Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cairns Entertainment Precinct vote.....the long version.

No prizes for guessing where I was all afternoon. Believe me when I say it was ALL afternoon. The Council vote on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct was scheduled for 2 p.m and I left the Council building at 5 p.m. Proceedings didn't actually go that long but by the time I caught up with many of those who attended......the day was over.

I turned up this afternoon at 12.39. Precisely. I was early because of a few things. I had my two eldest children with me and mum had agreed to babysit while the meeting went on upstairs and I wanted to get some idea of who was attending and what their position was.

The first person I came across was Jack Wilke-Jans who is running in Division 9 at the upcoming election. He was attending (in his words) 'for practice' and also came as an interested member of the arts community. His view was very positive for the Precinct and he was hopeful that the vote would be yes.

Next to enter the cafe area was Barry Neale from Residents Against Crime and Cairns Community Council Watch. A strong opposer to the project he and I had a wonderful conversation about the entire proposal. While we do not see eye to eye on it, we are in agreement that changes are desperately required in the consultation arena of Council office. We both think that those in charge of consultation procedures are ineffective and are not adequately doing the job. We also agree that the miscommunication on the proposal has led to misinformation, we just disagree on what that information is (which illustrates the point very well really.)

I then had a chat with Brendan Fitzgerald, Katter's Australian Party candidate for Barron River. He has another take entirely and believes that the project should be staged differently. He would prefer to see the smaller theatre built first but more than that, would like to see a 'School of the Arts' incorporated into JCU, feeding the Precinct with potential stars in the artistic arena. This proposed school would include all aspects of stage technician, musicians, dancers, play-writes, actors etc.....essentially a local NIDA. Frankly, I think it's a brilliant idea. The opportunity to change the order of development was not on the agenda so could not occur but the proposal for a performing arts school is one I would support wholeheartedly.

After quick hello's to Rob Pyne, Kirsten Lesina, Julia Leu, Mayor Val Schier, Janine Aitken, Tanya Brooks-Cooper, Stuart Traill, Darren Hunt, Mal Floyd, Tony Hillier, Gavin King, Locco and Daniel Strudwick, had a very brief interview with Channels 7 and 9, then up to the 3rd floor (after getting stuck in the lift door not watching where I was going. Thankfully Gavin, Locco and the entire 7 and 9 News crews saved me from being swallowed whole .)

The Council Chambers were packed. I'm not kidding. It was full to bursting. They even added an extra row of seats but still it was standing room only. I started off seated, right up the front, but elected after a short while to stand as the hostility in the room was pretty confining.

Proceedings began with the Mayor making a very short statement in welcome to all those who were present. She then mentioned that at just past 12 p.m last night she had received a message from Sno stating he would not be attending as he was flying overseas. That statement elicited sarcastic laughter and a few loud whispers stating that the meeting should have been cancelled. Val chose to ignore it and moved on. The traditional owners were acknowledged and the first motion was under-way.

It spoke to the marketing of the Precinct and was a straightforward motion. Di Forsyth spoke for it and was quick and succinct, not so for the negative speaker Nancy Lanskey. She took the opportunity to complain about the incredible speed of this proposal, argued that there is no rush and it felt rushed and said that the community objected to the Precinct being shoved down their throat. Val said she had no idea what Nancy was talking about......they voted, all in favour bar Nancy.

Moving on.....

Margaret Cochrane was next to speak, she put forward several amendments to the original motion. These included; stating that Council would give 'in principal' support, changing it to include Council where it stated that the State Government would approve based on the business case, ensuring it had Federal Government support and getting guaranteed funds from the State. This motion did not get up. The crowd were restless and many called out in disgust. It was time to squirm a little.

Then the Precinct Manager Linda Cardew spoke. She stated that she had been to Anthony Albanese's office the preceding week. His staff told her that there was no guarantee that the 40 million allocated Federally could be postponed or extended beyond June next year. The money has been allocated from a specific fund which is to be used 'in regional centres where it will build infrastructure that will create jobs'. That being the case it could possibly be reallocated to another centre if Cairns did no use it.

The State Government agreed to fast-track the final approval for the allocation promised from them and suggested that Council reiterate the fact that the Precinct could tie in with the Convention Centre when arguing it's case as part of the business plan.

The Precinct report from Bob Minnikin of Savills came next. The end result was that the figures are good, the numbers are realistic and true, the staging is necessary and the borrowings are affordable. The report ended with a statement that the cost of the first stage has some scope to move downwards but will not move upwards. He seemed pretty adamant about that.

Rob Pyne then reignited the energy in the room with his speech, arguing that this decision was not and should not be a political one. This decision is about the community. All of it.

