Thursday 29 November 2007

Shameful Council, indeed

It's not like we needed another reason to throw this Council out.

Yet every week or so there's yet another story that comes to the surface. This one has been the sore in the Byrne Council's arse for years.

As we move from a Liberal-led government that believed the solution to indigenous affairs was to send in the storm-troopers and police to solve problems in a quick fire method of rehabilitation, so too it seems that another right-wing local government doesn't know how to work with indigenous people.

They've had years to work on this one, but were too busy putting up rates and approving construction of multi-story apartment blocks and providing tourist facilities. Right under Council's nose, some two minutes drive from Council offices in Spence Street, there is a bigger issue that needed their attention.

Mayor Byrne has said camps where many aboriginals live (he calls them 'itinerants'), must be pulled down and "vagrants moved out". He's called them “sites of shame.”

The only 'site of shame' in located in Spence Street. It's a Council, like Howard and his view of indigenous people and their place in Australia. This Council can't understand aboriginal people nor has it effectively worked in a collaborative way with them.

Mayor Byrne says there's sewerage and no running water. Well, Mr Mayor, why doesn't the wealth of your Council that you've collected from your high-rise property boom, put some money towards these folk? Your Council could build facilities here to help these people.

This is not the first time mind you. Two years ago Kevin ordered the demolition of a large redundant shed at the end of Sherdian Street that was home to many. Again, there was no plan to help these people and where they would go, he just ordered in the bulldozers one morning.

There are solutions to this, however you've been in office for how long now? One term as mayor prior to amalgamating Cairns and Mulgrave, and another 2 terms under Cairns, and what progress has been made by Cairns City Council in the relationship and progress with local indigenous people?

When did you last welcome their elders into your, I mean our, Mayoral office to discuss and support these people?

Before you jump up and say that there's one rule for all and we all must abide by it, we know that's not true in white man's culture, especially when you have loads of money and want to build a 325-apartment block.

It's a typical conservative attitude when you see that the only perceived solution mirrors that of the Coalition government in trying to solve 200 years of abuse, confusion and little knowledge on how to help a people whose culture is threatened and they have a legacy of abuse and treatment from white Australia that leaves a lot to be desired.

That's right Kevin, jump in and pull these camps down. Throw these people into the streets. You will still be able to order a chauffeur-driven limo to your next function at the Sofitel. You will still have Peking duck without worrying about the cost. You will still enjoy the privileges of office and power of Council's (ours) lawyers to attempt to silence people that express a different view to yours, when open public debate is what any other publicly elected official does.

Watching the change of government last weekend, and that people simply had enough of being spoken to without being consulted on climate change, working conditions, immigration, going to war - the community reacted defiantly.

In March next year, in just over 100 days time, the Cairns community will also have their say.

They will follow the mood of this country as I think they have had enough of being treated with contempt in a city and region they love.

We elect city leaders to lead and represent our interests, to act as our servants and manage our rates for the benefit of all. To have a vision and compassion for difference and those who are not in the same economic base as others.

I'm delighted that Damon Guppy at the Cairns Post reminded his readers of the infamous stint in 1994 when Byrne and his Council were involved in the moving of bus loads of aboriginals from Cairns and dumped them 760 kms north at Lockhart River.

I've told this story to many visitors and recent arrivals. They almost always can't believe it's true. It's like this story has become an urban legend. But no, it's true.

What a shameful, shameful thing to be party to. This story will need to retold in great detail before the March election. It needs to be. How any Councillor could act in compliance with this act of callous disregard for fellow residents is something you'd only expect in Mugabe's South Africa, not in modern Australia.

By the way Damon, next time the Mayor tries to tell you they're 'itinerants', they're not. They're people. They're aboriginal. Please don't use those words to describe a people that have been betrayed so many times by the recent settlers to Australia.

As a community, we will soon deliver a Council that will respect these people. All people. That will work with them to find a solution. That will respect there is a place for them in Cairns, as there is for everyone, not just fat rich white guys.

Val Schier, or any credible opposition to the current Council, will need to lead this group of people in our community out of the poverty trap and give them a helping hand in partnership. There are solutions, and they may well be complex and sensitive. However, the answer isn't to bulldoze their homes because it doesn't meet with our, I mean Byrne's idea of what a home is.

How often are you presented with such a situation like this where there's an opportunity for a local body authority to construct a world-class cultural centre. It could offer support, liaison, accommodation, medical needs and protection. Our region could actually address and provide solution-based options for this situation and become a leader in it.

Byrne went on to say to The Cairns Post that they're "living in squalor, it’s illegal use. We can’t just turn a blind eye to these camps. If we do, we’ll be condoning it and this council won’t do that.”

Very imaginative stuff Kevin. Is that the answer then to anything that doesn't fit for your Council? Are you actually a leader with a vision for a Cairns that accepts and integrates all it's citizens, not just the ones who come here cashed up and can get out to the Reef every other week? Not just those that can afford a $375,000 air-conditioned apartment in some god-forsaken gated community with two cars.

Terry O’Shane, a local indigenous leader who works in areas of alcohol relief services, has told the Mayor to "stop blaming the victims and help solve the city’s poverty problem."

O'Shane says the Mayor should act like a mayor. Of course, to address poverty is difficult. It takes balls. It takes a person with compassion and commitment to working together with different people who have different outlooks on life. They have a different set of values to others.

