Thursday 6 November 2008

An Open Letter to Paul Matthews

Hello Paul,

Till now you and I have enjoyed a casual kind of political relationship.

We’re kind of on the same side. We both like to think of ourselves as being progressive, caring kind of men who put effort into building a better and more sustainable society. We run into each other at political events, or we participate in the same campaigns. We sometimes say hello to each other and have a yarn.

Alongside 15 others, we sat around the People Against Demolishing the Yacht Club (PADYC) table at Wendy Richardson’s place over some three months trying to produce a decent result around issues of Cairns heritage and development. Towards the end of that cause you came to witness, and play a supporting role, in some of the nonviolent direct action (NVDA) that I helped organise in September and October this year.

In early October you agreed with the PADYC consensus that Cairns mayor Val Schier was less forthcoming, and less effective on the Yacht Club issue, than we would like. You told me that the Cairns 1st team had plans to help Val become more effective as Mayor.

When the successfully elected Councillor Di Forsyth climbed up onto the Yacht Club roof, you, Janine Aitken and Mark Buttrose (all unelected candidates for Cairns 1st in March 2008) were there to support her. You all rejoiced in her success, and you all celebrated the ongoing commitment of Cairns 1st to sustainable development and democracy in Cairns. We got a glimpse of what people power in Cairns could look like.

Then you wrote on this blog on Friday 31 October.. “don't you mob think Val's job is hard enough without your constant badgering. The Cairns Post, "little" John and this blog seems to derive great satisfaction from pillorying the mayor.”

I was a bit shocked, and I wondered why you were going for Michael Moore so bitterly. Along with related events that week your comments made me want to ask “What’s going on with Cairns 1st?” “Why do Cairns 1st seem to find it so hard delivering on their promises?” “Where’s the community alliance we need?”

The related events were:

  • the Wednesday (29/10) meeting I went to with Michael Moore, to talk with Val Schier, where Val dismissed our concerns out of hand, treated us like wayward children, and lied to us;
  • Thursday morning (30/10) when Di Forsyth snubbed 25 Yacht Club activists (on legal advice) and didn’t even say hello to us on her way into court, even though she’d been party to organising our attendance;
  • Thursday evening (30/10) when Cairns 1st held a meeting at which Val labelled me as aggressive and threatening because I challenged her at our Wednesday meeting.

This letter is to ask you, “please don’t circle the wagons and treat us like enemies”. We’re not your enemy. Like us or lump us, we’re your friends.


I’ve always had concerns about just how good a Mayor Val Schier could be, and my concerns run in two directions. First is the matter of executive experience, and how well equipped is Val to use the Mayor’s executive powers in service to the people of Cairns. Second is the process of responsibility and accountability to the community, via organised community groups, in whose interests the Mayor’s executive powers ought be used.

Events in 2003, when Val was putting together Team ’04 Cairns, made me think that Val wasn’t paying much attention to community accountability. Val was then, and is now, far too dependent on senior ALP politicians like Desley Boyle and Jan McLucas. My concerns led me to run as an independent candidate for Mayor in 2004 so I could put up accountability as an issue, as well as Aboriginal and environmental issues which were being neglected by Team ’04 Cairns (of which you were a member). I gave my preferences to Val, but Kevin Byrne won 51.5% of the Primary vote and was re-elected.

In 2008 I decided to swallow my reservations about Val and her Labor links - and stick to campaigning against Kevin. I reasoned that we could get rid of KB first, and then figure out how to assist Val in becoming a strong and effective Mayor for the various Cairns communities. That task is proving more difficult than I imagined, but I haven’t given up on it.

Wednesday 29 October

That’s why I organised the meeting with Val last Wednesday. So I could discuss with our Mayor a range of opportunities she has to work in effective partnership with the community. So that all together we might bring needed change to the administration of Cairns Regional Council. Administration, not just policy.

I wanted to ask Val why she had so badly failed the Yacht Club campaign.

Anyone who wants to check Val’s election promises around the Yacht Club only has to
check out the video put up by Michael Moore on this blog.

Val’s best ally, Councillor for Division 7 Di Forsyth, worked hard to keep this promise. Resolutions were passed TWICE by Cairns Regional Council (so much for not having the numbers) authorising CRC to take action in relation to the Yacht Club. Val had a perfect opportunity to shine, and to make friends and allies out of some 9,000 Cairns residents.

If we count in the time required for Val to be fully briefed and prepared, along with the phone calls she’d need to make to Anna Bligh and Desley Boyle, we were asking Val for a commitment of 40 minutes. 40 minutes.