Julia Leu spoke in favour. She said the extensive planning, the need and the evaluation were enough to convince her it was a good project. She also mentioned that many other projects in the past had not gained full support from the community prior to being built but have worked out in strong favour of all residents. She urged Councillors to vote for the future of the region.

Linda Cooper believes that we need to have this but doesn't like the ongoing costs being passed on to future generations. She would not vote positively based on the lack of a business plan and no definitive numbers. Cost blow-out remains too high a risk.

This was spoken to and it was again said that the cost will reduce possibly, not increase. Linda was unconvinced.

Di Forsyth spoke for the Precinct. She mentioned the long wait on this and said that it's time now to just get on with it.

Nancy Lanskey said that this is the first project up for development by Council which would not make money. She stated that it is all about the cost of the project, the potential for blow-out and the reliance on regional growth which may not come to fruition. Too many variables.

Val pointed out that Council subsidise many local amenities and facilities that benefit the community and it is the job of Council to do so.

Margaret Cochrane agreed that the subject of a performance space had been floating around for a long time. She wanted to know why Whites Shed was in the first stage as her belief is that the two theatres should be built concurrently, both being needed. She also worried that community groups would not be able to afford the cost of hiring the facility and things like the Eisteddfod would not be able to access it.

Advice was given that Whites Shed is heritage listed and in very poor condition. If construction begins beside it there is a strong possibility it will simply collapse and that should be avoided. Hence the fact it is included in the first stage.

Paul Gregory mentioned that each Councillor was elected to represent their Division first and the broader community next. He said that this was a tough call for all Councillors to try and balance Divisional issues with community issues. Division 1 is in need of better sporting facilities and parks, making this Precinct a 'want' rather than a 'need'.

Alan Blake shared that view. He agreed that the Civic Theatre needs to be replaced but thought this project was much too 'grandiose'. His concern was about over-running costs and the poor condition of the CBD. He continually mentioned that Council were 'bullied' by the State to accept the land and we should not be dictated to. Whites Shed is also ugly and should not be considered important. He said that the 'stuff' inside it would fit on the back of a ute and should be moved elsewhere and the building itself was decrepit.

Councillors where then reminded that the decision to accept the parcel of land was made by Council in a unanimous vote in July last year.

Kirsten Lesina then summed up. She said that the need is there. This is not a want. We are looking at the future and the community needs it.

Then....the vote. 5 for, 5 against. Val used her casting vote to tip the scales and the motion to allocate Council funds to the Cairns Entertainment Precinct was carried.

And the crowd went wild! That's not actually far from the truth. The noise was deafening and frankly, I used the confusion and chaos to get out of there. During the meeting one person evicted themselves by shouting his opinion all the way to the door and two others were warned three times then told they would be asked to leave if they spoke again.

Now what? Well, afterwards I spoke for a few minutes to Ian Thomas who is running for Mayor. He was disappointed but not discouraged by the result.

Barry and I ran into each other again and his only statement was 'This is not over yet, not by a long shot' and I believe him.

Several members of the Arts community (including Ruby Boussard and Avril Quaill), were very happy with the outcome but like me would have preferred it to be clearer.

My children were just bored.

Now, we wait. Next week the State Finance Committee will vote to allocate us the promised money. The business case report will be complete. Barry and his friends will be organising the next public meeting (set for early November at this stage). The Councillors who voted 'no' can tell their constituents that they support the Divisional needs before the entire community's needs and those who voted 'yes' can tell theirs that the jobs are on the way (and Sno will have some serious explaining to do).

This was the crux of the matter. It might not be over, there might be more bumps along the way, but today's result must be adhered to and this Precinct will be built. I'm not sure that I'd call it an outright win, but it's certainly a big step in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stop the Boats........then what?

Asylum Seekers, Boat People, Illegal Immigrants or Refugees. Whichever label you choose, the people involved remain the same. I am going to address this issue from a different viewpoint than has been previously entertained.

We have argued for and against the treatment of asylum seekers. We have formed views and opinions based on fear, mothering comments, anger, human rights, racism and fairness. At this point it appears not to matter much what we really think.

Both major parties are determined to reject these people and continue to marginalise them. The numbers arriving remain low and the chances of an asylum seeker moving in next door to you is very slim and even if they did, you probably wouldn't notice. The fact is, there are only a few thousand every year coming here. Not the great big hoards the media and politicians would have you perceive. Still, I digress. My opinion is fairly clear....but that's not what I want to talk about.

Julia Gillard is disappointed today in Tony Abbott's apparent 'political games'. She claims that he should support the amended bill proposed to change immigration laws and not doing so makes a mockery of his party's interest in Nauru as a processing centre.

In an article read this morning it stated that the Government was informed that Malaysia was the ideal solution as it would deter the boats. The advice was as follows; That those sent to Malaysia would never be sent back to Australia and would spend up to 8 years trying to be processed over there, without jobs or adequate housing. This information would filter back to the countries they came from and stop any more from making the potentially deadly journey.

