Friday 18 July 2008

Meeting Mr Quinn

Bryan Law, among other accolades, is a member of PADYC (People Against Demolishing the Yacht Club).

Bryan has run for Mayor, protested at the Pine Gap secret installation, and was even there when Sky Rail were of the verge of destroying our rainforest. To some, he's a serial pest, to the community and the underdog that often gets ignored, he's a champion of the democratic process.

Now he's taking on the Cairns Port Authority, and boy, are they hung up on that last word in their title.

As part of the PADYC campaign I was asked to explore the idea of organising a Protest Rally at the Cairns Port Authority building at Grafton Street.
The Cairns Port Authority (CPA or 'Cairns Ports' as the Cairns Post calls them now) is the public agency behind the Cityport project, and is therefore directly responsible for the destruction of the Yacht Club building and its replacement with yet another concrete, steel and glass high-rise on our foreshore. Behind the CPA is the Queensland Labor government.
A first principle of any protest rally is to liaise with the target organisation in order to maximise clarity of message and good public order during the Rally’s conduct, so last Friday I contacted the CPA to begin liaison and find out the answer to a simple question...
When does the CPA Board meet in August, and where?
If the Board itself, or its chairman, is unavailable to respond to a Rally, when will the CEO be available?
On that Friday I was put through to the CEO’s secretary who told me that she didn’t know the answers to my questions, that everyone was very busy in meetings about the airport thang, that she thought perhaps the Board no longer conducted scheduled meetings, and that she would make enquiries and get back to me. Fair enough.
I waited till Tuesday this week for a response.
I then rang again and spoke once more to the CEO’s secretary. I was told at 2pm - or so - that she hadn’t yet obtained any of the information requested, and that in any event I wasn’t entitled to any information about Board meetings, and once again that the Board didn’t have any regular schedule of meetings.
I patiently explained that since the Board was a public authority, the public did have a right to engage in discussion with the Board and CPA, that we did wish to organise a rally, and that we had an organising meeting that evening for which the information requested would be very useful. I was told (once again) that she would make enquiries and get back to me that afternoon.
At 4.50 pm I hadn’t received any information and decided to make a personal visit to the CPA office. At 4.58 the front door was locked, so I entered through the back door, went to reception, and asked for the information required. I took a few photos of the interior layout for intelligence purposes while I was waiting for someone to attend my questions.
Now I concede that most public servants (for that’s what CPA staff are) remain unused to any member of the public acting assertively, and I was soon approached by the CEO’s secretary who came with a male member of staff to tell me that the office was closed, that no-one was available, and that I should leave. I was told to come back during office hours. Fair enough. No joy for that evening’s meeting, but fair enough.
At 2 pm the next day, after a morning spent at the Cairns Show collecting signatures on a petition, I returned to the CPA building as instructed to once again request this basic information. The CEO’s secretary came very quickly to the foyer, with a different male member of staff, to tell me that the Board didn’t have a schedule of regular meetings, that in any event I wasn’t entitled to the information, that my conduct amounted to harassment, that I wasn’t welcome in the building and that I should leave forthwith or they would call the Police.
How extraordinary! Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t harass, or bully, or even raise my voice when doing politics. Nor do I accept lies or evasion. The notion that the CPA Board has no schedule of meetings is unbelievable. The idea that CPA can avoid dialogue with a concerned public is indefensible. The prospect that I would accept such a dismissal without talking to the Police is laughable.
I quickly sat down in one of the comfy chairs in their foyer (the allegation of harassment concerned me) and asked to speak with someone in authority who could answer my questions. If they wanted to call the Police then of course I would speak to them when they arrived. After all I’ve had many dealings with Police and they’ve always been reasonable and reasonably productive, to a much greater extent than the CPA staff were being.

