The Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard rolls on after another extraordinary day in Australia politics. Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean fell on his sword after his ‘circuit breaker’ call for a spill failed to flush out Kevin Rudd. In the week leading up to the vote, the party remained solidly behind Gillard while the media bought the “Rudd BS” as Mark Latham called it. Latham said Rudd’s politics were based on the “whatever it takes” culture instilled in the party by 1980s numbers man Graham Richardson.
Latham was never a fan of Rudd, but he was right the former Prime Minister always had a healthy dose of whatever it takes, hidden only slightly behind very thin skin. A few days ago he used the bravura of a St Patrick’s Day speech to make an Ides of March declaration “I will challenge…”. The pause that came before the rest: “…any of the Liberals present to claim to have a greater Irish heritage than me” hid the real punchline: It was Gillard’s job he was challenging for. Just as Rudd’s Irishness is fake, today he proved he was no Cassius either. After consulting his backers, he realised he didn’t have the numbers again and decided not to contest the ballot. Rudd painted his decision as “honouring his word” not to challenge.
Gillard won her third ballot as leader, the two unopposed ballots sandwiching her one victory over Rudd last year. Television screens which boasted ‘non-stop coverage of the Labor leadership’ fixed on the sombre Prime Minister as she faced the Canberra press gallery after the vote. Over the whirring and clicking from photographers, Gillard said she would make a statement but would not take questions today, because “there is very much work to do”.
Gillard thanked the caucus for its continued support. She accepted it as Prime Minister and Labor leader, not because she sought office for its own sake, but to help Australia meet it challenges. Gillard repeated they had a lot of work to do to ensure “jobs and opportunity” and to ensure they were “getting ready for the future”.
Gillard outlined the Government’s purpose: implementing the NBN, rolling out Disability Care, fighting cost of living pressures, and above all increasing access to “world class education”. Gillard said the leadership battle was settled in the most conclusive way possible. “It has ended now.” Gillard said they would be getting on with the job “in a few minutes” and handed over to deputy PM, Wayne Swan, also re-elected unopposed.
Swan said there was strong support for the PM in the party room. “This Prime Minister is a tough leader, and a leader who is a great champion for our country and for the reforms that are required to create future prosperity,” Swan said. “Today’s result does end these matters once and for all.” Swan also ended with the promise to get back to work. After all, he has a budget to prepare.
Expect this mantra of “work” to be used a lot in the coming months as Labor clears the decks for the September election. But don’t expect the press gallery to pay any notice. Joe Hildebrand set the tone with a vicious attack on Gillard’s regime, outing himself as a Rudd supporter in the process: “For an electrifying few hours this week there was the tantalising prospect that Labor was not hurtling towards certain oblivion and there was a chance, however remote, that it might actually win the next election on the back of a resurgent Kevin Rudd.”
Hildebrand was right about the disaster of Rudd’s panicked overthrow in 2010 for which Labor is repenting at leisure. But putting Rudd back in now would be beyond panic. Electoral defeat in 2013 is still the likely outcome for either leader, given the polls and the contempt of the press gallery. Today’s events show how much Rudd is still detested in the party for his overwhelming ego and his chronic failures to consult as leader.
Our media hurtled further towards irrelevance this week with an exaggerated response to modest proposals to strengthen an under-regulated industry. It followed Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s response last week to the Convergence Review and Finkelstein Inquiry. The Convergence Review was about policy and regulatory frameworks in a converged media and communications landscape while Finkelstein examined media codes of practice in the Internet era.
Conroy proposed five reforms to deal with issues raised in both inquiries. They were: a beefed-up press standards model for print and online news media, the introduction of a Public Interest Test for mergers and acquisitions policed for diversity by a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA), upgrading the ABC and SBS charters for online and digital activities, allocating the sixth free-to-air channel to community television and offering rebates for more Australian content.
