One independent Councillor, Liberal Party wannabe power broker, Deirdre Ford, joined the Unity Team to give them a majority. Dierdre had been rejected by Unity before winning her Division, and was rejected by the other independents when she attempted to become Deputy Mayor.
For the 2004 election the Far North Greens and cross factional interests in the ALP??", along with some non-party independents combined forces early to create and run a “community alliance” team. Val Schier became the mayoral candidate for that team, which became known as Team ’04 Cairns. Lessons bitterly learned gave Val’s team a fairly clear run at the election, with other Labor interests staying out of the way. I ran as an independent candidate for Mayor, for reasons I’ll discuss in Part 2 of this story.
Kevin Byrne’s Unity Team was heavily influenced by its Liberal Party membership, which it never publicly acknowledged. Unity ran a very professional and well funded campaign and this time won the Mayorality, and 50% of Divisions. Five established independents were elected in the Divisions, most of them defeating Unity candidates.
Two Unity Councillors, Liberal Party member and Charlie McKillop campaigner, Alan Blake, and Margaret Cochrane, have since resigned from the Unity Team to become independents.
While right wing Labor interests stayed out of the way in 2004, they never gave material or personnel support to Team 04 Cairns, which was poorly resourced in comparison to Unity. Although Fran Lindsay, independent from Division 2 was openly supportive of Val, no established independents joined Val’s team to give it depth and experience. They preferred to remain free of team or party obligations and discipline. The one sitting Councillor pledged to be part of Val’s team, Jason O’Brien resigned only days after the campaign launch to claim pre-selection for the safe Labor seat of Cook in the state parliament - leaving Val and the others to their fate.
Within Val’s team there was some friction among candidates over the control of media releases and comment, the limitations of a “positive only” campaign, and the dead weight of some seriously under-performing candidates. The part-time Campaign Director was Rowan Foley who later unsuccessfully sought pre-selection for Leichhardt). Brian Down, Su Groome and Nerelle Nicol came close to winning their Divisions, and Val Schier performed very creditably in the mayoral contest.
No candidate from Team ’04 Cairns won a seat. Kevin Byrne achieved 51.5% of the primary vote for Mayor.
Disclosure. I am an independent political activist in Cairns. I’ve never been a member of any political Party. I once applied to join the Greens but was rejected due to either my political “extremism”, or because I “was going to take over” (depending on which Far North Green you talk to). I am not aligned in any way with Cairns 1st, Robert Pyne, or any Cairns City Counsellor. The above commentary is purely and simply my understanding of what’s happening in the lead up to March ’08, and I take full responsibility for its content.
The technique of supplying advance notice to those criticised is an effective one for ensuring factual accuracy and reasonable publication. It’s not fool-proof, but I think this article is now well within the boundaries of fair comment and reasonableness in the discussion of matters of government and politics.NB:
Bryan Law submitted his article to the Mayor prior to publication, and this is the response by Dennis Quick, the Mayor's personal assistant:-
- Your email has been perused by the Mayor.
May I make a clear and unequivocal statement that Mayor Byrne is NOT a bully and any such reference may well be deemed offensive.
Insofar as your writing in general terms, we live in a free society and you may publish any material you deem suitable. However, you need to be quite clear that Mayor Byrne and others retain the right to respond in any appropriate manner if they feel defamed of offended.
Regards, Dennis Quick”