Assessing a political leader’s contribution invariably involves the balancing of achievements against failures, of strengths against weaknesses. Take the case of Napoleon, who did some good but who was also a dictator and whose wars led to the deaths of far too many. But today, especially in France and much of Europe, he is regarded as a hero. It seems likely that there will never be any general rehabilitation of Hitler or Stalin, but Lenin seems to be too easily forgiven for his horrible crimes.
At home, Governor Bligh will probably remain our first controversial leader. The almost unanimous condemnation of Sir Joh Bjelke -Petersen by the elite media has, however, been far too one-sided. His achievements far outweigh his failures and weaknesses, some of which have been exaggerated.
He was the author of neither the absence of an upper house nor the gerrymander. He inherited both. In fact, earlier politicians had abolished the upper house against the express wishes of the people. They then ensured it could only be resurrected with the peoples’ agreement!
And as Doug Anthony has said, politicians tend to prefer an electoral system that favours their party. The electoral map in the UK clearly favours Labour, and in the US, seats are drawn with boundaries so artificial they would outrage Australians. In the most powerful part of the Congress, the Senate, the most populous states have the same number of senators as those with very small populations.
The “so called” reforms of the electoral system in Australia in the 80s were ostensibly adopted to make it easier for people to vote. In this they have succeeded beyond the authors wildest dreams. It is now possible for one person to cast many votes in different places and different ways with impunity, and with little chance of any fraud being detected. That reforms to correct this incentive to fraud were long resisted in the Senate is a public scandal almost totally ignored by those who attack Sir Joh over the gerrymander.
Sir Joh was also criticised for incidences of corruption. There will always be some corruption by some officials, but none were proved against him. Incidences of corruption should be considered against the fact that the state was a model of financial management, even making an - unfortunately rare - provision for the funding of public service superannuation so that this would not be a burden on future generations.
He has received no credit for this from those who berate the federal Government’s unfunded liabilities. This and the enormous development of the state under his leadership were major achievements in themselves. Just compare Queensland with the mismanagement and financial disasters under the Cain and Kirner Governments in Victoria, the corruption and mismanagement of WA Inc., and the less rigorous management in other states.
One great feat was his coup in ridding the nation of that most unfair of taxes - death duties. As a young lawyer at the time, I recall how this affected families cruelly just at the very worst time - the loss of a loved one. It was a regressive tax, mainly falling on the urban middle class and farmers. There its impact was often a disaster, at the very time when a key person had just died.
In an act of singular foresight, Sir Joh demonstrated one little remarked advantage of a federation - competition between governments. When we notice this it is usually in the “bread and circuses “department, when premiers squabble over some sporting event. Getting rid of this odious tax was so successful that people voted with their feet to such an extent that every other state and the Commonwealth were forced to follow Sir Joh.
He preached what will be essential if we are to remain competitive in the 21st century, significantly lower taxes. But unlike other politicians, Sir Joh actually practiced what he preached.
We have heard much of the state of law and order in Queensland at the time of the Bjelke-Petersen Government. It is conveniently forgotten that some of the other states, in particular New South Wales, were then experiencing regular periods of industrial anarchy which would bring the state to its knees. Essential services were frequently withheld, especially petrol and on occasions even electricity. Sydney was frequently bereft of transport, sometimes in darkness, with a fleet of ships moored off the port for months unable to discharge cargo.
The militant unions knew not to try any of this on Sir Joh. Unlike the other premiers he believed he was there to govern, and not to mouth platitudes. And it is untrue to say he would not allow street demonstrations - they were just not allowed to stray from King George’s Square and disrupt the life of the city. As for law and order as it affected ordinary citizens - they had a degree of security in their homes and streets that today most can now only dream about. In addition, he followed the policies of a succession of governments, Labor and Country Party, which had ensured that the standards of health services were the highest in the nation.
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