Conroy proposed three other reforms be sent to parliamentary committee: The abolition of the 75% local reach rule, on-air reporting of ACMA regulation breaches and whether ACMA should consider news program supply agreements when determining control of a commercial television broadcasting service.
University professor and media policy commentator Terry Flew calls the reforms low key and a “very cautious, and in many ways piecemeal” response to the two inquiries. “It has probably not modernised media laws sufficiently to ‘tackle the challenges of the future’, although it does make some overdue changes to existing law,” Flew said.
But the Australian media saw the five proposals as an assault on freedom of speech. The Sydney Telegraph put Conroy in a rogues gallery of dictators likening him to Stalin, Mao, Castro, Kim, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad. News Ltd group editorial director Campbell Reid defended the Telegraph’s chutzpah as a “provocative tabloid presentation of an incredibly provocative act by a Government.” The Telegraph later issued an “apology” for printing a picture of Conroy dressed as Stalin. The apology was to Stalin who although “a despicable and evil tyrant who was responsible for the death of many millions,” he at least was “upfront” in his efforts to control the media.
This notion of control was picked up by many of the Tele’s News stablemates. Without a scrap of evidence, the Herald Sun turned Conroy’s package into “a deplorable assault on freedom of speech.” This glossed over assaults on freedom of speech by the company that owns half the Australian media landscape.
James Paterson expressed his bosses’ view at The Australian about the real purpose: to punish and rein in the federal government’s critics in the media. News Ltd boss Kim Williams said the proposals were “government sanctioned journalism” and “dangerous policy” while the PIMA would be an “unnecessary novel creation”. Fairfax boss Greg Hyland was more measured but saw the PIMA as a bridge too far.
Conroy described Williams’ reaction as “hysterical”. He quoted at length from both inquiries from submissions which went to the heart of News Ltd’s huge penetration in the Australian market – something News was unwilling to admit was an issue. Conroy admitted the public interest test was contentious but News and Fairfax had 86% of the market, “one of the most concentrated media sectors in the world.”
In many respects the battle is irrelevant. Conroy has joined the bald Williams in fighting over a comb. Only a few media commentators like Alan Kohler understood the pointlessness of the struggle. He says regulating for diversity and complaint handling is irrelevant and unnecessary in a world moving past the monoliths of print and broadcasting.
“Rebuilding trust with customers and keeping it is the greatest of all the challenges facing the media in the digital age, and dealing properly with complaints is an important part of doing that,” Kohler said. “The pity of it is that the PIMA and the complaints handling body will probably just be another set of slow, clanking bureaucracies that serve only to highlight the contempt that much of the media have for their customers.”
The ancient Irish city of Waterford has survived four major sieges in the last millennium. Each siege left its mark on the city and the course of Irish history. The first siege in 1170 raised by “Strongbow” the Earl of Pembroke, hastened the beginning of English rule in Ireland. Two years later King Henry II arrived in Waterford to claim Ireland for the crown and seek obeisance from all Irish kings and bishops. The second (and only unsuccessful) siege occurred in 1495 when the Earl of Desmond attempted to foist Perkin Warbeck as the York pretender to the English Tudor throne. The resistance of Waterford earned it the motto “urbs intacta manet” (“remains the untaken city”) from another grateful King Henry, the seventh. The third and longest siege was during Cromwell’s Irish reign of terror. For almost a year, his armies isolated the city and thousands died of starvation and disease before General Ireton accepted its exhausted surrender in August 1650.
The fourth siege came in the warm summer of 1922. While the weather was glorious, it was an ugly time for Ireland cutting itself to pieces in a murderous civil war. The new Free State government besieged Waterford in its campaign to defeat the rebels after the divisive treaty with the British government. The odds were stacked against the rebels. The Free State army had British artillery and the support of the church, the press and the industrial barons. However, the defenders had military expertise as the majority of IRA officers supported anti-Treaty forces. The south of Ireland bore the brunt of the conflict and Waterford’s turn began on 18 July.
