Saturday 13 June 2009

The last throw of the dice for Mayor Val Schier

Politics, similar to nature, abhors a vacuum. No sooner a vacuum is created than forces external, race to fill the void. That time is running out for our first female mayor to turn the negative opinion around and listen to those that voted for her. Or is it too late?

CairnsBlog columnist and former Cairns Councillor Ross Parisi, puts forward some timely suggestions. He hopes all Councillors, especially Val Schier, makes a cuppa and reads this.

Leaders lose momentum, are distracted and play catch up with obvious consequences. Those that fill the void usually have their own agenda, hidden or otherwise and take the initiative.

What we are experiencing at the local level are self serving forces scampering to fill the vacuum created by the apparent lack of direction, purpose and vision of the Cairns Regional Council.
The loss of identity produced by recent decisions or lack thereof is compounding the general community’s discontentment and disillusionment.

The brand name that Val stood for Cairns 1st, as tempting as it was in 2008, now stands tarnished. The Cairns Post treats our Mayor with brazen contempt, and as a person of fun and parody. This was also done through the now-expired, Gavin King column.

What the community yearns above all else is firm, consistent and transparent leadership. The community will not tolerate the lack of transparency and apparent duplicity.

Residents generally can ‘live with’ most decision provided the rationale for at arriving at those decisions is explained eloquently without demur. In other words the residents want our leaders to level with them and give them all the facts, particularly those surrounding contentious decisions. They have no tolerance for double-speak.

Politics is the art of communication. Politician who succeeds are the ones that masters the skill of communication. My mind turns to Beattie and Carr both of whom presided over faltering service delivery yet lived to fight another day. More than once, both asked the electorate to accept their apologies for their failures. Beattie, behind his toothy smile was articulate and in most cases told it how he saw it and as a consequence was re-elected with increased support. He too had to contend with political white anteing from his adversaries, from within and outside of the Labor Party. Yet he prevailed and retired at the time of his choosing.

At the local level, Mayor Val Schier was elected on a wave of enthusiasm, change and exuberance, espousing a vision that included a partnership with the people who had been marginalised and felt left out.

Those that wanted to come along on the journey and wanted to make Cairns a city that was proud of its policies of inclusion were welcomed.

Not many political observers predicted the win in 2008. It came as a surprise. This phenomenon had occurred once before with the election of the late Keith Goodwin alliance in 1988.

I had the privilege of being a Councillor on the then-Mulgrave Shire Council and witnessed the election from close quarters. So much was it unexpected, particularly within the corridors of the Cairns City Council and business boardrooms that the defeated Mayor Ron Davis could not believe it and walked literally the corridor of the council chamber for days, like a zombie.

In the election of 2008, Cairns Post, together with other media outlets did not take Val and her ‘Cairns 1st’ team seriously. Arrogantly, the old media thought the election was a walk in the park for Kevin Byrne. The election was viewed as just an obstacle in the continuity of the Byrne administration.

Apart for token coverage, they treated ‘Cairns 1st’ as a blimp on the political horizon. CairnsBlog sensed the mood and the need for change and supported the alternative. The faceless business leaders of Cairns treated Val as novelty value.

The people thought differently though and delivered their verdict with emphasis. The villages north of the Barron River, inclusive of Douglas Shire, voted in droves for Val Schier's team and brand of politics. The message to all observers then was, ‘don’t take us for granted’. Today that edict still stands. The difference is that Val is the one now being judged and what I hear is sadly not music to my ears. The rumblings are deafening.

I was one who recognised the restless mood of Cairns. Brand Byrne was on the nose. Cairns wanted change and Val stood for change, a fresh start. I together with others, burnt the midnight oil developing polices that reflected the aspirations of its people.

The election produced a disparate array of Councillors, and a cocktail was elected. Three Cairns 1st: Forsyth, Lesina, and Schier; Linda Cooper from Kevin Byrne's Unity, who has since renounced any connection; two Unity mates and sitting Councillors in Sno Bonneau and Paul Gregory; three independents in Robert Pyne, Nancy Lansky and Julia Leu. There were also two former Unity comrades in Alan Blake and Margaret Chocrane, sacked by Kevin Byrne for disloyalty.

