Jonathan Strauss

What does it say about Australian politics when a mining billionaire who rides around in a Rolls Royce becomes the people’s champion in parliament?

The Palmer United Party (PUP), formed and largely funded by Clive Palmer, continues to disrupt the two-party game played by most politicians and their media supporters.

To them, the PUP is “maverick”, a label that fits after Palmer’s outburst this week about “communist” China trying to “take over” Australia.

In heritage-listed trees around Cairns’ main library, a colony of flying foxes has lived and bred for 30 years.

As evening sets in, thousands of fruit bats fly out across the city and Trinity Inlet in search of food. Tourists look up in wonder at this wildlife event in the heart of a city.

Fruit bats, or spectacled flying foxes, have been listed as vulnerable due to a decline in overall numbers.

Not just the hall but the verandah of the Serbian Centre was packed when more than 300 people came to the first public meeting of Aquis Aware, a group formed in response to the proposed Aquis casino in one of the city’s beachside suburbs, Yorkeys Knob.

The mega-resort would have nine hotels and big entertainment and sports venues. An environmental impact statement for the project has not been tabled, so details of the Aquis proposal are murky.

But speakers were able to address many of the concerns of those present, most of who were opposed to or questioned the proposed development.

The Freedom Flotilla to West Papua departed on August 17, a week after the arrival of its supporters who had travelled in a land convoy from Lake Eyre. Aboriginal elders, West Papuan refugees, filmmakers, musicians and artists will sail the flotilla’s two boats to West Papuan waters, via Cooktown, Thursday Island and Daru, in Papua New Guinea.

More than 600 unionists and supporters rallied in Cairns’ City Place as part of the statewide day of action against the Campbell Newman government’s budget cuts on September 12.

Larger groups of teachers, United Voice members, Ergon electricians, state public servants in purple Together Union T-shirts, and others, flanked contingents of ambulance officers and firefighters in uniform. The mood was sombre and intense, with people standing still and listening more quietly than usual to the speakers.

The campaign against the Liberal National Party Queensland government’s public sector cuts and suppression of alternative views is gathering momentum in the state’s Far North region.

Cairns Politics in the Pub has restarted after a year's break. These semi-monthly discussion forums at the Green Ant Cantina feature guest speakers, panels and discussion on topical issues proposed by various community groups and individual activists.

On May 23, 35 people took part in a lively debate of the question “Where to now after a Labor thrashing?” The speakers included Jonathan Strauss for the Socialist Alliance, ALP activist Elida Faith and Steve Brech from the Greens.

Labor’s Conflict: Big Business, Workers & the Politics of Class
By Tom Bramble & Rick Kuhn
Cambridge University Press, 2011,
226 pp., $39.95
Trade Unionism in Australia: A History from Flood to Ebb Tide
By Tom Bramble
Cambridge University Press, 2008
293 pp., $49.95

Tom Bramble and Rick Kuhn, through Bramble’s Trade Unionism in Australia and their jointly-authored Labor’s Conflict, offer substantial histories of two very important elements of the workers’ movement in Australia.

As a tropical downpour loomed, about 400 people stayed put to spell out "SOS" next to a huge banner that read "Reef in Danger" on the city’s Esplanade on March 11.

The rally marked the visit to the city of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) commission, which looked at the possible impacts of the dramatic rise in shipping through the Great Barrier Reef expected over the next decade.

UNESCO has responsibility for the World Heritage listing for the reef.

The Occupy movement has sprung up in Cairns, where street activities kicked off on October 15 in City Place. About 200 people took part.

Since then, up to 40 people have met each Sunday. This will continue with alternating weeks of discussions about plans for Occupy, along with music, presentations and an open mike.

Discussion among those involved in Occupy Cairns is increasingly turning to how to address not just local issues but national and international questions of corporate power. Fourteen working groups have discussed various issues and how the new group will work.

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