Community First campaigns for transparency, big solutions

February 15, 2024
Community First candidates for Cairns Regional Council. From left, Renee Lees, Denis Walls and Nicole Sleeman. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The new progressive Community First (CF) ticket is among three registered groups contesting Cairns Regional Council local government elections and for mayor.

CF mayoral candidate Denis Walls said the team is campaigning on “big ideas, big concepts and big solutions”.

Council democracy is a big concern. “We’re very keen on opening up local government,” he told Green Left. “A lot of [council] meetings are closed” he said, adding there’s “no need” for that. “They’re just closed because little groups get together and make behind the scenes deals.”

Walls wants to eradicate this practice. “We want to have community forums on a regular basis” so people can “express their views about what needs to change in local government and with their local issues”.

Further, Walls wants to “expand” on the traditional focus of “just talking about ‘roads, rates and rubbish’”.


Community First Mayoral candidate Denis Walls. Phot: Alex Bainbridge

Renee Lees, who is contesting Division 7 for CF, told GL that “councils have never been concerned only with ‘roads, rates and rubbish’!”

She said councils have always been concerned with big issues. “They make political decisions all the time”.

However, she said that this is often done in “ways that are invisible”. The community is locked out of involvement and input into planning decisions that have a big impact on people’s lives.

Lees explained how the team was formed. She said community activists were “watching in despair” as the council spiralled including conflict of interest scandals, closed council meetings and restrictions on the issues that can be raised and “day-to-day inappropriate developments being built”.

They realised that “the bunch that have been dominating our council for the last 12 years are not going anywhere — unless we stand up”.

After a bit of organising, CF was born. Lees describes it as a “really diverse team of people involved in different fields through their work and experience in the community”.

CF candidates include “two wonderful First Nations women”. This is an important step, given that an Indigenous councillor has never been elected to Cairns Regional Council.

CF believes that local government can play a role in housing affordability, climate action and expanding public transport.

Walls said council can mandate that developers include a percentage of social and affordable housing in big developments.

Council can also take action on the properties that are let full time via Airbnb and similar schemes. He said “they don’t pay the same commercial rates” even though, in some cases, they are run like hotels or boarding houses.

CF’s campaign is activist focused with a large volunteer network. They have hosted public forums on housing and climate and are working with a local action group to promote a February 17 rally to return Taylor Point to public hands.

Asked about the scare campaign about youth crime, being pushed by the local corporate media, Lees said this is often a “coded” assault on young First Nations people.

CF rejects a “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach in favour of progressive solutions such as community engagement and “proper funding for young people for things they can do”.

In addition to the CF team, other progressive candidates are contesting as independents. These include Rob Pyne, a division 2 councillor who is running for division 5.

[You can help Community First out here.]

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