Now it’s bad enough that Val chose NOT to make the effort. It’s bad enough that in office she characterises the issue as one carried out “in the sand-pit” (I think that’s a reference to childishness). It’s bad enough that she is clearly not listening to either her team members, or to the people who elected her.

But what’s ten times worse is that when Di Forsyth stepped up to the plate for civil disobedience, and took a significant personal and professional risk, Val chose to invest those 40 minutes undermining her friend and colleague, and the Yacht Club campaign, through media spin. On Monday 13 October Val Schier used her million dollar media management team to raise allegations that Di Forsyth was in breach of the Cairns Regional Council “Code of Conduct”.

At our Wednesday 29 October meeting Val claimed the whole thing had been a mistake, and she blamed her staff.


On Thursday 30 October, after Di had appeared for a mention in court, Val repeated the allegations on channel 7 local news. That’s quite some mistake.

It’s clear to me that Val Schier is floundering in her job as Mayor. She appears to have a “John Wayne” vision of leadership where the noble hero calls the shots, and lesser creatures toe the line. If the leader doesn’t know, or can’t do it – then nobody can. Instead of calling upon community leaders and resources to join in the task of government, Val has circled the wagons – relying exclusively on the advice of paid flunkies like Noel Briggs and Peter Tabulo (who didn’t get her elected) instead of on her colleagues like yourself, Mark Buttrose, and Di Forsyth (who did get her elected).

Who knows how these issues could have played out if Val had supported her colleagues instead of undermining them?

“Hi Anna, it’s Val Schier here. I’m ringing to tell you what a huge mistake you’re making about the Cairns Yacht Club. There’s a huge feeling here that we need to come up with a better solution. I’m feeling the pressure all the time and, as a friend, I’m telling you that something has to be done. Tell you what! Can you find a couple of hours to spend at a public meeting in Cairns where you can gauge for yourself the level of community demand. I think we can turn this into a positive, if we can just get Cairns Ports to pay some attention. My mate Mark Buttrose can brief you on the design issues”.

Di Forsyth doesn’t have to climb the roof. Desley and Steve don’t have to fight for their seats. Anna has a better chance of staying Premier. Val makes 9,000 plus friends and supporters. The people of Cairns get a waterfront precinct they like. Win, win, win.

That’s the picture I want to see. That’s the kind of Mayor I want.

That’s the kind of vision I hoped you, Mark, Janine, Di, Kirsten and colleagues would put to Val last Thursday evening. Instead I’m told you avoided all the hard issues and let Val attack and criticise a number of people she ought be forging alliances with. I’m told that Cairns 1st won’t be getting together for six months - while Val continues alone down the blind alleys of executive failure.

Cairns 1st held out the promise of vision and integrity. So far it’s produced spin and mediocrity. C,mon mate, we can do better than that. We’ve got four years.

I’m conducting this conversation in public because my vision of politics is one where community members are able to have free and frank disagreements – that coalesce into better policy and shared commitment. If I didn’t respect you, if I didn’t respect Val, I wouldn’t bother inviting public discussion. As it is I look forward to your considered response.

Yours sincerely,
Bryan Law


Anonymous said...

Well said Bryan. I don’t believe we have heard the last of this by a long shot. I know there are hundreds of people who frequented the Jazz Club at the “Aquatic” for a long time who are devastated at the destruction of that Icon. Very soon the Cairns Tropic Jazz Club will have its Christmas Party. As the President it is my duty to invite Val Schier who is the Patron. Di Forsyth is a long time member and supporter of the club and she will be invited as the hero of the day. I think this will be a litmus test. Rob Williams President Cairns Tropic Jazz Club Inc.

Anonymous said...

I do hope the American people have not been conned by the Democrats ...

like the people of Cairns were, by
the defacto Labour party called Cairns 1st !!!

Anonymous said...

Your "version" of events with our mayor have been refuted by her. Typical, as your "version" of events is usually clouded by your own sense of self-importance.

The reality is that the Yacht Club was a dead duck months, or years before Val was even elected. Trying to hang this albatross around her neck is childish and counterproductive. People really interested in the waterfront should have started bitching to council and the state when the Harbour Lights monstrosity was announced and built. This foreshadowed the plan the CPA had for the waterfront.

Funny how no one, including you or John "Badwig" McKenzie would badmouth the Harbour Lights, given it was erected by one of Cairns Royal Families.