That this reasoning had any affect on policy at all is abhorrent but even if we take for granted that this is the best option for our country there remains one HUGE question which nobody seems inclined to address.

What are the alternatives for these people?

Let's say that this so called solution actually works the way it's designed and no more boats come. What we are not talking about is who these people are. They are not queue jumpers. They are not rich people who are bored with their own country. They are not criminals.

They are men, women and children who are running (yes, it really is that urgent) away from all they have ever known, leaving family and friends behind, leaving schooling, jobs and homes......because they are afraid. They are so afraid that they climb aboard boats that are far from sea-worthy and make the treacherous journey across the ocean in an attempt to find a home where they can live in peace. The countries they are fleeing have no adequate refugee camps. Nowhere to go for protection.

We should not fear these innocents. They live in fear every single day. Some have done so for years. They will tell you that it is no way to live. They could also probably tell you what real fear is and would laugh at ours.

Our lives have never been threatened. Our homes are not burned down, shot at or bombed. Our schools are pretty safe places for our children. Our jobs are reasonably secure and we have opportunity and hope for our future. We also have clean water and food. Seriously, how lucky are we.

If we are so hell bent on treating asylum seekers as criminals and the scourge of society, we have got to address the issue of other options available to them.

The reason the Malaysia Solution is not popular is because, even with the negative connotations of boat arrivals, at our core we are still humane. We can't fight to stop live exports of animals if we are not willing to do the same for humanity.

We care. It's just that our caring only extends itself so far. Mine has no limit. My first question when people say they want the boats to stop is always...."Then what?"

If the boats stop will that end the suffering in war torn countries? No. Will it keep the persecuted safe by making them stay and live in fear? No. Will we sleep better at night secure in the knowledge that it doesn't directly affect us so it's not our problem? Some will, but for the majority...No.

So, I ask my question today of all of you.......If the boats stopped tomorrow, what alternatives would you suggest for those trying to escape a life lived in fear?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is the media at fault or has the Government lost the plot?

At the moment, in Federal politics, it seems that the Gillard Government can't catch a break. They are floundering in a sea of misrepresentation, miscommunication, scandal and high court drama. It's frustrating and irritating to watch.

Before the election I wrote a blog on the apparent errors the ALP were making and those that the Coalition were also committing. Both were mired in a pit of negativity, giving voters no clear idea of policy or direction for the future of the country. Trying desperately to outdo each other on the way down.

Not surprisingly, the outcome of that election was unclear. Afterwards I wrote a second blog. This one a positive take on what a hung parliament could mean for this term of government. The idea that the leading party would be forced into negotiations with all other parties in order to develop and pass policy was a novel one which had a certain level of excitement and a sense of real democracy attached.

One and a bit years on and the outcome so far has been mixed. Ask a member of the public what they think of the Government and the answer is usually negative. They are pandering to the Greens. They have lost their way. They are too right wing....too left.....too unclear. ALP members are outraged about the potential changes in human rights laws that will allow offshore processing of Asylum Seekers. Liberal and National members are furious that the Government is ignoring Nauru and is proceeding with the Malaysia deal. Same policy. Same dislike of it. Completely different perspectives.

Then ask one of the Independents. They are the ones who are negotiating throughout this process and they are the ones who hold the balance of power. According to all reports, they are very happy with the way this Government is progressing. They see Julia as a great negotiator, a worthy ally and a progressive leader. They see Abbott as a negative person, have given up meeting with him regularly, are very happy with the 190+ bills that the Government have passed in only one year, and they firmly believe they have done a great deal of good for this country.

So......How can two separate groups be so disconnected in terms of their take on this? How can the perceptions be so vastly disparate when the facts relating to the issue are the same?

Is it the media? Have they focussed so much attention on the 'he said, she said' rubbish and not allowed the policy commitments and bills being passed the coverage they deserve? Partly true. Yes, the media are focussed on the personality's of the leaders. Yes the media are concentrating on the stuff ups and scandals inherent in both major party's. However, after reviewing the news over several years it seems we are missing one fact. The media may well be misrepresenting the Government.......but they always have.

In the past the actions of Howard, Beasley, Latham, Keating, Turnbull and Costello have been featured news in every major paper. Not so much focus on their policy, ideals and plans. For instance.....I know that Latham has a mean streak. He has appeared threatening and has punched people in anger. I can even recall the pictures of Latham leaning over Howard in an aggressive manner while shaking his hand. So, what was Latham's policy on Asylum Seekers? No idea.

