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    Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Digital Technology and Minister for Sport
    The Honourable Mick de Brenni

    1987 Cabinet Minutes reveal the year Queensland changed forever

    Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Digital Technology and Minister for Sport
    The Honourable Mick de Brenni

    Monday, January 01, 2018

    1987 Cabinet Minutes reveal the year Queensland changed forever

    Minister for Digital Technology Mick de Brenni today released the 1987 Queensland Cabinet Minutes, shedding light on one of the most tumultuous years of Government in Queensland’s history.

    The landmark year in the history Queensland politics saw strained relations with Bob Hawke’s federal government, the start of the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the downfall of long-serving premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

    “1987 had it all: the Phil Dickie articles in the Courier Mail, Joh for PM, the Moonlight State, a poorly timed trip to Disneyland, raids on Universities for their condom vending machines and an unlikely friendship with a ruthless dictator,” Mr de Brenni said. 

    “A new age of sunlight was dawning in Queensland, as the curtains were closing on one of Australia’s most notorious political careers.” 


    A Cabinet of chaos and tyranny

    Mr de Brenni said the Cabinet minutes showed the chaotic agenda of the Cabinet with the Premier forcing his Ministers to regularly make decisions on more than 50 submissions in a meeting, often presented without prior warning.

    The Cabinet deliberated over 2811 submissions throughout the year.

    The Cabinet minutes for 1987 highlight key political moments of Queensland history, from the submission by Acting Premier Bill Gunn on 25 May to appoint Tony Fitzgerald QC as a commissioner of inquiry into allegations about the Queensland Police Force to Sir Joh’s final Cabinet submission on 30 November.

    “In stark contrast to the professional and consultative Cabinet of today, Sir Joh continued to run his Cabinet with an iron fist,” Mr de Brenni said.

    “He continued to restrict the circulation of Cabinet papers to a select few Ministers and refused his Ministers Departmental briefings on the matters before them.

    “The Cabinet documents show that Premier Bjelke-Petersen’s preference for unannounced oral submissions continued, even as his relationship with his Cabinet colleagues became terminal.”

    In the final month of the year when Premier Mike Ahern began to chair Cabinet, the processes of autocratic power wielded by the Premier and Treasury in the Cabinet room began to change with the implementation of a Budget Review Committee and an Expenditure Review Committee.


    Controversial development

    The 1987 Cabinet Decisions also shed light on some of the more controversial development activities at the time.

    “A significant amount of time was devoted to development issues, many of which raised eyebrows,” Mr de Brenni said.

    “The proposal for the World’s Tallest Building continued to feature on the agenda, as did the infamous redevelopment of Port Office site and the brown paper bags which would later become prominent in the trial of Bjelke-Peterson.”


    Coal and the Communist dictator

    In August 1987 the Premier led a delegation to Romania, meeting with the despotic communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in the interests of brokering a coal deal.

    “Joh wanted to sell 2 million tonnes of coking coal to the Romanians who didn’t have the cash to pay. They suggested a barter deal returning oil, fertiliser and trains amongst other things.

    “Ultimately the deal fell through although Ceausescu did accept the Premier’s invitation to visit Queensland for Expo ’88.

    “Ceausescu and his wife Elena took up the offer, despite Joh’s political demise in December 1987 and the madcap nature of their trip will forever be enshrined in Queensland political lore.”

    The Ceausescus were executed by firing squad soon after in 1989.


    Steps both forward and back on health

    Cabinet decisions involving public health and safety campaigns were notable, including the warnings on cigarette packages and the results of Queensland’s first random alcohol breath testing trial.

    And while the Grim Reaper advertising campaign was raising the prominence of Australia’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, Queensland continued an ultraconservative approach to gay rights and sexual health.

    “Many Queenslanders will remember the university raids to confiscate condom vending machines,” Mr de Brenni said.

    “While the nation was progressing a strategy of working non-judgementally with communities at risk of HIV transmission, Queensland’s social cringe continued.

    “These decisions indicate a significant tension between Health Minister Mike Ahern and some of his more conservative colleagues over these issues, no doubt exacerbating the tensions that would see Ahern become Premier before the year was out.”


    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander discrimination

    Indigenous affairs was a key issue, with Cabinet documents noting the Queensland Government agreed to cooperate with a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, but was unwilling to contribute financially to the inquiry costs.

    The government did however allocate additional funding to legally oppose Eddie Mabo’s land rights claim.

    Cabinet also determined that it would no longer meet its previous commitment to pay award wages to Indigenous workers employed by the Department of Community Services, as a cost cutting measure. 

    The 1987 Cabinet Minutes will be available to the public at Queensland State Archives at Runcorn from Tuesday 2 January 2018 and on the State Archives website from Monday 1 January 2018.



    Media Contact: Tristan Douglas 0447 164 197