UGLY END TO JOH’S DYNASTY
Push for PM campaign and Fitzgerald Inquiry hastened curtain on almost 20 years as Queensland Premier
THE final downfall of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a long time coming and began 30 years ago this week.
The long-reigning premier had held the reins in Queensland for nearly 20 years but by October 1987, things were not going well.
Despite winning yet another term in power just a year earlier, Sir Joh found himself skating on thin ice and facing a revolt from his own party.
Central to their concern was his long absence from the state earlier in the year during his failed ‘Joh for PM’ campaign which ended up putting a full-stop the federal Liberal-National Coalition and keeping the Opposition from the government benches for another nine years.
The constant and astonishing revelations spinning out of the Fitzgerald Inquiry detail the government’s corrupt and close relationship with police and vice figures were also proving to be highly damaging.
After a particularly bad meeting of the parliamentary party on October 7, 1987, Sir Joh moved to avert the immediate threat of a leadership spill by warning his colleagues “if I go, you go”.
He told the Nationals they would face another election if he was challenged for the leadership, sparking fears of a constitutional crisis.
But Gold Coast MP and Local Government Minster Russ Hinze, a self-declared contender for the premiership when Sir Joh retired, said he was prepared to bet on his boss opening Expo 88.
Under pressure, Sir Joh was forced to make a dramatic announcement – he would step down as Premier on August 8, 1988, his 20th anniversary in office.
“I was always against setting a date,” he said.
“However, to end confusion and speculation, I do so now.
“The date chosen means I will still play my role at Expo, also in the Cape York spaceport, the eastern European coal deals and a new coal port in our state and many other projects that are planned.”
Two senior ministers and eight backbenchers told the Bulletin the August date was “unacceptable” to the party.
A backbencher said Sir Joh was so unpredictable he would not like to see him continue for nearly a year. Some were so upset by his threat they were pushing for him to be gone before the end of parliamentary sittings that month.
Labor leader Nev Warburton asked Sir Joh if he had held discussions with the government about calling an early poll.
“Doesn’t this irresponsible threat of an election show that your only concern is, and has been, for yourself and not for Queensland as you would have people believe?” he asked.
The relief for Sir Joh proved short-lived – he remained in office another seven weeks before being forced out by his own colleagues.
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen endured some dark times in the final days of his almost 20-year reign as Queensland Premier.
Joh wanted to be at the helm for the hugely successful Expo 88 in Brisbane but was forced out of office the previous year.
Tom Burns (left) and Nev Wharburton celebrate one year of a Labor Government in Queensland after many years in opposition.