It’s two days since I postponed an earlier attempt to write the second and final part of my article about the Tablelands Regional Council Mayoral contest. Part One is here.
I’m glad I waited. It has helped me to make up my mind on the detail. That’s an indication of the complexity of the Tablelands election. Unlike the lowland choice for Mayor, which in my not-so-humble opinion is a complete no-brainer, it’s hard work sorting out the pros and cons of the five candidates for Mayor of the Tablelands Regional Council.
Elections are brutal. As the moment of casting a ballot grows closer, each voter is forced to make a choice. There may well be a piece of the divinity in everyone, but elections don’t work if we vote equal first for everyone. Elections are competitive. There must be winners and losers.
I’ve now spoken in person to all the tablelands Mayoral candidates. In the case of Peter Hodge, it was an extremely brief exchange, because I called him late in the day – and I owe him an apology for not calling back the next day as promised. He may well feel aggrieved about that. But having decided to weigh into this topic, choice is necessary, and time has run out. Polling day is Saturday March 15th, ready or not.
So here goes…
My fifth and least favoured candidate is Jo Moro.
Jo has been a member of Mareeba Shire Council for the last eight years. To my knowledge, he has not expressed serious dissent about decisions taken by that Council or criticised the overall style of Council decision-making. Alone of the candidates, he failed to submit a questionnaire response to Friends of the Earth Kuranda. I know of no significant redeeming features that counter-balance these negatives. In my choice for Mayor, therefore, Jo Moro comes last.
I want to add that I spoke with Jo Moro after the Malanda meeting for the first time – and found him rather good fun. I like him as a person. And it turns out Jo lives at Biboohra within Division 8. So I have an extra reason for being upbeat about Jo, because I’d like his vote – or at least his second preference. Such is politics.
Actually, I find all the tablelands candidates for Mayor are likeable But this is an election, not the selection process for a rock and roll band. We don’t need five stars. Ultimately, there can be only one. For that reason, voters must eliminate. Sorry Jo.
Who to eliminate next?
I’ve already said, in my final election leaflet, that my two most favoured candidates for Mayor are Joe Paronella and Tom Gilmore.
That means third and fourth position, for me, go to Geoff Stocker and Peter Hodge. It was a hard call working out who to put third and who should be fourth. But I’ve decided to put Geoff Stocker number four and Peter Hodge slightly higher at number three. Here’s why…
Dr Stocker is a scientist and successful farmer. He’s clearly an intelligent man. But intelligence alone is not enough for the Mayoral role. What’s more, too much cleverness can be a disadvantage. We voters up here on the tablelands, whether we usually vote Green, One Nation or somewhere in between, may appear to be hippies or hill-billies, but we’re not quite as silly as we look.
Stocker is trading preferences with Jo Moro. Each one of these candidates is therefore trying to give the other a leg up – if they themselves don’t get in. For me, on the greener side of politics, that’s a worry.
It’s also of concern to me that while Stocker hints strongly that is he an environmentalist at heart, he also seems to be touting for the extreme anti-green vote. This week the Tablelands Advertiser ran an “I urge you to vote for Geoff Stocker” advertisement, presumably with Geoff Stocker’s agreement. The ad was a personal appeal on behalf of Stocker, written by Federal MP Bob Katter. It included choice Katterisms such as “Affordable progress – you know your jungles won’t be damaged by developers. You know jobs will be created for your kids.” Hmmm. That set off my crap detector How about yours?
Peter Hodge is my third choice for Mayor.
He may well feel that I haven’t given his candidacy a fair go. I didn’t take the trouble to chase him up twice and speak in person to him at length. I acknowledge that’s a weakness in this analysis.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do all the things I’d like to do (I’m sure it’s the same for Mr Hodge – and that may be why he didn’t chase me up himself). But I have read his material and seen his replies to questionnaires. And after all, no-one said I had to do a perfect job in this evaluation. It’s not my job at all, actually. And you – the reader – are perfectly entitled to disregard every word I write.
Peter Hodge strikes me as a decent and intelligent man with an idea – based on considerable practical experience working in local government – of the complexity of the amalgamation process . He has a check-list for achieving it. But does he have a real plan for making the new Council work – and does he have the personality and people-skills to pull together the Councillors, get the best out of the team and lead the whole Council forward towards a better future?
If he does, he’s been rather quiet about it, in my opinion. It’s not obvious to me. Part of the task of candidates is to sell their capabilities. I don’t feel Peter Hodge has done that, not to my satisfaction.
One of my conservationist friends from the Atherton area, whom I met after the Malanda meeting, had good things to say about Peter Hodge. He’s going to vote Hodge – 1.
Apparently, Peter Hodge was more sympathetic to recent local concerns over saving trees and public space in Atherton than Joe Paronella, for example. It’s not an issue I’ve studied personally, so I won’t comment further, but it’s worth noting.
Also to Hodge’s credit, judging by his answers to the CAFNEC questionnaire and the Friends of the Earth Kuranda questionnaire, he asks good questions about major development proposals such as Myola and the Kuranda Range 4-Lane Highway proposal. Some of his answers, to my taste, are better than the responses of candidates I intend to put higher up in my vote.
But experience counts for something when choosing a Mayor. Hodge doesn’t have a track record of elected office. If he was very charismatic and clearly able to make up for lack of Councillor experience in other ways, or if he had simply excellent policies, I might have overlooked that and followed the advice of my Atherton friend. But in my opinion, Hodge isn’t and he doesn’t. So I’ll put him number three on the ballot paper and not higher than that.
That leaves two candidates, Joe Paronella and Tom Gilmore.