A West Waterford man named Pax Whelan led Anti-Treaty forces in the city. They were poorly organised and content to wait for the attack. No attempt was made to secure the heights above the city north of the river at Mount Misery. Anti-Treaty forces were instructed to operate independently in their own areas leading to slipshod communication and there was no overall plan. By contrast, the Free Staters were much better prepared, led by former American cavalry officer Colonel John T. Prout and assisted by local men Paddy Paul and James McGrath. Paul was a gunnery officer in WW1 and then joined the IRA as brigadier of East Waterford. Paul knew his enemy well. He and Whelan worked together during the War of Independence leading the only attack on British forces in Waterford: the unsuccessful ambush at Pickardstown near Tramore in January 1921.
At the end of that war, the new government in Dublin struggled to enforce its authority and on 22 May 1922 they sent Paul with orders to take command of Waterford and secure the barracks. He was promptly arrested by anti-Treaty forces and suffered injuries. Paul managed to escape from the Infirmary Hospital dressed as a nun. He fled back to Dublin to plot the re-capture of Waterford.
By 18 July he was back on Mount Misery overlooking his native city. The attack would not be easy. All approach roads were mined. The rebels were reinforced by volunteers from Cork and Kerry and had seized the barracks and fortified Ballybricken jail. They set up outposts in shops and hotels along the quay, as well as the post office and Reginald’s Tower. They also opened the spans on the road and rail bridges across the Suir. They outnumbered their opponents with 700 defenders in the city facing 550 Free State troops, many of whom had served in the British army. But the Free Staters had power on their side: two artillery pieces including an 18 pounder placed over the railway station and one lighter calibre piece. The 18 pounder was initially hamstrung as it faced rapid fire from the quays and a sniper on Ballybricken hill but would eventually prove to be a devastating difference.
All businesses in the city closed down except the Tramore railway which operated continuously through the four days of the siege. Most townsfolk took advantage of the sunny weather to evacuate to the seaside until the fall of the city. At 6:45pm on Tuesday 18 July the attack began in brilliant sunshine. Paul’s first shell landed near his own home in Newgate St. His mother was working in the kitchen and narrowly avoided injury. But the majority of shells found their mark landing in Barrack St or near the jail.
The guns blazed away for five hours on the first night. The eerie silence that followed was shattered again at 6am the following morning as the guns opened up in excellent visibility. There were many direct hits on the barracks and the jail on top of the hill. Whelan moved his sharpshooters to Bilberry cliffs west of the quay and they managed to keep the attackers pinned down. The defenders inflicted heavy casualties from accurate machine gun fire from the post office on the quay under the command of Ballybricken chemist Pierce Power. But the shelling continued all day.
During a lull in the fire, Prout moved his major artillery piece onto the bridge but was prevented from using it by persistent gunfire from across the river. Prout had to come up with an alternative plan. The following night 150 men led by Captain Ned O’Brien moved east down the Rosslare railway to Giles Quay under the cover of darkness. O’Brien was a journalist for the Waterford News but now he was making the news not reporting it (he would later be killed on patrol in the city). His forces commandeered boats moored at the quay and rowed to the opposite shore where they encountered no resistance. The back door to the city was wide open.
At Newtown school, they ambushed a motorised Anti-Treaty patrol. The attackers captured the car and locked the occupants in the boot. They bypassed a rebel garrison in the park and found a prominent local Unionist known as “Lame” Dobbyn. Dobbyn was anxious to see the Republicans defeated and he gave the intruders the key of the Country Club on the strategic corner of the Mall and the Quay opposite Reginald’s Tower. The men entered the back of the building and overpowered a sleeping garrison. They had secured a vital corner of the city without firing a shot.
At 7:45am the next morning, the intruders opened fire on the Tower across the road and also raked the Mall and the Quays with machine gun fire. The surprise allowed Prout to secure the artillery on the bridge. Its gunfire from close range made the Quay untenable. The republicans retreated to Ballybricken. When a direct hit exploded in the magazine of the artillery barracks that evening, the area had to be evacuated. The end was near.