For 50 minutes or so I got to observe the quiet and composed work environment that exists at the CPA. There was nothing hectic or forced about the place that I could see. Well-dressed and relaxed white folks moved calmly around the premises carrying out the administrative and service minutia of a bureaucracy in untroubled fashion while I thought of how pleasant it must be to have such a luxurious and quiet workplace.
I also thought about the ethos of an organisation that existed on a base of crown land, running a public enterprise, accountable to only two Queensland government Ministers – and which apparently believed it had no responsibility at all to engage with the public it was meant to serve.
Just before three O’clock Neil Quinn, the CEO of the Cairns Port Authority, came down to see what the problem was, and I repeated my request for basic information.
Neil’s first question revealed the misconception that he and other CPA staff had been entertaining about the democratic process.
“Why..” he asked, “should we tell you when the Board is meeting so that you can come and disrupt that meeting?”
“Why..” I replied, “would we want to disrupt a Board meeting?”
Our purpose is to further public debate by putting a community view to the CPA in front of the media about the Yacht Club building. Having the Board, its Chairman, or the CEO available to respond to that view contributes to the debate and enhances the news value of the Rally and coverage of the issues. It’s simply a part of the democratic process that a responsible CPA ought participate in.
To his credit, Mr Quinn acknowledged this proposition and offered to make himself and the Board Chairman available to respond to the Rally at a date and time of our choosing, provided they get a few week’s notice.
He also explained that any misunderstanding had arisen through the extraordinary pressures being experienced by the CPA due to the unfolding proposed sale of the airport. He had not had sufficient time to pay proper attention to the request made, or give adequate direction to his staff. This is a completely satisfactory resolution of issues around organising the Rally.
I took advantage of the opportunity to suss out Mr Quinn’s views on the substantive issues of the Yacht Club building. Neil explained that from the point of view of the CPA the Cityport proposal had been negotiated and finalised some nine years ago. All the necessary public consultation had been done then, and the CPA had met all the heritage measures required by the responsible authorities at that time.
His position was that the Yacht Club building was not of sufficient heritage quality to require preservation, that other heritage buildings would be preserved, that any redesign of the Cityport would be expensive and inconvenient, and that CPA just wanted to get on with the job.
We agreed to disagree on the substantive issues and we also agreed that community debate and politics could go forward in an amicable environment.
I am convinced that CPA will not easily alter its own Cityport proposal, but that it needs to be confronted with strong community views, and that the focus of political action must be directed to the Premier of Queensland, along with the MLA’s for Cairns, Barron River and Mulgrave.
The enthusiasm for this heritage facility by Cairns citizens at the show, the new attitude of the Cairns Regional Council, and the willingness of Premier Bligh to review the situation all indicate that a successful political resolution is possible. Now if only we can get Desley Boyle to come onside.
Keep your eyes peeled on CairnsBlog for details of the protest rally at the Cairns Port Authority sometime in August.


Anonymous said...

Bryan Law has zero credibility anywhere. He's a sack of blubber with no conceivable use to humanity.

He should get in his taxi and STFU.

Anonymous said...

Well, doubt that Bryan and Thersites will be regularly connected beyond the Yacht Club crusade but ......

In my financial hat am more than curious by the claim that a publicly accountable body no longer has regular accountable board meetings?

Surely they joke?

Anonymous said...

Even more interesting is that that the amoral journo who did most to bloat Bryan at Pine Gap was ..... a certain Gavin King then at an NT newspaper.... who Bryan then lauded for his morals in journalism i believe? ...... they even went as far at the time as to make censorship accusations against Gavins now beloved Rupert for failing to publish all that the glorious Gavin wrote throughout the News Ltd empire !!

What bloody frauds both!!

Anonymous said...

"Thersites", I'll continue to laud Gavin king, because he behaved ethically and kept every undertaking he gave to us, and because he continues to publish under his own name even when his opinions are unpopular. I don't always agree with those opinions but I do respect his right to hold them.

Both the Murdoch and Fairfax newspapers declined to publish photos we took of Pine Gap on "legal advice". They were eventually published by the Canberra Times and the Alice Springs News, as well as by several web sites. No-one was ever charged.

I guess you either stand for freedom of speech and political expression - or you don't.

If more citizens had the courage of their convictions we'd be availing ourselves of a re-furbished and protected Acquatic building right now instead of staging a last minute fight for community interest.