Under Bjelke-Petersen Queensland seemed like a separate nation. The “Queensland is different” mantra became the accepted wisdom.Yet Bjelke-Petersen was more than just the product of Queensland’s particularism. By exploiting and exaggerating traditional Queensland separatism he crafted a political environment that sustained him. Ironically, the economic and social bases that underpinned “Queenslandism” underwent significant change during the Bjelke-Petersen era.
The state became wealthier, better educated, less rural, and its population grew rapidly as a result of interstate migration.
Most importantly, its economy diversified from the dominance of primary and extractive industries to include a vibrant tertiary sector. All of this occurred on the watch of a Country Party premier.
The political effect of these changes did not become fully apparent until after Bjelke-Petersen had been removed. In fact, right up to his demise Queensland exhibited some features of “Banana republicanism”.
Bjelke-Petersen’s contempt for Parliament and the conventional constraints on executive power was notorious and, when he effectively awarded himself a knighthood in 1984, the official citation’s reference to his belief in parliamentary democracy was risible.
In fact, under his near-two-decade rule Queensland came as close to an authoritarian state as could be imagined within the democratic Australian federation.
Costar argues that Bjelke-Petersen’s modernisation of the state undermined the social basis for his rule, and for its “difference” from other states. There’s no doubt that’s true with regard to urban Queensland in the South-East, and the place certainly has a very different feel from how it did even in the 80s, but I’d question whether the distinctive political culture of Canberra-bashing, agrarian socialism and government by mateship has disappeared. It still plays well in the regions, and the traditional strong leadership theme is very much incarnated by Peter Beattie, buttressed by an overwhelming Parliamentary majority. Nor – in great contrast to other states – did we ever really do privatisation here. Is Queensland still different?
I can remember being in Adelaide just before the 2001 election up here, and explaining to people that Beattie would win in a landslide despite revelations of dodgy electoral practices in the ALP and a CJC investigation. Beattie almost ran against his own party, and embodied the persona of the strong Queensland leader prepared to cleanse the Augean stables even at his own cost. Particularly when the National Party destroyed Rob Borbidge’s campaign by contradicting him on preferences to ON, it was a lay down misere. The South Australian folk were rather puzzled. Reasonably?
Update: m c gregg has an interesting post with interesting comments on Brisbane in the Joh era and after, which reminded me of my Troppo post on the ghosts who haunt the Valley. Warning: a number of limes died and gins were consumed during the writing of the latter post.