Whelan gathered his Dungarvan, Cork and Kerry units to escape to the west leaving Jerry Cronin in charge of a small band to defend the city. Cronin’s men retreated to Ballybricken Hill to fight the final battle for Waterford. At 11:50am on Friday 21 July 1922, shellfire breached the jail walls. After some bitter hand-to-hand fighting, Cronin’s forces surrendered. The fourth siege of Waterford was over.
The rebels were dispatched to Kilkenny and Newbridge jails, none taking up the offer to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government and join the Free State army. Prout spent the weekend in an open car with Paul and McGrath touring the city. The two local men pointed out Republicans who had escaped arrest.
Waterford was secure but the civil war dragged on for another year in West Munster. On 24 May 1923 anti-Treaty leaders issued unceremonious orders to “dump arms”. The civil war was over. Three thousand people were dead, and 21,000 prisoners were in jails and internment camps. The war left a legacy of bitterness that infected the Irish polity for decades to come.
Cancer has finally done what internal and American enemies could not: kill Hugo Chavez. The four-times elected Venezuelan president was diagnosed with an abscessed tumour in 2011 and underwent extensive treatment in Cuba. Though he announced himself fully cured last year in time for the October election, doctors found more malignant cells. After two months of treatment in Cuba, he returned home to die.
His death yesterday aged 58 unleashed a wave of international tributes and a flood of emotion in Venezuela. His deputy Nicolas Maduro, who is favoured to win a new election in 30 days, spoke of “the immense pain of this historic tragedy.” Maduro called on Venezuelans to show love, respect and tranquility. “We ask our people to channel this pain into peace,” Maduro said.
Chavez leaves an immense void Maduro will find hard to fill. Chavez has dominated Venezuelan politics for two decades and became a major world political figure. Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was the second of six sons of schoolteachers in the town of Sabaneta in the Western state of Barinas. Older brother Adán Chávez Frías is now the governor of that state. At 17, Hugo Chavez joined the Venezuelan academy of Military Sciences where he achieved Master’s degrees in military science and engineering. Chavez remained in the army and worked his way up to become lieutenant colonel.
While a student, he developed his key philosophy: Bolivarianism, named for the greatest of South America’s generals and fellow Venezuelan Simon Bolivar. Bolivar proclaimed Venezuelan independence from Spain in 1810 and fought running battles with the Spanish over the next 11 years before becoming president of the original republic of Colombia (now Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela). Chavez saw Bolivarianism as promoting the unification of Latin America. In 1999 he changed the constitution and name of the country to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Chavez first came to national prominence in 1992. Venezuela was undergoing a crisis in neo-liberal president Carlos Andres Perez‘s second term. Venezuela’s economic stability was under threat when the Arab countries raised oil production quotas to aid the collapse of the oil revenue-dependent Soviet Union. Prices plummeted and Perez introduced austerity measures. Chavez and fellow officer Francisco Arias Cardenas founded the MBR-200 (Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionaro 200) which plotted to overthrow the government. The coup of February 4, 1992 failed. Chavez had the loyalty of only 10% of the armed forces and failed to take the national TV station. Perez eluded capture and Chavez eventually surrendered. He went to prison but poor Venezuelans saw him as a victim who had stood up against government corruption. Perez was ousted in 1993 and Chavez was pardoned by new president Rafael Caldera in 1994.
In 1998 Chavez campaigned for the presidency and gained significant support from Venezuela’s two largest banks. He won the election with 56% of the popular vote. He immediately got to work on road building, housing construction and mass vaccination. He also halted privatisations of the national social security system, the aluminium industry and the oil sector. He lobbied OPEC to reduce production to increase revenues. He was re-elected with an increased majority in 2000.