Trying to govern Cairns with such a diverse group of Councillors was never going to be an easy task. Several Councillors spoke and later acted as though the community had erred in electing Val, as if it was an electoral aberration. Sadly to this day, that has not changed. That is where the problem starts and ends.

Mayor Schier, in good faith with good intentions, preferred to chair the Council on the basis of consensus. ‘Out with old politics, in with consensus’, was her private retort to concerned supporters. This would have worked if all the Councillors sung from the same hymn book. Unfortunately, the re-elected Councillors had their own self-serving, self righteous agenda. Regretfully, the betterment of Cairns was a distant priority.

It was their aim to paint Val as incompetent, a flip-flopper, politically-motivated, and an object to be made fun of. The knives were out. ‘Cash for Comment’ was but one of the plots to destabilise her. To their astonishment, thanks to CairnsBlog, this did not go to plan. It literally blew up in their face. All is not yet revealed. The Henry Report must be released publicly for all to scrutinise without fear or favour.

Unlike a morning fog, this scenario is not going to disperse. The power plays if anything will become more pronounced and disruptive as each rogue Councillor attempts to vindicate their position and actions.

Politics is not a noble sport, some play for keeps. The people count for nought, when such games are played out. Perception as in most things fathers reality. The public reality of Cairns Regional Council is one of an unholy mess of competing self serving interests and political agendas Council’s deliberation and decisions made in such circumstances are usually made for the wrong reasons and what pans out is mostly not in the best interest of Cairns and its greater region.

What we have witnessed during the last 15 months is the end of the beginning. The bitterness, rancour and mistrust is only the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the waterline is a chasm of Machiavellian plots and sub plots.

Meanwhile, the Council is handing down the Budget for 2009/10 at the end of June. This document is being prepared in the shadow of a resigned CEO, and no doubt will still have his fingerprints all over it.

One can well imagine the difficulties this is going to have on the overall strategy of the Council. As staff confidence is at rock bottom, no doubt Council productivity will be effected and it will come with its own costs to ratepayers.

At this critical time with the global recession bearing down heavily on Cairns and its region, what is needed is administrative stability and political unity.

Here are the solutions...
  • For the sake of good governance, Cairns needs firm leadership beginning from the top. This rudderless meandering ship must be righted abruptly. The opportunity must be seized. The helm must be held firm. The experiment with consensus must be jettisoned.

  • Mayor Val needs to take the initiative and take on the disruptive clique with vigour and resolve. A challenge must be issued. “Work with me with unity of purpose for the benefit of Council’s constituents or face the wrath of the Local Government Act and the Council Code of Conduct”.

  • Party politics, personalities and vested interest are to be left outside the Council Chambers.

  • Cr Blake as Chairperson of the Finance Committee must be stripped of his duties and sent to the back bench.

  • Cr Leu, a former CEO of Douglas Shire, has the ticker and the loyality to take on the responsibility of chairing the Finance Committee.

Val’s creditability and purpose has been questioned by an increasing alert public. This has to be halted and reversed. To this end Val needs to adopt the following strategies...

  • Hold monthly media conferences where she can be quizzed on any subject and where she can outline the achievements and major announcements via a prepared statement.
  • Furthermore, the Council media department needs a clean out. It needs to adopt a proactive position. It needs to organise avenues and opportunities on at least a quarterly timetable, where the Mayor can express her vision and priorities as well as listen to the various sectors which form the community.

Regarding Councillor protocol and discipline...

  • Val Schier must make it abundantly clear to all Councillors, unequivocally, that they are on a three-month probationary period.

  • Our Mayor needs to give notice to recalcitrant Councillors that any further disruptive action will be reported forthwith to the Minister for Local Government for their dismissal under the Minister's newly acquired reserve powers.


CBD Warrior said...