Your continued browbeating of the mayor clearly shows your true motives, Mr. Law.

Anonymous said...

We may be disappointed in how we perceive our Mayor’s performance to date, still I think we all need to take a step back and think about how we were under the previous administration. Perhaps Mayor Val is not the one to take us to where we all want to be, but she may be the first step. Until the Cairns Blog came along, none of us could be sure our views would be heard. We were at the whim of the Cairns Post. The Cairns Blog has been our outlet to vent our concerns and frustrations. A year ago, many who wrote to the Cairns Blog voicing dissatisfaction with the Mayor Byrne regime, used non de plumes or anonymous. They did so because of fear of retribution. We received the letters, both the legal sort and the ones with veiled threats, and the intimidating phone calls. The Public could not see the Agenda for the Council Meetings until the day of the Meeting, now we can see it a week before and if there is something on the Agenda of importance to us, we can email our local Councillor with our views. Council meetings how have some discussion .We now have a Council that is far more open and transparent than in the past. Mayor Val has a big task to try and change the culture she has inherited and this will not happen overnight, but we hope it will happen.

Anonymous said...

Jude is probably right that we all need to take a step back and give Val more time. I think, personally she could have done more in relation to the CYC issue – whether or not she believed it was a done deal she made no meaningful statement or contribution. She was also absent from Council when the motion was passed on the 11 September 2008 to communicate with the Premier and request that demolition/removal of the building be put on hold. She may well have been away from Cairns or ill but she never clarified why she was absent when the important motion was before Council – whether she likes it or not, perception is everything and this was a very important, emotive issue and one in which the Mayor needed to publicly convey her stance. She failed to do so.

What transpired in relation to the CYC was of course initiated well before her time. The blame falls squarely at the feet of our former Council, the Port Authority and the State Government. It should also be understood that community outrage at the Harbour Lights development would have been in vain. The CPA is a law unto itself when it comes to strategic port land and development leases. Nothing went before Council. It was all controlled by CPA and title would not have passed until the development was complete. That’s the argument and what led to the destruction of the CYC building. Nothing is open or transparent. I also doubt anyone would have understood the implications of the Cityport Master plan or Local Area Plan. One only has 40 days in which to digest and try and understand what it means and formulate a submission. It is impossible in the given time, just as it is impossible to fully digest or understand the implications of amendments to the CairnsPlan.

All this comes on top of the same sorts of behaviour that have been going on for years under the former Council in relation to development and other matters. The culture that pervades the planning department still exists and it appears that community engagement is still on the back burner. The belief that “what the community doesn’t know won’t hurt them” and “ if we involve the community in decision-making, nothing will get done,” needs to be knocked on the head once and for all. The community is not the enemy!!!
If Val doesn’t appreciate or understand this and the reasons why so many in the community feel so aggrieved, then she is in trouble, pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Jude and Sue e 's comments. We must all be patient a little longer, after all she has only been in the job 9 months. People must also remember that she is only the figurehead of the Council ie, she is not directly in charge of the staff. They all fall under the CEO, Noel Briggs, so she cannot directly have influence there. Unfortunately, Mr Brigss along with some of the Councillors, Bonneau, Blake, Cochrane just to name some, are also "left overs" from the previous regime, which saw intimidation and poor organisational culture as "the Norm." Planners think they are there to bend to the whim of the developers, some of these Councillors are under the same impression, and you can take any number of high profile issues in Cairns in the last 10 years, and there has been elements of public mistrust, lack of accountability, dodgy council proceedings, dodgy decisions, and decisions made in favour of developers, with complete disregard for the CairnsPlan, the impact on residents and more importantly, the devastating impacts on our unique enviroment here!

Many of us are entitled to believe, that more than incompetence has been going on, and to some extent, it is still going on. Hoever, there have been subtle changes for the better, but much more needs to be done!

It is not easy to change bad behaviors or effect organisation change, but that must happen, if the people of cairns are to regain the trust of this Council.

Some new Councillors are working very hard to accomplish this and do their bit, and its a great pity that as they say in the classics, " you cannot teach an old dog new tricks", so that the non performing councillors should be Gone, gone, gone at the next elections.

Anonymous said...

RSL Esplanade is destined for the wreckers ball soon.

Will Wendy and Di man the picket line again?

Anonymous said...

Jude Johnston, Sue E, and waiting to see – I concur with your desire to give Val every possible chance before deciding she’s failed.

I acknowledge the differences between this administration and the one before it, and practically, we’ve got 4 more years of Val as Mayor before an election.

