The Guardian 4 May, 2005

Johannes Bjelke-Petersen:
Lest We Forget

David Matters

"He always put Queensland first". So the slogan of the Gerrymander-elected government is now being used to foster a rewrite of a shameful period of Queensland’s history.

Any criminal conduct and corruption under his reign are swept under the carpet. The "brown paper bag" attitude to development is washed from history as simply the actions of an eager supporter of Queensland.

Then there is the historic SEQEB (South East Queensland Electricity Board) struggle in 1985, where electrical workers refused to sign individual contracts. Bjelke Petersen stated that he intended "to keep the lights turned on". Many of the 1000 workers sacked lost both their jobs and entitlements and were never compensated. The shameful sacking of the railway workers a few years earlier when striking for a 38-hour week, is completely ignored. Queenslanders who fought for the democratic rights to street marches and free public expression are not mentioned or are simply fobbed off as "protestors".

The racist Torres Straight Islanders and Aboriginal Act of 1974 is ignored. The brutal treatment of Indigenous people coupled with bashings and almost nightly arrests is forgotten. Some casual references to the destruction of historical sites make it seem as though it was just an argument over progress.

The brutal assault on the anti-Apartheid demonstration at the Windmill Tower and the hideous police encampments during the Commonwealth Games are not mentioned except in a cleansed and sterilised version. It is no wonder, as they played straight man to Petersen’s insulting buffoonery.

There was no shortage of sensational headlines at the time, with exposures of illegal gambling, prostitution, drug dealing and the fixing of horse racing. The deaths in the Southport watch house were labelled as "no suspicious circumstances".

Special Branch

And let us not forget our friends in the Special Branch who had accrued files on one in ten Queenslanders. The absolute harassment that occurred from this special police force of political and union and other activists from all sectors of society and the corrupt use of these files to blackmail some. The letters to employers advising of "undesirables" in their workforce.

The absolute ban on live music venues in Brisbane. The attacks by police on independent radio station 4ZZZ and the live concerts. The harassment of youth, Indigenous people and progressives in their day to day activities.

The use of the state award system to hold wages below the national average.

The economic development of Queensland actually progressed despite the corruption, in fact it was because of this corruption that some high profile businessmen actually added their weight to campaigns against the corruption and cronyism. The growth of the economy has actually proceeded at a better pace since the exposure of the corruption and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. The police force is actually a better institution to deal with on day to day matters.

The great farce of history is the toad-like behaviour of the current Labor Premier who has the hide to use tax payers’ money on a state funeral.

Let’s hear from those who were the victims of this government. Those arrested, sacked, bashed, forced from their homes and the state of Queensland by the extremely reactionary government.

Let us also note that two former leading lights of the Labor Party are in prison, a place that Joh would have been but for the actions of a certain juror, a paid up member of Joh’s defence committee. It should be noted that one of those members in prison always seemed to go missing at times when a vote and loss for the government might be on the cards. We can only wonder if the special branch had a particular file on this member.

Those who did not live in Queensland or through that era may find it hard to understand how such a regime did exist and just how all aspects of life were affected by this government. Perhaps they find the anger in this article strong but be assured that it is only a mild reflection of this shameful period.

Simply imagine that police have the right to commit you to life in a mental institution. Can frame you on crimes you did not commit, follow your every movement. Photograph you at anytime anywhere they please or just simply intimidate you at their discretion. Contact your employer and tell them anything that they see fit to tell them.

That was for the white Australians, another level 10 times more extreme was reserved for our Aboriginal cousins. They were subjected to the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Act under which all aspects of their life was controlled by an act of parliament. This included where they could live and how they could spend the money that they had earned.

Those who play this game of toning down the Bjelke-Petersen government and the criminal anti-people, anti-worker, racist and thoroughly corrupt regime are themselves criminally assaulting democracy.

We must not allow this outrage to occur.

I only had from 1978-87 to endure this regime and its successors, the Ahern 1987-91 and Borbidge 1997-99. Others suffered longer and worse than I have portrayed in this short piece.

I urge people to not forget and to understand why some of us are uncharacteristically happy about a death — the death of a tyrant.

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