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Rejection of Toondah will Reset Labor’s Soul in Redlands

By Callen Sorensen Karklis

In early 2023, the sitting Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek knocked back a massive controversial coal mine proposed for the Rockhampton region. This would have harmed the environment by ten-fold considering the implications it would have had for the Great Barrier Reef. This looks positive for the Toondah PDA considering the issue has attracted over 84,000 signatures on multiple petitions in SEQ Qld. And 62,871 people signing the Save Moreton Bay – Stop Toondah Harbour development petition.

The Ramsar treaty’s protection of Toondah was upheld under both former Labor MPs Darryl Briskey, and Phil Weightman from 1989 – 2009. Briskey went on to become the Qld Assistant Treasurer in 1998 – 2000 and a parliamentary secretary for much of his time in office. Subsequently, the LNP won the seat back due to community backlash over concerns on sand mining then closing and the fishing zone issue. Labor has always held Capalaba consistently except the Newman era, with former Parliamentary Secretary Michael Choi and Deputy Premier Jim Elder holding the seat and Eric Shaw (former BCC Cr) who held Brisbane Councils health portfolio in much of the Clem Jones era before serving as the Capalaba MP. While Redlands has been a bellwether being Labor for 25 years since 1969 it became separate from the Logan electorate in 1972.

Originally the so-called National Party MP “Minister for Everything” Russ Hinze during the height of the Joh Johannes Bjelke-Petersen era proposed with former Nationals Cleveland MP to not only develop what is now known as Raby Bay canal estates on what was then mangroves, but they also proposed another gateway bridge like in Brisbane but one for Moreton Bay to North Stradbroke Island and a high-rise unit complex on Ramsar mangrove wetlands.

Fortunately, Aboriginal civil rights activist like Oodgeroo Noonuccal (who fought for the vote for Aboriginal peoples in 1967’s federal referendum) and Estel Bartossi with the then local Stradbroke Island Branch of the ALP opposed the bridge which gained enough community concern for the government to drop the proposal.

The local STIR committee in Cleveland was successful with the then Nationals Attorney–General and Redlands MP Paul Clauson agreeing to oppose the development, which was upheld and agreed staunchly by the then Labor Mayor Len Keogh (former Bowman MP) and successive Labor MP Darryl Briskey as Wayne Goss unseated 32 years of Nationals government.

Labor’s credentials on the environment saw it elected to the area for a good 20 years in Cleveland. Labor continued its stance for environmental protection well into the Newman LNP’s term in government from 2012 – 2015. I would know because I was a part of the local Labor party branch executive in the Cleveland area at that time as a Branch, Secretary, Vice–President and later Chair–President.

The ALP was financially hit hard by the Newman 2012 electoral wipe out of the Bligh Government, losing 44 out of its 51 seats. This included the coffers of the local ALP in the Redlands. Redlands lost all its Labor seats on a state level in 2009 in both Cleveland and Capalaba in 2012. The ALP also lost Councillors Craig Ogilvie in Division 2 (Cleveland and North Stradbroke Island) in 2016 and Murray Elliott in Division 7 (Alexandra Hills) who had a history in the party as well.

Capalaba was won back by Labor in 2015 by Don Brown and Redlands by Labor in 2017 and Kim Richards, while Division 8 was won by Former Cleveland ALP candidate Tracey Huges in 2016 who held the seat in the 2020 local government elections. As State Labor MP and cabinet minister Mick De Brenni held the area of Mt Cotton in the Springwood state area after distributions in 2017. Labor now holds 3 out of 4 state seats in the Redlands.

The Redlands federal seat Bowman – named after former state Labor leader David Bowman and Ryan Government minister (1860 – 1912) – has been LNP since 2004, under both Andrew Laming and now Henry Pike. Despite the ALP’s federal win in 2022, Pike won the two-party preferred vote on 55.51% compared to Labor’s candidate Donisha Duff on 44.49%. Labor has failed to win the seat of Bowman back since; a growing trend in Qld seats.