In 2002 his reform of the state oil company sparked a military coup. He was replaced and arrested. This sparked massive pro-Chavez protests and condemnation from the rest of South America. Chavez was restored to the leadership in triumph two days later. Only then did the US condemn the coup. British broadsheet The Observer said the coup was linked to three senior US government officials, national security adviser Elliot Abrams, special envoy Otto Reich and intelligence chief John Negroponte.
Internal opposition to Chavez remained fierce. In 2004, Sumate (Spanish for “Join in”), a shadowy volunteer civil association funded by the US State Department, collected millions of signatures and activated the 1999 Constitution’s presidential recall provision. Chavez survived with a 60% ‘no’ vote against the measure.
Chavez used Venezuela’s increasing oil revenues on expanding social programs. Economic activity also picked up markedly, reaching double-digit growth in 2004. He forged links with Argentina’s president Kirchner, China’s Hu, Cuba’s Castro and Iran’s Ahmadinejad. He ordered US troops and Christian missions out of Venezuela in 2005 and gave back 7000 square kilometres of land to Amazonian tribes. He denounced US foreign policy but was the first leader to offer assistance to America after Cyclone Katrina. He told AP, “We place at the disposition of the people of the United States in the event of shortages: we have drinking water, food, we can provide fuel”. His offer was turned down.
Chavez was comfortably re-elected in December 2006 and he set up a commission to review the 1999 constitution. His referendum to include socially progressive reforms was narrowly defeated but he won another referendum to change the law to let him run again in 2012. Despite the downturn in the Venezuelan economy and the increase in crime, he won again easily.
Chavez remained deeply unpopular in elite US circles to the end. The Atlantic announced the death of a “controversial socialist revolutionary who rose to become president of Venezuela on failed promises of elevating the poor.” The New York Times was more nuanced but still judged his legacy as “a governing structure revolving around a single willful, mercurial personality.” President Obama carefully avoided praising Chavez while promising to develop a “constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government”.
Writing in Crikey today, Guy Rundle said the simplistic reporting of Chavez in the west was based on the disjuncture between rich and poor countries that prompted Chavez’s rise to power. “The con job of global neoliberalism, the promise, after the collapse of communism, that playing by the rules of a market-based global system, other countries could join the First World club,” Rundle said. Nicolas Maduro now faces the formidable challenge of steering Venezuela through Chavez’s considerable and complex legacy.
I haven’t yet read The Courier-Mail journalist and author Matthew Condon’s new book Three Crooked Kings about corrupt former Queensland Police boss Terry Lewis.
But given how Lewis was catapulted into power by Joh-Bjelke Petersen and what I’ve recently learned about the 1971 Springbok tour, it was no surprise to hear Condon reveal how politics and police were complicit in creating a ‘law and order’ model for Queensland.
Condon said Bjelke-Petersen secretly told Police Union president Ron Edington he would support their pay claim in the industrial court if they would back him up. Condon’s tale reminds me of a much earlier book about the early years of Bjelke-Peterson’s rule, “Joh” by Hugh Lunn.
Johannes Bjelke-Petersen (“Joh” to friends and foes alike) was Queensland’s longest serving Premier and one of the most controversial Australian politicians of the twentieth century. He was backward, uneducated, socially inept and often unintelligible but he crafted out a long-term premiership that promoted industry under the cloak of law and order.
Joh was born in the small New Zealand North Island town of Dannevirke in 1911, the second son of Danish Lutheran pastor Carl George Bjelke-Petersen and wife Maren. The Bjelke-Petersens moved to Queensland for health reasons and settled in Kingaroy in the South Burnett. They bought a scrub-filled property they named “Bethany” and began to clear the land. Aged nine, Joh was struck down with polio which left one leg a centimetre shorter than the other.
Despite illness, Joh did farm chores every day before and after school. He left school aged 13 to work full time on the farm and he was driven to pay off the bank debt on the family farm. His father put the family deeper into debt by buying a second farm to feed their herd of dairy cows. It was Joh’s job to drive the cows to and from the second property. He also enjoyed reading the bible and struck up a friendship with a local Lutheran pastor who allowed Joh to take the Kingaroy service whenever he was away.
