With the recent death of Flo Bjelke-Petersen, Senator and husband of Joh, it is worth remembering the corruption-riddled Queensland government that her husband presided over.
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. As Premier, Joe was able to recommend himself for a knighthood
Many people remember Flo as a wonderful woman, mainly because of her pumpkin scones. She spent 18 years in the Federal Senate, to which she was nominated by her husband. There is nothing to suggest she was a particularly talented politician. Just part of the nepotistic Country Party system husband presided over her husband.
Flo and Joh on their wedding day. Many people don’t realise that Joh was born in Dannevirke, NZ.
Joh and Flo’s son, John, inherited his mother’s political talents being preselected on five separate occasions for the Country Party and once for Palmer United, losing every time. Apparently nepotism only gets you so far.
Bjelke-Petersen’s government was maintained in power by a massive gerrymander whereby a vote in a rural electorate was worth twice as much as a vote in a city electorate. His government was never democratically elected.
It was also wracked by corruption. The Minister of Roads, Russ Hinze, owned all the quarries that supplied the gravel that went into the state’s roads. The Minister of Police, Sir Terry Lewis (knighted by Petersen) was jailed for corruption. The Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption effectively brought down Bjelke-Petersen and his government
Here is a brief list of the more egregious acts of the Bjelke-Petersen government
- Came to power by threatening to pull the Country party (as the Nationals were then called) from the Coalition.
- Ignored longstanding traditions and protocols when appointing senators to fill vacancies in the federal upper house, including rejecting the opposition’s nominee and appointing Bjelke-Petersen’s own. His appointment of Albert Field became one of the dominos that led to the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.
- Wielded “state of emergency” declarations as a political weapon to put down dissent.
- Declared a month-long state of emergency to head off anti-apartheid demonstrations during the Springboks’ 1971 tour.
- Banned street marches entirely in 1978.
- Opposed Medicare, which the premier saw as socialism.
- Encouraged the creation of a police state, where opponents and journalists were regularly harassed by uniformed police.
- Openly supported police strong-arm tactics, including the raid of a north Queensland commune where officers burned huts for being “poisonous”.
- Withdrew advertising from a newspaper that printed critical articles, redirecting it to rivals.
- Launched publicly funded defamation actions against opposition MPs.
- Blocked Indigenous groups from being able to own large tracts of land.
- Bjelke-Petersen told one of his ministers (who later forced him out as premier) to allow HIV to wipe out Indigenous communities.
- Banned condom machines, public safe sex campaigns and school sex education programs during the HIV crisis.
- Emboldened the police commissioner, Terry Lewis (later jailed for corruption), to crack down on the gay and lesbian community; attempted to ban gay men – who were publicly denounced as “deviants” – tried, as other states were decriminalising homosexuality, to make Queensland the first jurisdiction to make being a lesbian illegal.
- Repeatedly warned that “southern homosexuals” were attempting to take control of Queensland.
- Demolished historic buildings, including Brisbane’s much loved Bellevue Hotel, which was destroyed in the middle of the night after public outcry.
- Oversaw raids on suspected abortion clinics.
- Tried to ban women from flying to New South Wales or Victoria if it was suspected they wanted to terminate a pregnancy.
- Fought the 40-hour working week.
- Published the names and addresses of striking electrical workers and encouraged public harassment of them.
- Later sacked 1,100 striking electrical workers, only hiring back those who signed no-strike contracts with worse conditions.
- Was responsible for large tracts of infrastructure, including dams, major expressways and universities (which most likely would still have been built) but oversaw the culture that created the “white shoe brigade” among developers, particularly on the Gold Coast, where bribes for special treatment became common.
Bjelke-Petersen was charged with perjury for evidence he gave at the Fitzgerald Inquiry, but his 1991 trial ended in a hung jury, the vote being split 10-2.
Later it was revealed that the one of those votes was jury foreman, Luke Shaw, a member of the Young Nationals ( Joh’s Party renamed Country Party) and a member of the “Friends of Joh” movement. Joh would later triumphantly claim that the jury had returned a “not guilty” verdict.
Lady Bjelke-Petersen said in 1994 “they would have plonked” her late husband in jail had not Mr Shaw been on the jury.
How Luke Shaw got on to the jury panel is a mystery and travesty of justice.
Bjelke-Petersen should have ended his days in jail.