Former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen: famous for 'don't you worry about that'.
Former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen: famous for 'don't you worry about that'. Sunshine Coast Daily Archives

Qld in 1985: 'Don't you worry about that'

WE THOUGHT 1985 was all about big shoulder pads and even bigger hair.

But newly-released Queensland Government Cabinet minutes from 30 years ago reveal it was more about big secrets for the premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

It was the National Party stalwart's 17th year in the top job and his autocratic approach and renowned "don't you worry about that" response whenever questioned were well established.

Queensland State Archives' Dr Jonathan Richards said undeclared conflicts of interest were peppered throughout the minutes.

"The official misconduct later uncovered by the Fitzgerald Inquiry was in full swing," he said.

"For example, in September 1985 Cabinet members agreed to 'correct' the purchase price of land for a Gladstone shopping centre from $300,000 to $170,000 and to refund the difference to the developer."

But indigenous land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo did not find Sir Joh and his peers so generous.

There were several secret Cabinet decisions made surrounding legislation to thwart Mr Mabo's native title claim to the Torres Strait island of Mer, where he was born.

Caricature of Joh Bjelke-Petersen made by the student ALP club at the University of Queensland. Designed by Matt Mawson and published by UQ Union. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet5
Caricature of Joh Bjelke-Petersen made by the student ALP club at the University of Queensland. Designed by Matt Mawson and published by UQ Union. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet5

Ministers approved the preparation of a draft bill intended to "put beyond doubt some matters where there might be room for argument on Queensland's position or its powers" and authorised extensive historical research to counter Mr Mabo's claim.

Cabinet also introduced the Queensland Coasts Declaratory Bill that declared islands annexed by Queensland "became the wastelands of the Crown".

It was before the Liberal and National parties joined forces and the former was merely a minor opposition party.

Sir Joh's Cabinet tried to keep its National Party solo and consolidate its power by secretly approving a bill to create seven additional seats in the areas where the party held sway.

The Nationals refused to release their submission for the Electoral Districts Bill, which was passed after midnight and described as the "greatest gerrymander in Australia".

The Bjelke-Petersen government saw its greatest enemy, apart from unions, as the Commonwealth Government, regardless of which party was leading the country.

A Courier Mail cartoon about the 1985 Bjelke-Petersen government's bill to add seven seats in National Party areas. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet3
A Courier Mail cartoon about the 1985 Bjelke-Petersen government's bill to add seven seats in National Party areas. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet3

The State Government believed it was being shortchanged by Canberra, and starved of resources in a way that was "out of sync" with the state's emerging status as one of the major thermal coal mining and exporting regions in the Pacific.

At the time, mining was only an expanding sector - especially for coal.

When the government could not secure funding for capital works and infrastructure to boost the mining boom through Commonwealth grants, it borrowed and raised government fees and charges - most of which went up by about 10% in 1985.

Some of the government's ideas to scrimp and save were completely off the planet.

In December, Cabinet agreed to establish a committee to investigate whether street lights and other bright outdoor lights could be turned off during the passing of Halley's Comet in April 1986.

But the comet visible to the naked eye every 75 or 76 years was not the only worldwide event garnering the government's attention.

The Cabinet made several moves to stop the spread of AIDS and placate community concern following US film star Rock Hudson's high profile death from an AIDS-related illness.

One of the decisions to stop the spread of AIDS was to test all prisoners and allocate a "specialised protective area" at Wacol Prison.

But the Cabinet rejected Health Minister Brian Austin's recommendation to rescind a statewide ban on condom vending machines.

In March, Welfare Services Minister Geoff Muntz criticised "the use of public swimming pools by the gay community", saying "you'll never hear of a gay mardi gras or gay swimming carnival in Queensland".

Two months later police raided two abortion clinics and took thousands of patients' medical files.

Although Sir Joh and his team's knowledge of the events was questioned, Dr Richards said there were no references to the raid in records.

It was also the year the Premier conceded it "might be a good idea" to have a woman in Cabinet, with Yvonne Chapman becoming the first female minister in 1986.

A selfie of 2015 Palaszczuk government female MPs, including several ministers. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet4
A selfie of 2015 Palaszczuk government female MPs, including several ministers. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet4

Fast forward to 2015 and women make up half of Queensland's Cabinet, while the state's premier and deputy premier are women - perhaps the State's longest-serving premier's "don't you worry about that" slogan and assurances he knew what was best for Queensland was right.

The minutes will be available to the public at QSA and on the archives' website, archives.qld.gov.au, from January 4. - APN NEWSDESK

An advertisement for a $3000 Telecom computer phone in a 1985 Courier Mail newspaper. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet3
An advertisement for a $3000 Telecom computer phone in a 1985 Courier Mail newspaper. Contributed / QLD301215cabinet3

FACT BOX

IT'LL COST YA... IN 1985

Computer phone $3000

Local phone call 16 cents

Loaf of bread 77 cents

Petrol 53 cents/litre

Source: Queensland State Archives

Trevor Veale

QUIRKY AND CONTROVERSIAL CABINET DECISION EXAMPLES

Koala rehab in Japan

Dimming Brisbane lights during Halley's Comet passing

Turkey power station investment

Sapphire to be "state gem"

Mail scanning - secret

1992 Olympic Games bid

Meat rabbit industry - rejected

Source: Queensland State Archives

 

Adventuring Fraser Island - The Fraser Venture barge, River Heads. Photo: Valerie Horton / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Adventuring Fraser Island - The Fraser Venture barge, River Heads. Photo: Valerie Horton / Fraser Coast Chronicle Valerie Horton

CABINET DECISION EXAMPLES

Sunshine Coast square-dancing centre

Airlie Beach marina proposal

Fraser Island Access Bill

Wacol to supply frozen food to hospitals

CQ coal and infrastructure study

Agnes Waters and Town of 1770 electricity supply

Source: Queensland State Archives



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