Qld Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen with deputy Bill Gunn.
Qld Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen with deputy Bill Gunn. SUPPLIED

Space ports and dictators: Weird, watershed year revealed

IN the year 1987 Queensland's mining exports overtook agriculture.

Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen fell from grace after a Disneyland trip.

And cabinet examined a Cape York space port.

Cabinet minutes released on New Year's Day from a 30-year embargo shed light on the year Queensland earned the Moonlight State moniker for vice and corruption.

Media investigations about unchecked graft would trigger the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which Acting Premier Bill Gunn instigated in May when his boss was visiting Disneyland.

But before that, Cabinet had plenty on its plate. The economy was spluttering, with unemployment at 11 per cent, and solutions elusive.

Just as coal mines fire up debate today, deals involving the fossil fuel were a hot topic in 1987.

Never mind Adani - the State Archives documents show Mr Bjelke-Petersen tried brokering deals with, of all people, distasteful Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.

The main purpose of the August trip, Bjelke-Petersen told Cabinet, was to discuss future coal exports.

The Premier planned selling 2 million tonnes of coking coal to the Romanians, who suggested paying mining companies with oil, steel, machines and locomotives.

"The challenge was to find local coal producers interested in the deal," State Archives researchers said.

Digital Technology Minister Mick de Brenni said the former Premier and Ceausescu both had dictatorial tendencies.

By the end of the decade, both would be deposed, and the coal deal dead.

"A racy story of intrigue" is how Mr De Brenni described 1987 for the Cabinet.

Sir Joh's August overseas jaunt also included a visit to London, where he met with Margaret Thatcher to discuss privatisation.

The sale of state assets, including bridges, toll roads and the Fish Board were among proposed solutions to economic doldrums.

So too was the Cape York International Space Port, with Cabinet approving $300,000 for a feasibility study in February.

The space port was repeatedly discussed throughout the year - but never took off.

Meanwhile, Queensland Health said $2.26m was needed to fund AIDS treatment and prevention programs.

But in July, Cabinet refused to provide that amount.

The Premier also opposed extending condom distribution to tackle the crisis.

 

Stories from 1987 on display.
Stories from 1987 on display. JOHN WEEKES

Bjelke-Petersen once reportedly shook with rage, yelling at Health Minister Mike Ahern for not acting against student unions with condom vending machines.

In September, police raided UQ and Griffith to remove the machines.

In December, condom machines were returned to both campuses, and Ahern was Premier.

Griffith researchers describe Bjelke-Petersen's final act in Cabinet on November 30.

"A day before Bjelke-Petersen resigned, his oral submission discussed what to do with the surplus funds left over from Queensland's unsuccessful bid to host the Olympic Games - an ignoble end to what had been a long and controversial career."

'A man out of time'

ANTI-UNION sentiments permeated the government but "agrarian socialism" is how Griffith researchers described the benefits some farmers enjoyed in 1987.

Cabinet repeatedly discussed help for sugar cane growers, and in September, pledged $102,162 for tramworks at Babinda Cooperative Sugar Mill provided a federal grant of twice that much was met.

The Peanut Marketing Board also got help, with Cabinet forgiving more than $1.7 million in loans the industry received.

And though minerals overtook agricultural products as the state's biggest export earner, the government was quick to act when the United States threatened to ban Queensland beef imports.

American concerns over chemical residues prompted Cabinet to immediately ban the use of DDT in primary industry and clamp down on other pesticides.

Half the 18 National Party cabinet ministers were farmers or graziers, but 79 per cent of Queenslanders lived in cities.

Griffith researchers said that was one reflection of a government - and premier - increasingly out of touch.

Jennifer Menzies from Griffith's Policy Innovation Hub said Bjelke-Petersen's days were clearly numbered.

"He was a man out of time." - NewsRegional



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