I’ve had a lot of trouble getting clear in my own mind which of these two I prefer for the top job. But as it’s time to make a decision, I’m going to vote Paronella 1, Gilmore 2. I’ll try to explain why.
Both of these men, in my opinion, are charming yet potentially tough. Both seem to have the personality and skills for the job. I feel excited about the prospect of working with either of them.
Gilmore has a lot more political experience. He was a State MP and Minister for several years. He’s also served on Mareeba Shire Council and in 2004 ran against Mick Borzi for Mayor. (Gilmore lost, more’s the pity!)
Paronella is a Councillor on Atherton Shire Council. He has a long and successful background in business and community work, but his political track record, measured in years, doesn’t compare to Gilmore’s.
On the other hand, Joe Paronella has some attractive compensating factors. He has a campaign website (so does Geoff Stocker, but to my knowledge, Gilmore doesn’t). Of course, Gilmore doesn’t need to have a website. It’s up to him. But in 2008, it’s a good idea. Paronella has seized that opportunity, despite the difficulties. Good on him.
Paronella and Gilmore both seem attentive to the interests and concerns of Division 8. Because of his background on Mareeba Shire, Gilmore undoubtedly knows the area better. But Paronella has shown great enthusiasm to learn more. Both Paronella and Gilmore took the trouble to visit Speewah market last weekend and press the flesh, but Paronella, alone of the Mayoral candidates, attended the Kuranda Envirocare AGM and Division 8 candidates’ debate on Wednesday evening.
His decency on that occasion shone through. He was keen to meet people, but sought no time at the podium and was willing to sit, observe and be silent throughout the meeting. That’s unusual for an aspiring politician, in my experience.
Some of Gilmore’s political track record travels with him like a lead weight – at least for green-leaning voters. He was a junior Minister in Queensland’s National Party Government at the time of the Wet Tropics World Heritage declaration. His task then was to oppose the World Heritage nomination. He may not have been the author of this policy, but he didn’t say no, either. These days, Tom Gilmore sits on the Wet Tropics Management Authority Board. Such is the way of the world. Greenies get muddy, broke and arrested. ‘The Boys’ obtain sinecures resulting from their efforts. So it goes.
But joking apart, I think it’s a very good thing that Tom Gilmore – and others like him – have moved as far as they have on environmental issues. It shows they are mentally flexible and able to recognize and adapt to change. Tom gets teased for his anti-World Heritage stance way back in the 1980s, but who wouldn’t be embarrassed to go through all the policies they supported at that time (assuming they were out of short pants). People have a right to change their minds in the light of new information and more thought. For good political eaders, flexibility is a duty and the electorate’s well-being depends on it. Who wants to follow a dogmatist over a cliff face?
Gilmore and Paronella have very different proposals about how the new Council should be run. Gilmore has developed an elaborate and well-thought out committee structure. Paronella prefers the more conventional Council model, with all business coming before all Councillors. Gilmore believes that’s unworkable and I tend to agree. Paronella counters by proposing weekly Council meetings.
I rather feel that somewhere in the middle of their two models is what will be needed. That is, Council will need some committees, but not necessarily the full suite of eight proposed by Gilmore, with each Councillor assigned a quasi-Ministerial role. A lot depends on who the new Councillors are. We won’t know that until tomorrow evening. However, I have little doubt that both of these savvy and pragmatic politicians would adjust their models to reality and necessity – rather than attempt the opposite. So although I initially thought the differing models for Council would be a decisive factors for me in making a choice, I feel that less and less.
Some of my fellow-environmentalist friends complain that there are no really ‘green’ Mayoral candidates running. They wince at any of my suggestions. All the candidates, they say, are different flavours of National Party.
They may well be right, but I’ve developed a standard reply to this complaint. Why didn’t YOU run? That usually ends the conversation. It’s one thing to whinge. It’s another to stick your own hand up.
The Tablelands, in my opinion, isn’t quite ready for a Mayor of the type these friends of mine would like to see. At this election, the electorate wouldn’t vote such a candidate in, even if it had the choice. A strong ‘green-leaning’ candidate might well attract a lot of votes, but we need winners and we need results. People, such as myself, who’d like to move politics in that direction have work to do. In the Tablelands, we’re not (yet) ready for the top job.
We are fortunate that we have at least two candidates who show every indication that they can bring all sides of important debates together and oversee rational dialogue between competing views and interests. What’s more, if last week’s Tablelands Advertiser opinion poll can be believed, these two candidates are the front runners.
According to the Advertiser, Gilmore is ahead on 36% of the primary vote, while Paronella is second with 21%. The other candidates – Stocker, Moro and Hodge – attract 20%, 12% and 11% support in that order.
IF these figures are remotely accurate, the election will probably be determined on preferences.
In my opinion, tablelanders who follow my voting advice maximise bnthye prospect that they’ll have a much more fair-minded and enlightened Mayor than the man who looks set to retain the position in Cairns, if a recent Cairns Post opinion poll is to be believed on that important local election.
It’s just one more reason why, in my opinion, the Tablelands is the best place to be.
We not only have a lower risk of tidal waves. We also have a choice of five Mayoral candidates who(with more or less reluctance) accept that climate change is a key issue that must be given policy priority.
What is wrong with the lowlanders?
I put it down to excessive heat – and I can suggest a remedy.
They should come up to Kuranda more often and chill out, preferably, on a cruisy new state-of-the-art railway. And as many swamp-dwellers appear to have more money than sense, I suggest they deposit lots and lots of it in the cash registers of our cafes, shops and market stalls.
We could do with the business.