Prior to the last Federal election, the Australian Labor Party held every political office in the region. They hold every State seat, from Cardwell to the Cape. We even have a card-carrying Labor-mayor. With this amount of blue rinse sitting in branch meetings, you think we would be well-served.
When I first heard the news of Paul Freebody's anointment, just minutes after the scrutineers counted the results, I was flabbergasted. For the following two hours, my phone started to go crazy with all kinds of folk ringing as the news digitally permeated across the city.
"Is this an April Fool's joke?" one staunch former Lib asked me. "Do the seriously want to lose to Labor again," said another. "Fuck me dead! [Is] Paul Freebody...trying to make the LNP unelectable in Cairns? How stupid can they be?" Bryan Law said.
The calls had a common thread. There was little positive endorsement for LNP's decision to have the volatile Paul Freebody front their campaign. Hillbilly Watch didn't hold back with the news that Paul was seeking the LNP nomination.
"Cairns council LOSER and failed businessman Paul Freebody has today reportedly done what all business failures do - run for another government job!," wrote Mick Glennie.
Many similar messages appeared on the Post's website the next day...
"People need to get the real truth on Paul Freebody and his intolerant personality," wrote Hillbilly. "Well what hope have we got of getting an alternative with this mob? I don't know much about Bachelor but I have major concerns for the other three," wrote Margaret of Cairns. "A very nasty man! He should be ok with LNP. Out of touch -out of compassion, a match made in heaven." said Gavin Burns. "Getting back in politics to prop up your business ventures?" said another.
There were also supporters of Freebody, and even one penned by Paul himself, using his own initials (Paul Victor Freebody). It had his journalistic hallmarks...
"I see the Freebody bashers are at it again. Tall poppy is in their viens [sic].I know the carwash was closed by the the previous owners themselves and didn,t pay the staff after sucking all the cash out of it and going on a cruise. All Freebody did was fix up the place and got the 5 star service back on track. You should try it out its NOW fantastic!! Freebody will bring life back to the city after 13 years of labor neglect. You got at least 1 vote Paul Mine! keep up the goog [sic] work," wrote PVF of Cairns, 2:38pm
Federal Member for Liechardt Warren Entsch backed former Chamber of Commerce chief, Bob Norman, for the Cairns seat. He'd taken the business stalwart to Villa Romano many a time to win him over after supporting Wazza's re-election campaign last year. It was payback time, Warren believed. It was also an opportunity to free up Kevin Byrne to run again for the Cairns mayoralty in early 2012. Warren thought he had the numbers but he wasn't there on Sunday. The irony is that Kevin Byrne could probably have won the Cairns seat for the LNP.
The Cairns pre-selection vote was in stark contrast to Barron River's later that day. Around 35 members where there to see tourism businessman Michael Trout get over the line. He only needed 12 votes to win. There were 11 Nats in the room. The vote went to a second ballot with Murray Ferguson. However, most of the Barron River folk had never seen Trout before. Someone told me it's called branch stacking. The ALP probably invented the game.
Earlier that morning, at around 10:30am, Paul Freebody won on a first vote, shocking the LNP hierarchy. But had they done their homework on this colourful and often inarticulate bumbler, who Tony Abbott offered a $100,000 election carrot to get is waterpark going?
Freebody has served as a Councillor in Cairns under the Stalinist Unity regime of Byrne. He was a happy lapdog to the formidable political warrior who didn't care who he upset. Byrne ruled the chamber and controlled councillors' microphones willy-nilly. In 2008, Paul Freebody lost to a 21-year-old first-time novice campaigner, Kirsten Lesina, who became the youngest ever election councillor in Cairns. It was a close race, but Paul must have known his days were up when he packed his booth up two hours earlier that overcast Saturday afternoon.
The campaign of 2008 displayed Paul's unique marketing style. He wrote and designed the brochures and even helped with Kathy Plath's leaflets. It was a remarkable hidden talent, like we had our own George W Bush.
In the weeks leading up to the March poll, Freebody paired up with the Cairns Post to defend his arrogant letter-writing in a Supreme court defamation case against two Cairns horse racing identities. He won, but the ensuing publicity put an end to his re-election hopes.