I know that Costello coveted the top job and was apparently promised it at some stage until Howard decided he liked it too much. I know that Beasley struggled with his weight and also struggled to get media attention and blanket support from inside the ALP. I know that Keating was arrogant and a bit of a dictator but his presence was such that you couldn't look away when he spoke. I know that Turnbull is the thorn in the Coalitions side as he is quite progressive and firmly believes in climate change science.

The media have become the woman's magazine of politics. I am unsure when exactly it occurred, maybe it's always been slightly sensationalist, but it does make it difficult to read between the personalities to find the politics.

If the media are not at fault.....who is? It's the ALP obviously. When the PM stops trying to defend every single statement she makes, the country will be much better off. Explanations are essential to keep the public informed but defence is not required. Tony Abbott has perfected the art of offence. He is ensuring that the Government are always walking backwards in the public arena and they are abiding by the rules he has set. He's not the PM. He may be one day but right now, today, he is not. The Government sets the rules. The Government leads the conversation and the Government is answerable only to the general public, not to the Opposition.

Julia, take a deep breath, step forward and be confident that the people will listen. You can't please all of the people, no politician has EVER been universally loved or admired. Forget the popularity contest and just do your job.

According to the Independents, the ones who essentially gave you the job, you are doing it well. If you can show confidence and good negotiating skills behind closed doors in meetings with the most powerful people in this country.....surely you have the ability to do the same publicly for the rest of us.

It's up to the Government to change it's communication methods. Not the media. There are still a few years of this Parliament to go, plenty of time to show us it's working.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 10. The day that changed my world.

Tomorrow is September 10. To most of you this will just be another day on the calendar and it is the following day which will have some kind of story behind it for you and your family. For me, it was September 10 which changed the world.

Ten years ago on September 10, Lleyton Hewitt won the US Open. He fought long and hard and the entire nation tuned it to watch. At almost 4p.m he pumped his fist in the air in true Hewitt style and announced to the world that he was the number 1 player in tennis at the time.

Most of you probably don't remember that.

I do. Because less than 5 minutes later, I welcomed my first child into the world. Kaitlin Louise Moore was born at 4p.m on September 10th, 2001 at the Cairns Base Hospital. The day that changed my world.

Any parent will tell you that the first child is the life-changing one. At the time however, I was more worried about her feeding patterns, what made her cry so loud, what colour her eyes would be and whether her toes were perfect.

After spending the night in awe of my child, I spent the entire next day surrounded by family and friends. All wanting to hold my little girl and tell her every one of the amazing things the world had to offer her. After a full day of special moments, the visitors left and I was alone with the tiniest person I had ever seen. She was mine, and I was responsible for her future.

A daunting task but one which I felt ready for and excited about. The Christmas morning rituals, skinned knees, funny moments, the pride in her achievements, the shared pain of her failures, the friendships, relationships, career choices and the start of her own family all featured in my thoughts at the time. That night I slept well (as well as you can with a newborn anyway), safe in the knowledge that all was right in the world.

The next morning it took a while to notice the change around us. There were three of us in that room, all with tiny little people to take care of. And by 9a.m we were wondering where all of the people were. What happened to the influx of family and friends that came the day before? Did we only get one day of fawning and adoration before everyone grew bored?

One of the nurses came into the room and spoke to us all. "How are you feeling today? Isn't it awful what happened?"........Then she noticed our blank expressions. " Oh my God", she said, "You don't know, do you! Stuff the rules, today you all get free t.v.!"

And then she turned it on.

Three mums with three brand new babies in our arms, all looking at the television as it spewed out pictures of violence and hate. Image after image of chaotic scenes, death and fear.

With hearts in throats we all looked down into the unseeing eyes of our charges. I wondered what kind of world she would grow up in, how many freedoms she had lost that day. I was suddenly sad to think of her future. A future that had irrevocably altered through no fault of her own. Those moments were some of the most heartbreaking of my life.

Tomorrow is September 10. Ten years exactly since my world changed. In those ten years some of my fears have been realised. Most however, have not.

My daughter is free. She has friends, a loving family, excitement in her life and a strong sense of hope for her future. She has a brilliant mind which she uses well and the world is laid out before her to explore and conquer.

She has changed my world in the best possible way. So much so, I took the plunge and had two more tiny, fearless beings.

Sometimes it pays to spend more time remembering the changes made in our lives which we controlled, which we engineered and those which we have relished.

There is nothing I can do to stop another 9/11. There is nothing I can do to change the minds of those who choose to create fear (including politicians) for some skewed ideal or goal. What I can do is affect change in my children's lives. Encourage them to be fearless. Ensure they have a greater capacity for tolerance and empathy than the generations before me. Give them the skills to cope in adverse situations and the sense of self that will keep them walking tall.

Happy birthday to my beautiful, bright little girl. Thanks to you, I will always remember September 10, and the memories are good.