UGLY END TO JOH’S DY­NASTY

Push for PM cam­paign and Fitzger­ald In­quiry has­tened cur­tain on al­most 20 years as Queens­land Pre­mier

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - LIFESTYLE -

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.

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