Federal Labor did not gain any federal seats in Queensland. This was particularly due to the ongoing concerns in regional Qld due to the changing nature of phasing from mineral resources and phasing out of fossil fuels, and the environmental Adani issue abroad and locally the Toondah issue in the Redlands.

Historically, Redlands had its earliest politicians associated with pioneers in mining and farming with strong connections to the labour movement. This is why in former LNP MP Mansfield Ian Walker’s maiden speech he notes his Labor family and their ancestors William Ross (former Chair of the Cleveland Shire in 1880s – 1890s) and Heinemann family (with several family serving as from 1902 – 1933 in the Tingalpa Shire) in the Mt Cotton area. Ross fought to extend the railway to Cleveland and Henry Heinemann had much to do with the creation of Mt Cotton road. Aside from Peter Airey (former Qld Treasurer) having a stint in the Cleveland Shire Council in 1924 – 1927, and James Sharpe serving a federal term (1913 – 1917) serving in Fisher/Hughes Labor Federal Government, both Hugh McMinn (1915 – 1918) and Alfred Jones (1918 – 1920) serving in the Ryan/Theodore State Governments, the labour movement did not have much success in the Redlands historically after the conscription split from much of the 1920s until the late 1960s as both agricultural working-class base migrated to the Country Party and later National Party and increasing numbers of middle-class voters became encapsulated by the modern-day Liberal Party, founded in 1944.

This changed in the bay side on Brisbane’s east and semi–regional council’s satellite towns. As social change with civil rights, feminism, and becoming a more multicultural society, and accepting progressive norms took hold. As urbanisation spread from Brisbane to the outer suburbs and its satellite townships Redlands became a more progressive voting bloc. With the rise of structural draftsman Len Keogh federally becoming the MP for the area in 1969 (son of Labor’s South Brisbane Mayor John Keogh 1924 – 1925) voting to adopt Whitlam’s social housing, education, and health program. A schoolteacher and unionist, Ted Baldwin, became the state representative from 1969 – 1974. The Coalition won back the seats in 1974 and 1975 in landslides nationally and state wider under Joh and Fraser.

Labor saw a period of growth of local government councillors being elected so much so from 1970 – 1985 that the dominant National Party gerrymandered the local government mayoral vote only granting councillors the right to vote for the mayor instead of the popular vote by local ratepayers after Ted Baldwin came close to becoming mayor, narrowly losing by 53 votes, with Labor on 45.8% of the vote and Nationals on 46.3%. Labor’s Bowman candidate Jason Young lost in 2007 by 64 votes, which can attest to the area being quite the bellwether location for Queenslander sentiments from time to time.

You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think Redlands City Council is apolitical! Many in the current council hide their party affiliations, and some don’t. It has mostly been dominated by LNP mayors from 1949 – 1991 for 42 years with a short interlude of Labor management under Len Keogh as Mayor after Con Sciacca defeated him for the Labor preselection in 1987 in a bitter battle after Labor won the federal seat back in 1983. It still didn’t stop Labor Crs from holding senior portfolio positions in the 1970s – 80s with George Nothling and John Fiedler; a big reason as to why Redlands Hospital was established. The ALP in council under Keogh advocated for the environment and better customer service in Council. Today some independents exist and work hard. RCC Crs Paul Bishop, Adelia Berridge, Wendy Boglary (former Deputy Mayor: 2016 – 2018), and Lance Hewlett (former Deputy Mayor: 2018 – 2020) are to name a few.

In 1994 Nationals Party Division 3 Cr Eddie Santagiuliana became mayor, winning a firm victory but because he was a both a Sicilian like Federal MP Sciacca (Hawke/Keating minister) the two men put aside their differences and were open to Labor Crs having portfolios. Santagiuliana pushed forward with sustainability and like Keogh, improved public transport services and pushed for land rights recognition for the Traditional Owners of the area on North Stradbroke Island as he made Labor’s Capalaba Cr Ray Bucknall his Deputy Mayor in 1997 – 2000 until he died in office in 2001.