O'Shane believe Byrne's words are simply hassling homeless people. He said that over the years there has been little done by Council to help out in a constructive empowering way.

Ironically, when Damon Guppy visited the camps targeted by Byrne, they appeared 'tidy and well constructed'.

Even the panel on this morning's channel 7's Sunrise programme slammed the attitude of the Cairns Mayor. "What an archaic way to look at this problem" they said. "He wants to put them on buses again!"

This will be a task that the new Federal member Jim Turnour would do well in addressing. In a partnership between State, Federal, Council, and local community indigenous people, a local Action Group could be formed within days.

Like successive governments have done: stop the blame game and thinking that bulldozing these camps will help. Come up with a real practical way forward.

This reaction to this problem says more about a Council out of touch and out of ideas than one with positive energy to work with such vulnerable people.

Presently, the Cairns Council is part of the problem. They have created the very thing that Mayor Byrne now detests. They need to be part of the solution, and they should have been years ago.

Unlike you Kevin, I doubt these folk in Portsmith will have internet access to read this blog. The March election can't come soon enough.


Anonymous said...

Ummm ... well Mike ... I have been thinking of not repsonding to this one. I have a few comments to put forward on this one.
1/ You have suggested that the council dig into their coffers to supply some sort of housing and/or help for these people. well, why should the rate payers of cairns pay for this, when we all know it will not be cared for by these people, and we know they wont pay for it, as they will spend their money of grog and drugs. A lot of these people actually earn more money than white people.
2/ What about the white itinerates?? .. who comes to our aid when we have no job, or no where to live??
3/ These people have a choice the same as you and I have. No one puts a gun to their head, and tell them they have to live in these conditions. I have a lot of experience with Aboriginal people and the way they live as I grew up only 20km away from a place like Yarabah. If itinerates are willing to look for help, and take the help offered to them, well by all means, shower them with it. but, unfotrunately, they will only abuse what they are given, and not appreciate it. I wish I still had family near my home town to photograph a township that was built for the purpose you have suggested. It was only built 40 years ago by the state government. Then you would understan the point I am trying to make.
Now before all the do-gooders jump on me, I do agree this is a problem, not only in Cairns. It is Australia wide, and more than likely, world wide. Thowing money at them is not going to fix the problem. These people need to be educated. Then, if they choose to continue to live the way they currently are, then, stop wasting money on them. Let them live like animals.
I run a low cost accomodation property, and have seen it first hand. You give them a fully furnished room, with all the conveniences, then, after 6 months of fighting to get rent money out of them, you kick them out. When you get access to the room again, you find all your new furniture and appliances have either been stolen, or destroyed, and you have 6 wheelie bins of rubbish to dispose of.
These people choose to live this way. If it is what they choose, set aside a piece of land, and let the go.
Once again for the do-gooders, I am not talking about Aboriginals here. I am talking about itinerates. Drug addicts, alcoholics, and bums.
This is only my view, but, I wouldnt be surprised if I get the majority of the support here. I am not supporting what the Mayor has done in anyway, as he could show a more active role in working with the community to fix the problem.
If someone has a better way of fixing the problem, you should email it to the mayor. Or share it will all of us and post it here, as we know Kev reads this daily.
Hi Kev.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps our Liberal leaning Mayor should ask our self proclaimed Liberal leaning head of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce Mr Jeremy Blockey, about whether he and his members would support Mr Byrnes' plan. I say Liberal leaning after comments made by Mr Blockey on the day of the election (Cairns Post) and subsequently in the Cairns Sun (Wed Nov 28). After downloading the list of CCC members I wonder how well these comments would sit with many of them.

Anonymous said...

Wot a load of cobblers, Pakeha.
Go back to the land you stole from the Maori peoples and apply your heart bleed logic to helping the disadvantaged folks at Ruatoria etc.
You're a hypocrite, Mike Moore...

Anonymous said...


Mike, you have your facts wrong on this one.
I was working for the Commonwealth Public Service in 1991 (?) front counter Supervisor at the old Department of Social Security.

I confirm that the park people from Lockhart River (I even recall some of their names) approached us at Social Security for "counter cheques to buy food for a bus trip back to Lockhart River."

Before counter cheques could be paid, we had to verify their story.
We found that yes, the Mayor, Kev Byrne was indeed bussing SOME of the park people (our estimates placed them at around 250 from our DSS records, a good number of whom were actually living in the city centre) back to the communities.

The Salvation Army had agreed to provide personnel to accompany the people and there would be food and drinks provided on the trip back.

The people applying for counter cheques all indicated they were happy to go back.

At no time, did any of us who dealt with these community people believe they were being "forced" to return.

We did not pay counter cheques as we confirmed they would be receiving food on the return journey.

A couple of days after this, all hell broke loose with the claims of being "rounded up and forced to leave."

Public Service confidentiality prevented us from speaking the truth at the time.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps anonymity was not as prevalent clarification at the time as it is today my friend. Do you speak now, confidentially of course, in order to lend clarification to this shabby and contentious little footnote of local history, or, has conscience prevailed such that you need rationalise a defense to support (or exclude) your complicity in this matter?

The intent was, and still is, as questionable as the action that took place in this event.