All good, Ross. With one critical flaw.

Val doesn't have the leadership skills to implement any of the suggestions you've mooted. And she doesn't have the cajones (despite her demeanor) to "clean house" at council. I've been to her real house, and she wasn't doing it there, either.

And she doesn't have the speaking and analytical skills to do what's required of a mayoress to secure Cairns' share of state and federal largess. Look at how shortchanged Cairns has been in the federal budget process (because we have an even greater weakling as MP). This will be the same when the state budget is handed down. And this is with "mates" of the same party!

So you've basically confirmed that, for the next 3+ years, we're screwed.

hieronymus bosch said...

Thanks Ross for articulating what many of us feel.

What has changed between the last Council and this one? Nothing?

The endless development, growth at all costs juggernaut seems to roll on unabated. Council continues to only serve the 5%; the greedy developers and tourist operators. Then decisions are defended under the guise of 'jobs' and 'tourism'.

Meanwhile, the other 95% watch our rates wasted on phoney reports, flood mitigation for the CBD, the esplanade, guaranteeing failed basketball businesses, etc.

This 'let them eat cake' attitude from our (?) council leaves us unable to walk to the shops without dodging month old broken bottles, reeking of tropical strength aerogard, waiting to be swept away in next wet season's flood.

Any rejoicing over Briggs' departure was short lived once it was realized his successor, either interim or not, is more of the same distain for ratepayers and growth at all costs.

FairBusiness said...

Or should it read "Bloggers abhor a vacuum. No sooner a vacuum is created and the blogging forces external race to fill the void."
Fair go!! I am sure the last thing Val needs now is personal attacks including her vacuuming ability.
Not all are succumbed to sharp witted salesmen tongues as KB found out. Many look for actions and demeanor and Val has conducted herself admirably. I don't think anyone including Val realized just how much needed to be "cleaned up and cleaned out" from the bottom up. 30 years of unchallenged "Buddy and old Boy" practices cannot be sorted in a year or so. We on the outer only have an inkling of what is really going on. So back off and let Val take a deep breath and reorganize.

Jude Johnston said...

Yes, thanks Ross. I believe Mayor Val would be able to operate a lot more efficiently if she didn't have so many knives in her back.
Change was never going to happen overnight, particularly with the selfserving Councillors trying to undermine her every move.
The Ex Mayor didn't see the writing on the wall, particularly out in the Northern Beaches, his trusty Lieutenant kept feeding him what he wanted to hear, that the hostility out in the beaches and negativety towards development was only by a few ratbag troublemakers. Councillor Bonneau treated everyone who wasn't with him as the enemy and while he expected his position and himself to be treated with respect, he appeared only to have contempt and arrogance for his constituents. Come election time, the polling booths show that many out here prefered to have a new mayor.
Julia I am sure would be very able in taking over the finance role but realistically, look at her division? No other councillor has anything like the area she hasn nor the diversity. The rest of the Councillors, with the exception of Councillor Gregory, only have a few square kilometres to deal with, with not too much controversy.
I continue to live in hope that the gang of 4 will stop their vendetta against Mayor Val, and all will somehow try and work for the good of the community and ratepayers.

Tom said...

I'm with you Fair Business, it's in the best interest of our city to set Val up for success, not a fall. She is still a breath of fresh air after the dictatorial bully-boy Byrne, yet ironically, it seems she is being criticised for not running council in the hard-headed way he did. Val is not your atypical head-kicking political animal, and to me that's a plus. Perhaps if we supported and nurtured the 'quiet achievers' who have a sense of public service, we would get a better quality government than that from the cunning ego driven types with their personal agendas.This blog and other media would do better to keep the pressure on the disruptive malcontents of CRC.

NorthernBeachesWarrior said...

So what you are saying CBD Warrior, is that we need someone like your good self eh?... A renown Playboy, talented, intelligent, supposedly handsome that I would liken you to the famous Fabio with gold chain around neck included, good with money and can balance the books yet CRC has a debt of 20 million or more, can sell a BBQ or two, and mingle with a few tourists on the Esplanade.