Sciacca, Briskey, and Keogh

Labor enjoyed a strong record in government with it showing strong representation on 3 tiers of government from the 1960s – early 2010s despite the overdevelopment agenda of Santagiuliana’ s successor and ex–cricket player Don Seccombe. Melva Hobson became Mayor in 2008 under transparency, environment, and native title commitments with Crs Toni Bowler and Murray Elliott as her Deputy Mayors during her tenure from 2008 – 2012. Hobson governed with Greens and Independent Cr support. This changed when Cr for Karen Williams (who defeated Ray Bucknall in 2004) became Mayor in 2012, promising cuts to red tape and cutting dip fees. What has transpired since has been a revival of overdevelopment agenda in conspiracy with developer lobbyist and the likes of former Federal LNP MP Andrew Laming and former Newman Deputy Premier Jeff Sweeney, hence the revival of the Toondah proposal during the height of the Newman era.

Unfortunately for Labor, MPs Don Brown, Jackie Trad, Kim Richards, and Cr Tracey Huges sacrificed their convictions to make concessions to ensure the Toondah proposal go ahead. But the plan to go from 800 units to 3600 units in the Ramsar wetlands on 10 – storey high rise buildings caused great division and bitter infighting in both the Redlands, Wynnum ALP branches and labour union movement in SEQ.

Howard Guile – former NTEU Qld State Secretary and former Branch President of the North Stradbroke Island branch of the ALP – opposed the development as did several former Qld ALP ministers, along with the environmental wing of the party Labor LEAN. University students, branch members, environmentalist, and union organisers protested the development internally and were hown the door. The North Stradbroke Island branch was shut down and any branch members locally opposed to the development were isolated from local campaigns and meetings deliberately by the heavy handiness and bullying by pro developer influences, which MPs Don Brown had interest in along with Kim Richards, despite being Whips for the Government. Sadly, this episode has left the ALP more vulnerable not only at the upcoming 2024 Qld State Election locally but also in efforts to win back the once former Labor heartland in RCC Divisions 2 (Cleveland, North Stradbroke Island), Division 7 (Alexandra Hills), and Division 6 (Mt Cotton), now all held by LNP aligned Crs including the current LNP aligned Deputy Mayor who contested the seat of Springwood in 2017.

Fortunately, thanks to the good hard work of people like Peter Shooter, former Attorney General and Environmental Minister MP Rod Welford, former BCC Cr Helen Abrahams, Howard Guile, and Peter Casey Labor LEAN Secretary the ALP made protecting Ramsar sites at Toondah part of its state and federal policy platforms. This policy won in every regional conference vote before state and federal conferences except for a narrow vote lost in the Wynnum/Redlands areas when Wynnum branch members were overruled by Redland’s branch members on the vote to protect Toondah, with Redland’s members voting in favour of despite the huge community backlash on the issue. Don Brown’s justification for supporting the development was jobs for “tradies”, retail and hospitality sectors as most construction jobs would benefit workers outside of the area including 457 visa holders, and jobs in the latter wouldn’t benefit those sectors for another 20 – 30 years.

When analysing the historical voting patterns of the Redlands Council wards, the North Stradbroke Island area has had over 40 years of Labor representation, and 30 years in the Cleveland area, which is now dominated by a councillor with deep LNP connections in Cr Peter Mitchell (aligned with Mayor Karen Williams who failed in a preselection bid for Bowman in 2022). Capalaba was dominated by Labor-aligned candidates from 1970 – 2004, with a strong showing historically of 27 years in more modern times in the Mt Cotton until 2012 with potentially strong decades of showing under the Heinemann family during earlier decades of the 20th century. A big part Labor has only 1 Cr out of 11 Councillors as of 2023 is partially a lack of community grassroots engagement on core issues, being a big reason why Labor candidates failed to win in 2020 as candidates were less engaged on community contact on issues such as Toondah, supporting small businesses in Cleveland’s CBD or refunding the Donald Simpson Centre. What does the ALP stand for if it doesn’t respect its own policies? Academic expertise of environmentalist or economist? Or the wishes of the community? It can’t just focus on campaigning unless it doesn’t know what it stands for. Particularly as the Oodgeroo, Redlands, and Capalaba branches focuses less on policy; a focus away from personalities, social media wars, and self – interested careerism is a must (a lesson both Keogh and Sciacca learnt as they held the seat consistently for 19 years of 21 from 1983 – 2004, with a brief interlude of LNP MP Andrea West). An organism needs a heart as much as it needs a brain, and it must work in tandem not without each other especially in a political party.