Paul spent the next two years re-grouping and putting together an ambitious plan to use a useless chunk of land he'd purchased on the notorious flood-prone Barron River delta. It took 18 months to get the plans drawn up and find some potential investors, wet with enthusiasm, and a year to get Council approval. Along the way Freebody abusively called the female Councillors "witches and bitches" after they stalled the decision for two weeks to seek more information. Council's manager of development assessment in his 75-page report, refused to endorse the water pipe dream. [LISTEN: Paul and the "witches" interview on 846am John Mackenzie.]
Paul's wife Kim and his children, rallied behind a Val Schier hate page on Facebook.
The waterpark vote narrowly passed, but without the support of the Mayor and the "witches and bitches". The local sugar mill contested the development in court and sought more conditions.
"They [Mulgrave Sugar Mill] have objected because they have an old piece of rail track that they store bins on - use three weeks a year," Paul Freebody told ABC radio, showing his ignorance of sugar milling.
To this day, no waterpark has materialised nor the promised bund wall. The only evidence is Paul's personal attempt to drive his dozer and divert a natural waterway on the land. Last November, a year on after approval, Barron sugar cane farmer Ross Parisi, called Freebody's plan a litany of broken promises, after the site was left in a cyclone wanting to happen.
Just before I left to see my family in New Zealand, the evening of Tuesday November 2nd, I telephoned Paul about another incident, his son's illegal antics that I 'd become embroiled in, and ended on the receiving end of a horrible rage-filled outburst in a one-sided conversation that extended just over 14 minutes. Paul was in full flight and was like a dog with a blogger's bone. A couple of my friends were in speaker-phone ear shot, as the dialogue descended into depravity. We couldn't believe what Paul said, especially in light that he was then seeking Liberal nomination for the seat of Cairns.
Anyway, let sleeping dogs lie, but don't sleep with them or you'll get fleas, as Paul infamously has said. There would be another day and time to re-visit Paul's shocking telephone threats, which remarkably mirrored Councillor Blake's one on two prior occasions. It's like they'd compared notes and battle plans in advance.
Last Sunday, after the LNP's pre-selection, I put a call into Paul Freebody. It rang out and I got his voice mail...
"Paul, it's Michael here. Congrats on your successful selection as the LNP candidate for Cairns, I hope you can help turn the tide from Labor in this region. When you've got a moment free, can you call me to have a chat about your thoughts on what is needed in Cairns under LNP. I've already talked with the other successful candidates."
I heard nothing back, so flicked him an email. Another two hours, another message. He was clearly avoiding me. Earlier that morning just after the vote announcement at LNP central, Paul's mobile went off. "Wonder if that's Michael Moore the blogger calling you Paul," exclaimed some wise-cracking Lib. "I wouldn't talk to him," Freebody snapped back.
I'd already had a fruitful discussion with Michael Trout, who gained the Barron River nomination. He gave me his wisdom on reforming and reinvigorating the commercial sector, should be boot Wettenhall out of office.
Paul, notorious for his verbal and written blunders, simply ignored my requests for a friendly chat about the momentous news of the day. I resorted to a final txt message, the most horrible of all human communications...
"Paul, would u like to have a chat about your successful LNP nomination or in absence, would your like me to write the story about your conversation in November when you said [words removed]. Which story would you like?"
I then put a call into a senior party chief, and recounted the events on November 2nd last year, which they were totally unaware of. Last evening, the following text messages ensued from Paul...
I can understand why Paul and the party is cautious. They may have to assign a speech writer. His last message is a bit bumbled, as he meant the "LNP", not "NLP", which is of course Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Or maybe he did mean that. Who knows?
I've already heard suggestions that senior members of the party may consider revisiting the Cairns selection, citing that substantive checks were not undertaken and a full declaration of conflicts had not been declared.
So we'll see if the LNP think social media will pay a role in this election campaign, and "clear CairnsBlog as a media outlet." Or any independent writer, for that matter.
The truth is, they don't have a choice.
FOOTNOTE: At 6:45am this morning, I received a missed call from Paul. How odd.