Lots of discussion around the town about the election results, especially those from the Cairns Regional Council last month. The results are decidedly mixed, but some conclusions can clearly be drawn from the voters reactions to the last four years of the CRC.
1. Unless you personally know a candidate for council, there is almost zero chance of the average punter having any idea who they're voting for or against. This is why most elections boil down to "things are OK", or "throw the bums out". Despite all the yammering about the importance of social media to the process, we have widespread voter ignorance. What we really need is televised debates. However given the lack of commitment "local" TV shows to Cairns (with our news broadcasts coming from Rockhampton with newsreaders who are "local" to many towns in Queensland), the chances of this are less than zero. So we shouldn't be surprised the local electorate is ignorant. The centralisation of regional media in low-cost towns has left places like Cairns with a few news gatherers and hysterical psychopaths like Cueball MacKenzie. Neither is news.
2. Despite all the pundit claims that the electorate "prefers independents", the facts are just the opposite. The public perception is that independents don't get things done - even when the facts are otherwise. Some in the media often claimed that the CRC was "dysfunctional", but the results for this council were stunning during a difficult period. The city has been run competently and well during a period of heavy external economic strife. But the "average voter", seeing things aren't going well for them or their neighbours, can easily be persuaded that "independents" are the cause. And they ran for the cover of a team, in this case the Unity Team. The fact that Richie Bates, who has personal views not just contrary to the LNP-centric Unity Team but antagonistic towards them and was elected anyway proves how ignorant most of the voters are. Bates proved to be smarter than them all. Probably the only Labor member to be elected anywhere this year.
3. Val Schier proved to be a fine mayor with vision and more than adequate management skills. The local media however were so shocked by her defeat of Kevin Byrne, with the Cairns Post and other "polls" predicting an easy Byrne win in 2008, they began a programmed, systematic campaign to undermine her, the council, and in fact the entire community. The media has been for four years the unelected and irresponsible "casting vote" on city government! Un-Australian all, there was never a "fair go" for Schier or the Schier council from day one. This attack was led by Gavin "Don't Rape Me" King and Greg Punshon at the Cairns Post, along with 4CA's you-know-who. They used journalism as a club to attack these people on a daily basis, partially motivated by the old-boy, misogynist attitudes that plague regional Australia. Even known lefty agitator Bryan Law found himself supporting hard right wing candidates - such is the power of media manipulation on the weaker intellects in our community. The continued referral to the Entertainment Precinct as the "Val-cano" despite this concept being only one in a huge number of concept designs that are always done by architects was the media's way of undercutting our community leaders. In this anti-woman environment (including Bligh and Gillard), Marge Cochrane never had a chance. The day she allowed a MacKenzie hillbilly caller to refer to her as "Nanna Marge", she should have packed it in and gone away quietly.
4. The voters clearly did NOT vote against the Entertainment Precinct as approved by the Schier council. The evidence of this sits proudly at the council table. Rob Pyne. Julia Leu. Linda Cooper. The first two fully backed the size and scope of the proposal ultimately approved by the last council. And Linda Cooper became the "deciding vote" for the project, which should have made her an easy target for the anti-EP candidates that lined up against her. And yet Linda Cooper received the biggest percentage vote of all the councillors!
(In the interest of full disclosure, this blog made its only election donation to our council choice, Linda Cooper).
So what's Bob "Screwdriver" Manning going to do? Since part of the attacks on the EP proposal was "lack of consultation" (what nonsense!), there will have to be an even larger outreach to the community about any new proposal. And the same people will show up to the consultation - the arts leaders, the theatre leaders, the schools, the dance companies, the musical organisations. The Schier "artsy-fartsy" crowd. And they're going to demand the same thing they demanded the first TWO times (during the Byrne council, and then the Schier council). A proper, fully-equipped theatre for the community. Not some stripped-down inadequate, noisy, and non-functional replication of the current theatre. Unity is entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts. Clearly the anti-waterfront crowd, ignorant of the facts, are going to stump up this waterfront land to some developer for a hotel or other private amenity such is the developer pressure on Manning. But the new EP MUST be located adjacent to the convention centre, and MUST be equipped for the next fifty or more years for a community that can be expected to double in size during that time. The only question is Manning's ability to keep the $97M in state and federal grants on the table for the project while the community spins its wheels again on this project.
5. Read the CMC report on Sno "Max T Brown" Bonneau, and two things are clear. Bonneau was taking money from developers clever enough to pay him from different corporate pockets than the one being used for development. (Page 11-12). And for the CMC to acknowledge that Bonneau took money from clearly interrelated entities and then claim no ethical violation occurred shows the law to be an arse. Bonneau had a growing list of community complaints against him - his usual tactic was to provide the name and contact details of project objectors to the developer (a violation of the development process and council privacy rules), and let the developer harass the public directly. Bonneau rarely attended community events and had become reclusive from his electorate. Seeing that much of the community wanted to "throw the bums out", the growing calls for him to explain his odd name change and other behaviours, he did what Alan Blake should have done and withdrew from the election.
6. Bonneau also did not live in his electorate. This is an issue that should be addressed by the new council, along with some more sensible boundary changes. Councillors should be required to live in their electorates, and the boundaries should be redrawn in the CBD area to include portions of the CBD in more than one electorate. The CBD needs more attention than one councillor can reasonably be expected to provide, and having two or three councillors with different areas of the CBD under their wing would improve services for all.
7. De-amalgamation? Never going to happen. The natural tendency in government is to get bigger, not get smaller. And a guy like Manning will never embrace it - he's a "big government" kind of guy. Douglas should get over it - they're part of Cairns for good. No way this new council is going to give up the rates from there now. There is no backbone in the new council for de-amalgamation. It's a dead letter.
8. Council meetings should be video recorded and broadcast on the internet. Some places in the UK, Germany, France, and the US have been doing this for 15-20 years. Cost is minimal, students can be engaged as part of a teaching programme to do the work, and the public deserves to get not just the results of meetings but the content of the meetings. More consultation and openness should be a goal for all.
9. Any proposals for a "rectangular" stadium need to be financed privately, without council involvement. Sport is a business and the public shouldn't be subsidising sport.
10. The average voter spends about as much time thinking about their vote as they do deciding if they should stop at Maccas, Eagle Boys, or Hungry Jacks for dinner. With the chance of a councillor candidate actually coming to your door (Steve Grasso's clearly bullshit claims of 6000 plus home visits not withstanding), the media manipulation and distortion of reality on behalf of the "black hands", and the low level of education on the importance of representative democracy, it's ultimately best that city manager professionals like Lyn Russell are the real operators of our city government. Can you imagine the chaos if this group, or any group of "elected" councillors actually had to do the day-to-day management work?