Joh heard peanuts grew well in sandy soils. He overcame his father’s scepticism and cleared the second property to plant peanuts. Without bulldozers, Joh used teams of horses to pull the timber down. He lived in a cow bail on the property where the only furniture was a bed, a meat safe and a box for bread. The frugal cow bail would be his home for 15 years. Joh worked from dawn to dusk every day except Sunday and spent his evenings reading books about self-made men like Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison.
In 1933, aged 22, Joh talked his bank manager into a loan for a tractor. Soon he was on top of his own work and hired his services out to farmers. During the four month peanut harvesting season, Joh’s team would work all the local properties starting at dawn and finishing at 11pm under floodlights. By 1939, Joh was harvesting peanuts in a big way and his polio made him unfit for war service. He moved into the plant equipment business and bought bulldozers to clear the bush. By 1949 he was rich enough to learn to fly. He bought his own plane which gave him great mobility for his business and eventually his political career.
The young entrepreneur was courted by the Country Party and he was elected to Kingaroy Shire Council in 1946. The following year he stood for the vacant Country party state seat of Nanango. Joh won the seat aged 36, and he joined a parliament that had been dominated by Labor for a generation. Joh appeared in the House as a fundamentalist, and in Lunn’s word a “blinkered, Calvinistic and rural” politician. Government members jeered him but he handled himself well and promoted hard work, anti-unionism and an opposition to state controlled socialism.
In 1952, the 40-year-old confirmed bachelor finally married. His bride was Florence Gilmour of Brisbane, the private secretary of the Main Roads Commissioner. Flo had a difficult job to house train Joh but the pair had matching talents. Her administrative skills balanced Joh’s political nous and they became a formidable team.
The non-drinking, non-smoking Joh remained an outsider, even within his own party. In the 1957 state election Labor imploded due to the DLP split and the Country Party swept to power with Joh on the back bench. In 1963 Premier Frank Nicklin made him minister for works and housing. Joh once heckled Nicklin for increasing road transport fees but Nicklin noted Joh had a wide knowledge of “Queensland and its requirements”. In 1968 Nicklin retired and the popular Jack Pizzey was unanimously anointed his successor. New Police Minister Bjelke-Petersen surprisingly won the contest for deputy leader over more fancied opponents. With Pizzey expected to lead for a decade, no one made much of this victory.
Barely six months into his reign, Jack Pizzey died suddenly. Joh was elected unopposed as Country party leader and heir apparent to the premiership. Liberal coalition leader and caretaker Premier Gordon Chalk said he, not Joh, should have the top job. But they voted along party lines and Joh was elected premier 26 votes to 19. His first act was a reading from Scriptures on George St during a Bible readathon.
His elevation to the top job made him a figure of public interest. Newspapers scrutinised share holdings in oil and mining company Comalco and suggested he had done well from government decisions. Joh refused to divest his shares. ABC reporter Allen Callaghan led the media pack against Joh and his party launched a challenge against him. In 1970 Joh stared down a party room revolt and used his own casting vote to avoid the sack.
In 1971 when Joh appointed the poacher as gamekeeper. Callaghan became his new press secretary and his immediate task was to stop the media from seeing Joh as an inept country bumpkin. He seized the opportunity presented by the Springboks Tour. The Springboks arrived amid condemnation of South Africa’s racial policies and their games caused riots in the southern cities.
Joh declared a state of emergency which allowed him to commandeer the RNA venue (and outlaw labour strikes) and he gave police unlimited powers to arrest without warrant. The Trade Hall strikes against the Powers were condemned by the public for disruption of services and hundreds of protesters were baton-charged by police on Wickham Terrace. Callaghan successfully framed the debate as a law and order issue and made Joh look a strong leader. Callaghan also taught Joh the basics of television. Sometimes he would stand behind Joh and give signals when he was going off-beam.