Thanks for the offer, but Cairns residents pass on that one!

nocturnal congress said...

I agree with Ross' suggestions and I agree with Tom above as well.

Tony Hillier said...

The "boys club" has been out to get Mayor Schier since Day One. The ComPost never wastes an opportunity to put the boot in, deriding and ridiculing her with unconcealed glee. Mayor Byrne was never subjected to this treatment during his two terms in office.

nocturnal congress said...

Ross is right. Val does need to fight back with better publicity communication and to manage the Counil team better. She has demonstrated she has backbone and staying power. "The Cairns Post" has demonstrated it does not intend to let up, as illustrated with its sneering comments over the ukulele festival idea.
Ross is right in talking about a leadership vacuum. History also shows in such times, the vacuum is filled by a populist type leader, promising everything, but in reality a cunning, corrupt despot. Val's lack of action may result in Cairns electing such a person.

Bryan Law said...

I can remember back when the Cairns Post, with David McGuire at the Editor’s desk, viciously attacked and ridiculed a Cairns City Councillor by the name of Desley Boyle when she was running for Mayor against a wannabe Kevin Byrne, during a by-election. Whatever my conflicts with Desley Boyle now, she then proved competent, resilient and determined enough to bounce back and build a pretty respectable career as a Queensland MLA, Minister, and power-broker. I fully expect that Val can do the same.

My chief worry about Val Schier is that she doesn’t seem inclined to build alliances with citizens and community groups, and she seems stuck in the idea that she, personally, has to be “in charge” of decision-making if she’s to realise her “vision”. This makes her isolated and far more vulnerable to the Cairns Post, Cochranes and Bonneaus of the world – and far more dependent on professional staff like Briggs and Tabulo (who are very skilled at running their own agenda).

It’s not a matter of personal preference. It won’t be my vote, or the individual vote of anyone on this blog that sinks Mayor Val at the next election. If she goes down it will be because she’s failed to connect in any meaningful way with the reservoir of good will and concern in Cairns about the city’s future development.

If you want a good look at the current roots of Val’s problem, check out this article in the Cairns Post from last Wednesday: You’ll see a photo of three Labor Pollies (Jim Turnour, Steve Wettenhall, and Val Schier) each of them building a reputation for weak and ineffective representation of their communities. They are in a room full of “big wigs”, apparently all male, and the main thing on the agenda seems to be the creation of yet another tax (a “tourism levy” on local businesses by the CRC) so that said big wigs can continue to parasite off our city.

Three months ago Steve Wettenhall was lucky to keep his seat in Parliament, and he wrote to Mike Moore and Cairns Blog that he had “heard the message”. In the article he says that a new tax is needed “if the far north is ever to be competitive”. Apparently he didn’t listen for very long. If Val pays attention to people like Jim and Steve, and ignores the community groups and activists who want better results on the ground (and not just spin) well, she can’t be saved and the best we can do is to make her defeat in the next election so overwhelming as to be painless for her.

colin riddell no non de plume said...

Ross I agree strong leadership is what drives anything , a mothers club to running the country, what we really have to get right other than the p*** ant council is the federal picture , it is time for jim "I,M FOR EVERYTHING AND AGAINST WHAT YOU ARE AGAINST" to be held accountable , he must now on behalf of nth qld break the alp shackles and stand up for nth qld , I was very keen on winning this seat for the alp ,but jimmy you have not delivered !
You are a very nice man , but we need a warrior , stand up jim or perish , we help create you ,do you only want one term?
If not put it on the floor of govt .eg hansard , we are not getting our fair share , otherwise we are coming after you jimmy !

Lil at Yorkeys said...