My point though is that Val’s positive achievements to date are disappointing and mediocre. There are regular lost opportunities – and I’m worried that there’s a “one-woman-band” mentality that precludes community mobilisation and the kind of CRC I’d really like to see.

So my suggestion is that we do more than simply wait and see. My request is that people of good will like yourselves make sure that Val hears your concerns as well as your desires, and understands you are offering help and engagement with the job ahead.

And Paul Matthews...... does your silence mean you agree with my analysis?
(of course it does).

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian..I suspect you and I will always be able to share a yarn and a laugh, as we can rise above the din of the rabble. We are good blokes...not backstabbers or opportunists; we share a similar desire to bring a different and healthier ethos to the management of this town, however you and others need to understand that changing an ingrained culture doesn't happen overnight.
The majority of people I speak to, want to see Val get on with her job of shepherding this potentially great city into the 21st century. The media campaign that has been waged against her( any reference to which is noteably absent from your letter) has astonished and concerned many of the good citizens of Cairns, who feel that Val isn't getting a fair go. The worst part of this, is that feeble minds are easy prey for the naysayers.
I am not privy to the the exchange that took place between you, MM and Val, however I cannot accept your vituperative and at times offensive recanting/interpretation of it ...just as you wouldn't accept my recollections of conversations that occurred at a Cairns 1st get together, or particularly, those of someone who consumed copious volumes of vino tinto, that night. It seems so much weight is placed on hearsay, gossip and innuendo(tabloid?)....but that to one side
Did you think to ask Di about her actions on the morning of her court appearance?...perhaps you should
Di, as you are aware, had so much to lose from her actions( and in our eyes, much to gain). You are , Brian, by your own admission, an old hand at court appearnaces...she was, to say the least, apprehensive. She sought legal advice, which she accepted and followed. That legal advice was that she wasn't to engage with supporters/demonstrators. Di showed us the sort of mettle she is made of by her actions to halt the demolition... .I am in awe of her courage....we all should be and by bringing into question her sincerity because she didn't stop to talk to you that day is unfair to say the least.
You are correct in your own analysis, Brian...your letter was too long...your potted history, like so many others makes for soporific reading...but of course it is not the doubt you'll want to revise it along the way,old mate...have faith!
we are on this journey together...but there will be precious little flightless birds who will insist on accompanying us...ahh...the broad church!
regards, Paul M

Tony Hillier said...

A perceptive and insightful analysis, PM. Some of us attempt to bring about a change in the status quo with a temperate, perhaps more subtle and intelligent modus operandi. As editor of Barfly, I was criticised for not being more strident and, in retrospect, I suppose I/we could have done a lot more to pinpoint Cairns' ills. We certainly did our best to expose the failings and deficiencies of the previous regime and help Val/Cairns 1st (or whatever it was called then) across the line in 2004. Had she succeeded then, I believe Cairns would be reaping the benefit today. There is already a better climate/culture pervading Council chambers, more of a progressive attitude, despite the presence of too many long-time incumbents. We all get frustrated about the rate of progress, but patience is rquired.. Give Val time to make her mark. Now is not the time for definitive judgements!

Anonymous said...

Mr Barfly ... Val has left her mark already.

I believe her overwhelming motivation and desire was to prove that a woman, a sister, a female whatever, could be mayor of Cairns.

Something from the past has motivated her.

And now she has done it ...

Unfortunately, there's not much else ...

Tony Hillier said...

That's the kind of patronising and superficial remark regular cairns.bloggers have come to expect from you,

Unknown said...

Tony, the Barfly is sadly missed...

As for Quicky, I think it's best to ignore him as he doesn't make any real contribution to any debate.

Maybe he was neglected as a child and makes these "shit-stirring" comments to get some attention? He reminds me of Gavin King....

As for Val, I'm prepared to giver her time, but she could definitely work on being more 'visible". I really don't know what she is about. Her silence and inaction on the CYC was especially disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah ! Right ! attack the messenger, Nick and Tony.

Typical left wing tactics ...

But have another read of my short but incisive comment.

You will find some profound truth expressed in such a few words ...


Unknown said...


How do you know I support "left wing" politics ? You know nothing about me or my politics, except that I was in favour of saving the Cairns Yacht Club, something that was supported by people from all walks of life and various political persuasions.

As for Val's motivation to become Mayor : "something in her past has motivated her " Really ? How profound and insightful !

You're not only a "messenger" ( whose messages are you delivering ?), but an oracle as well !