Joh won the propaganda battle and easily retained power in the 1972 State election with the help of the weighting of country votes known as the “bjelkemander”. Yet the Country Party knew they needed to make inroads in metropolitan areas to guarantee continued success. In 1973 they merged with the Queensland DLP and later renamed the new entity the National Party (based on the successful NZ party of that name).
In 1972, Gough Whitlam won the Federal election, Labor’s first win since 1949. Joh became Whitlam’s most implacable opponent attacking the government on every issue. In 1974 the Whitlam government was one short of a senate majority and tried to remove an opponent. They made DLP senator (and former Queensland Labor Premier) Vince Gair ambassador to Ireland so an extra seat would be contested at the election that Labor was likely to win. Joh got wind of the plan and put in place a ruse (the “night of the long prawns“) to declare the election writs before Gair could formally resign. Gair’s seat was not contested and Labor would not gain the majority. The delighted opposition asked Whitlam in parliament whether he had ever “been taken for a ride” by the pilot Bjelke-Petersen. Whitlam responded by calling a double dissolution election of both houses.
That election did not resolve the impasse and Labor won only four of ten Queensland Senate seats. Joh turned his attention to the 1974 State election and he criss-crossed Queensland by plane. Labor was virtually wiped out and the Nationals vote jumped ten percent, winning city seats. Joh was at the height of his powers. Now he could concentrate on Whitlam.
The deadlocked Senate situation changed in 1975 when Labor senator Bertie Millner died at his desk in Brisbane. The political convention was Millner’s Senate seat would go to the next man on the Labor ticket, Mal Colston (who would later enter into Labor infamy as a ‘turncoat’). Bjelke-Petersen announced publicly he wanted Labor to put up three nominations and state parliament would choose the man it wanted. Labor refused. The Coalition began a smear campaign against Colston suggesting he was the prime suspect in a 1962 arson case.
Joh’s office then found an unlikely candidate. He was Albert Field, 64, a disaffected ALP member and president of the Federated Furnishing Trade Union. Joh nominated Field as the Senate candidate despite Labor’s objections. Field was pilloried by the southern media and ostracised by Labor. Questioned about the Senate appointment, Whitlam described Joh as a “bible-bashing bastard”. Whitlam had gone too far. Insulting the church on TV was not a good look and there was a backlash. With the Senate refusing budget supply, Governor-General John Kerr sacked Whitlam’s Government in November 1975.
Joh had seen off his nemesis but he had to ride out the storm caused by police heavy-handed tactics in destroying a hippie commune at Cedar Bay north of Cairns. He was also troubled by the long-running inquiry that followed. Commissioner Ray Whitrod resigned in protest saying Queensland was becoming a police state. Whitrod was also furious at the promotion of unknown Terry Lewis to deputy commissioner over more senior officers.
Lunn’s book “Joh” was published in 1978, the year Lewis replaced Whitrod. It misses out on the excesses of the 1980s era. Joh trampled on civil liberties and encouraged police corruption. As his hubris grew, he destroyed John Howard’s hopes of winning power in 1987 with his ill-judged ‘Joh for Canberra’ crusade. That same year, the ABC 4 Corners episode “The Moonlight State” began to bring the corruption into the public record. The Fitzgerald Inquiry released its findings in 1989 and implicated senior members of Joh’s government.
Joh had resigned by then. He avoided prison for perjury at the Inquiry due to a deadlocked jury whose foreman was a member of the National Party. He died in 2005 and was buried at the family property “Bethany” after a state funeral organised by Labor Premier Peter Beattie who was arrested by Joh’s police in 1971. Joh remains a divisive figure in state politics and like his trial, the jury remains split on his legacy.
