Queensland celebrated its 150th birthday as an independent State at the weekend with one News Ltd newspaper profiling 150 icons “who we believe played the greatest role in defining Queensland”.
The Townsville Bulletin ended the suspense on Saturday by announcing the winner of its competition to find the greatest Queensland’s icon: “After much deliberation, we’ve chosen the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson at No 1 on our list of 150 Queensland icons,” the paper boomed.
Ian Fraser told readers: “The Townsville Bulletin has chosen Sir Joh as the most notable and iconic figure in Queensland’s 150-year history because his stubborn parochialism yielded progress and prosperity for the whole state.”
As a piece of historical revisionism this is epic and absurd. In reality, Bjelke-Peterson was thoroughly corrupt and his National Party administration brought the whole of Queensland into ridicule and contempt.
He was very lucky not to end up behind bars for perjury. His criminal trial ended in a hung jury — 11 jurors believe he was guilty but one juryman didn’t and it was revealed later that he was a Young National and unswerving Joh loyalist.
However, Joh’s handpicked police commissioner Terry Lewis was jailed for corruption and was stripped of his knighthood. Other members of his government were also convicted following the royal commission led by Tony Fitzgerald QC which had the task of cleaning out the Augean stables of corrupt developers, pimps, prostitutes, bent coppers and race fixers.
Bjelke-Peterson gerrymandered the electoral system so that even when a majority of Queenslanders voted for other parties, he remained in office.
He trashed civil liberties, made war on trade unions, dismissed Aboriginal land rights out of hand and sent hundreds of professionals — academics, doctors, journalists, architects, engineers, teachers and scientists — scurrying interstate or overseas to escape the State’s intellectual and cultural backwardness.
The corrupt cops were a law unto themselves and Sir Joh’s clique grew fatter than a Queensland copper’s wallet on backhanders from developers, both local and Japanese.
A comprehensive source of information on Sir Joh’s Queensland can be found in Evan Whitton’s 1989 book “The Hillbilly Dictator”, a work that appears to have escaped the attention of paper known locally as “The Bully“.
Behind the hayseed image created by his handlers, Sir Joh was rat cunning, ruthless and greedy. To give him the status of Queensland’s greatest icon is a stupendous misjudgment and an insult to the journalists who helped expose the rottenness of his administration — the late Andrew Olle, Tony Koch, Chris Masters, Evan Whitton, Marian Wilkinson, Alan Ramsey, Wendy Bacon, Mike Willesee, Brian Toohey, Laurie Oakes, David Marr and Quentin Dempster to name just a few.
The good citizens of Townsville won’t be impressed by the newspaper’s imbecilic resurrection of Sir Joh either: for most of his era they stoically voted for Labor.