What is it with CBD Warrior - Val's house isn't clean enough? Phuuulease. I've been into her home a couple of times, & everything looked perfectly all right in terms of cleanliness & hygiene. OK, she wasn't down on her knees polishing her floor tiles or shining her taps when I was there, but what working woman does these days? And the dunny is always very noice.
Interesting how conversations about women in positions of power revert to the domestic - eg. Val's hair, Bronwyn Bishop's up-do. I dare say Desley had a fair few 'domestic investigations' in her early days, although thankfully we're spared of that these days.
I don't recall much mention of Fat Kev's domestic splendour activities either, when he was Mayor - was he an Ajax or a Jif boy?
Now, how is Wettenhall's, Turnour's, Rudd's, Springbored's, Katter's home hygiene. Noel Briggs? Kerrie Hull? Susan Boyle?
Anyone got a clue - does anyone care????

Cynical Sam said...
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CBA Ouster said...
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CairnsBlog said...

As mentioned on many previous occasions, comments that are not related to the discussion at all, will be removed, in line with the Comment Posting Policy

David Anthony said...

Very thoughtful piece, Ross, and it is pleasing to see constructive criticism rather than the usual sniping and ridicule our Mayor has experienced.
Val has only been in the job for a little more than a year. Yet she has endured a relentless and ruthless hate campaign that refelects badly on Cairns's image as a hospitable paradise.
Val has respected her fellow councillors regardless of their political allegiances because their election reflected the wishes of the voters. Blake, Cochrane and Bonneau should show similar respect for both Val and the voters. If Briggs couldn't live with Val as Mayor, he should have quit after the election.
I would like to remind people of another reason in particular why Byrne got the boot - flooding due to his inappropriate development policies.
When I bought my home in Wilks Street, Bungalow, I made specific enquiries about the risk of flooding. The worst I could expect, so I gathered, was water coming up the street at high tides and the last time residences were inundated was 30 years ago and they were at the bottom of Wilks and Hutchings streets. The house I bought was safe.
But it wasn't. After three hours of heavy rain on the night of March 12/13, 2006 (the week before Cyclone Larry) I returned to my new home of five weeks to find water right through the place and unpacked boxes thoroughly spoiled. I was heartbroken at my loss.
I believed then mayor Kevin Byrne when he told the media that the inundation was caused by residents dumping green waste and shopping trolleys into drains. So I kept an eye on Chinaman Creek for the rest of the year. I never saw an evidence of green waste dumped into the creek. (The only time I have seen shopping trolleys in the creek was since Dan Murphy's opened).
Flash forward to January 7/8, 2008. A night of heavy falls again flooded our streets and my house was inundated again. Luckliy I was home this time and was able to save lots of things and get things dried quickly. If residents remember, Bungalow was not the only place flooded this time. There was even more serious inundations at Gordonvale and the Northern Beaches. Common to all cases was that inundation was exacerbated by inappropriate council development.
Byrne's gung-ho pro-development, stuff-the-ratepayers attitude had come back to haunt. Again he and our then local councillor, the ineffective and lazy Kathy Plath, tried to blame residents. But I, for one, wasn't buying it.
Then The Cairns Post reported comments from engineer Kerry Eaton that the development of pensioner units downstream Chinaman Creek, approved in 2002, was the problem for Hutchings and Wilks streets.
What was once a paddock which accommodated floodwaters during heavy rainfall events had been built up and built on. The water had nowhere to go than up our streets. Forget the council records that show flooding will occur once every 100 years in Wilks Street. This development will forever pose a much higher risk of at least once a year! The tragic thing about it is that the Byrne council was warned of the risks and just ignored these warnings.
Mayor Byrne and then Cr Freebody both lost a lot of votes in Wilks and Hutchings streets which had been removed from Plath's division. Freebody lost by only nine votes in the 2008 election. I can just about name those nine voters.
One of the first things that happened under Val was a comprehensive devegatation project to ameliorate the impact of the inappropriate pensioner unit development. The council under Val is looking at developing a rainwater detention pond in Irene Street.
My home would have been flooded twice in January this year had not Mayor Val Schier acted.
You won't hear me bagging Val. She saved my home and many others.

Mel.southside said...

Excellent article Ross,as you suggest,the other culprits have to be smoked out of their holes.