A few weeks ago I received an invite to attend a talk at the Queensland Police Museum in Brisbane. The two hour talk was on the riots in Brisbane during the 1971 visit of the South African Springbok rugby team. I was invited because of an article I wrote two and a half years ago about the riots inspired by a Courier Mail article and based on a chapter in the book “Radical Brisbane”.
I was intrigued the Queensland Police Service would host a session on what was not one of their finest hours. The man who invited me was Barry Krosch who had read my article. Krosch was a former police officer who spend nine years in the special branch. He later assisted the Fitzgerald Inquiry which blew the lid on Queensland’s political and police corruption during the 70s and 80s.
Now retired to Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s town of Kingaroy, he is doing his masters at Griffith Uni on the study of the special branch. He organised the speakers at the Police Museum and gave his own insights to special branch activities, though he was not in the force at the time of the riots. Krosch spoke about interactions with ASIO and shared examples of their filing system which bordered on the obsessive – the Springbok tour was called “Operation SATOUR” and filed under “5K” for ‘visits and ships’ not to be confused with ‘7K’ which catalogued ‘mentally unbalanced and cranks’.
The MC was Brisbane News Ltd boss David Fagan. I am not the biggest fan of Fagan nor his Courier-Mail but he was a smooth and perfect host on the day. Fagan noted the riots had a profound effect on Queensland politics for two decades. It strengthened the power of a vulnerable new Premier who could “barely string a sentence together” under the badge of law and order with “unfortunate consequences” while it radicalised a generation on the left. Another speaker lawyer Terry O’Gorman told us how that radicalisation occurred. A radical from the era, journalism professor Alan Knight, gave his eye-witness account as well as outlining the failures of the media to expose what happened, earning the Courier-Mail the title of Brisbane’s Pravda.
Krosch’s thesis supervisor Professor Mark Finnane opened the session with a wider political context for the 1971 riots. The riots did not magically appear from nowhere, Finnane argued, but were a continuation of major political ideas and conflicts affecting sport across Australia and the world. By the 1960s, the South African apartheid system was an anomaly in post-colonial Africa. World pressure was intense and South Africa was excluded from the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962 and the Tokyo Olympics two years later. They were also suspended from FIFA in 1964 though not formally kicked out until after the 1976 Soweto riots.
But rugby and cricket held out. Teams from Australia toured South Africa and when the South Africans came to Australia they were confronted by protests. In 1971, thousands marched against the Springboks in Melbourne and Sydney. Conservative governments in Canberra and the states hated the ‘leftist tendencies’ of the protesters and Joh opposed with ‘special fervour’, as Finnane put it.
Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O’Gorman took the story onwards. O’Gorman sees Joh’s actions as an abuse of power compounded by Australia’s lack of a Bill of Rights. But the protests did not register immediately to him. O’Gorman was a deeply Catholic and conservative young man and was studying law at the University of Queensland, oblivious to protests going on around him. He was not involved on Thursday, July 22 when police charged on the protestors outside the Springboks’ motel at Tower Mill. With the aid of agent provocateurs in the mob, the crowd was sent fleeing down the hill with many serious injuries.
A day later O’Gorman heard the stories of students involved. Reformist police boss Ray Whitrod tried to keep order but zealous country officers equated protesters as commies and disobeyed him. O’Gorman realised there was a gap between the principles of law and the lack of theoretical restraint in police upholding those laws. He joined the legal observer group on the day of the game.
The day remains etched in his memory with its fearful tension and excessive use of force. O’Gorman became radicalised by the riots and a fierce opponent of the regime. He had his revenge cross-questioning Joh at the Fitzgerald Inquiry to devastating results. But O’Gorman wasn’t thinking about 1971 or 1989 when he concluded his talk, but rather could it happen again. The G20 meeting in Brisbane next year and the Commonwealth Games in 2018 will be tests of whether governments cloak themselves in law and order and whether police equate protests with terrorism, he said. “It behoves us to ensure all voices are heard, including protest voices, just as police do their difficult job of protecting heads of state.”