It appears that wearing a green shirt has the same effect on the Queensland government as waving a red rag to a bull, if last week’s experience of Mackay Regional councillor, Martin Bella is any indication.
Cr Bella, a well-known Sarina physiotherapist, cattle and cane farmer, and former Australian rugby league footballer, was refused entry by police to the Governing From the Regions welcome reception at the Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre last Monday evening despite having an official invitation to the event.
He had earlier addressed 60 or so people at an AgForce protest in the nearby Jubilee Park, where he wore a green shirt that he still had on when he went to take part in the reception.
Green shirts became a symbol of the movement opposing the government’s hardline vegetation management rule changes on May Day in Brisbane, when 1000 or more landholders and their supporters protested at Parliament House, wearing green and declaring that they were the true environmentalists.
They and the #reclaimgreen motto made their next appearance a week later at Beef Australia in Rockhampton when people turned out en masse in green to greet Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as she arrived to take part in the opening ceremony.
It included one man gesticulating and yelling in close proximity to the Premier and Beef Australia chairman, Blair Angus.
The following week, Cr Bella posted on Facebook that he had been invited to a reception for the Premier in Mackay, stating in capital letters that he would be wearing green.
On the day of the function, after learning that the Premier had entered the venue by a back door, avoiding any contact with protesters at the front, Cr Bella attempted to join the reception but was turned away.
According to a police spokesman, invitations to the reception required an RSVP and it was understood that Cr Bella had failed to respond to his invitation.
“This was not a decision by the Queensland Police Service, however the advice to the councillor was delivered to him by police present at the event,” the spokesman said. “The advice was accepted by the councillor.”
The police statement noted that the earlier protest was sanctioned under the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992, and while it was loud it was also peaceful, and “no individual associated with that action created public disruption or disturbance”.
A spokesman for the Premier had a different version of the refusal, saying that Cr Bella had posted on Facebook that he was going to the reception to “make his presence felt” and that he had abused the police present.
“Given what went on in Rockhampton, everyone was a little nervous,” he said. “Martin was treated the same way anyone would be who said they were going to make their presence felt.”
He said the decision to refuse Cr Bella admission was made by members of the Premier’s staff, and suggested that he should have attended the community forum at Cannonvale the following day where people could “get things off their chest”.
“If Martin wanted to, Cannonvale was the place to do that,” he said.
Cr Bella said he was “utterly disgusted and infuriated” by the insinuations that he had been abusive to police and threatening in his Facebook post.
“There’s not a chance in hell I would have said that to the police – I have good relations with them and they were doing what they had to do,” he said. “In no way was I threatening in my post, and there was at least one other councillor who didn’t RSVP, plus our CEO, who were allowed to enter.”
Responding to the spokesman for the Premier that last Monday’s reception was an informal event, Cr Bella said he was sure any number of people, Mackay’s mayor, Greg Williamson included, would have been lobbying on various issues during the evening.
“It appears that if you support, or are a farmer you are treated very differently to anyone else,” Cr Bella said.
“Should the group you support preclude you from attending things?
This is just an excuse not to talk to farmers. She refuses to talk to the public unless it’s staged."
He said the Premier’s staff should have taken into account that he was constrained by his councillor code of conduct.
“You can’t just go in there and start ranting,” he said.
As far as airing his grievances with vegetation management laws at Cannonvale, Cr Bella said that being precluded from the first event didn’t give him positive signals that he’d be welcome at the second.
Mackay Regional Council mayor, Greg Williamson, declined to comment on the situation, with a media spokesman saying it hadn’t been a council event.
Cr Bella was critical of the mayor and sections of the council when interviewed by the Queensland Country Life, saying he had been “quite literally laughed at” when he brought rural issues up at council meetings.
“This (vegetation management) legislation affects any number of ratepayers growing cattle and farming cane,” he said.
“The mayor went to India to support mining and there’s any number of dollars for tourism.
“The Wagyu conference was put forward as support for rural but the only people who benefited from that were accommodation providers.”
He said that as rural incomes declined, producers were forced to buy more land to get ahead, which meant they were “buying more rates”, and that council rate rises impacted them more.
“We’re just making it harder for the industry that was at the foundation of civilisation,” he said.