It’s obvious the ALP needs the rejection of Toondah to restore its hold on environmental accountability like it once did in Redlands. This is why the Australian Greens vote has skyrocketed from almost 9% in 2016 to almost 12% in 2019 and 13% in 2022. A Teal independent almost became Mayor of Redlands in 2020. Claire Richardson had 33,189 votes on 40.75% on the TPP compared with the 36,408 votes on 44.70% on the TPP as David Curtin – a rogue Labor candidate affiliated with Extinction Rebellion – polled at only 14.5% on 11,856 wasted votes. A rejection of the Toondah PDA may actually make it beneficial for a future Labor candidate campaigning in the seat of Oodgeroo against MP Mark Robinson. Labor needs to sell strong environmental credentials as the world adapts to green energy, renewables, changing what it mines from reliance on fossil fuel minerals to lithium, cobalt, nickel and sustainability does not sell into the LNP rhetoric of develop everything like the 1980s spin under Joh. With a Labor Party lost on identity this is why some traditional Labor voters have flocked to the far-right options like One Nation and Palmers United Australia, while more progressive voters have flocked to the Teal independent options and the Greens that surged in seats nationally as well surprising both parties. Tanya Plibersek rejecting Toondah will be the right ethical and only move forward benefitting the Indigenous people (as a vote for the Voice proceeds) and ensuring the environment is protected as a simple port upgrade goes ahead instead of high rises in the bay, especially as Minister Bowen legislates a new cap in trade emissions trading scheme with both Greens and Teals support and Australia makes progress in a positive direction on sustainability and conservation.

Perhaps Labor can win back voters among environmentalist and workers in industries that are practical and be delivered on from simple promises like a simple port upgrade at Toondah, revamping the Cleveland CBD, and investing in green jobs in solar, duplicating the Cleveland trainline and extending the South – East Brisbane busway to Capalaba.

Callen Sorensen Karklis, Bachelor of Government and International Relations.

Callen is a Quandamooka Nunukul Aboriginal person from North Stradbroke Island. He has been the Secretary of the Qld Fabians in 2018, and the Assistant Secretary 2018 – 2019, 2016, and was more recently the Policy and Publications Officer 2020 – 2021. Callen previously was in Labor branch executives in the Oodgeroo (Cleveland areas), SEC and the Bowman FEC. He has also worked for Cr Peter Cumming, worked in market research, trade unions, media advertising, and worked in retail. He also ran for Redland City Council in 2020 on protecting the Toondah Ramsar wetlands. Callen is active in Redlands 2030, Labor LEAN, the Redlands Museum, and his local sports club at Victoria Pt Sharks Club. Callen also has a Diploma of Business and attained his tertiary education from Griffith University. He was a co-host from time to time on Workers Power 4ZZZ (FM 102.1) on Tuesday morning’s program Workers Power. He is currently a public servant for the Qld Government.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    The vile, vomitous, varicosed, vulturous visage of head affliction Merde Dog has caused a seized expression valve. Yuccko. The conservative greedite, selfite, me-ite, mischief manufacturing misadventure machine will ruin this planet,, and all of us.

  2. Terry Riordan

    A most comprehensive summing up of the Redlands / toondah situation also some valuable historical information. This article filled in a few gaps for me and certainly increased my overview of Redlands politics
    Thank you
    Terry Riordan

  3. Phil Pryor

    For some reason, I know not, Silly me, Probably, my comment appeared here on the wrong site. Sorry…

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