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Joh Bjelke-Petersen and higher education reforms – 1987 in retrospect

TJ Ryan Foundation Board chairman, Roger Scott, writes in the ‘Pearls & Irritations’ blog (8.1.18) the first of two reflective pieces about the public release of the 1987 Cabinet Minutes from Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s final year as Queensland Premier, and his personal recollections of the end of the ‘Joh era’.

‘This is the season for personal nostalgia. In my case, personal perspectives inevitably shade into the political. On 1 January [2018], Queensland Cabinet papers from 1987 were released; and as a further reminder of that era, on 4 January a state funeral was held for Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen who had died shortly before Christmas.’

The analysis continues: ‘… At the start of 1987, profound but ultimately unfounded pessimism gripped many of us inhabiting the University of Queensland. Joh Bjelke-Petersen seemed to be riding a political juggernaut, having crushed the ‘liberal’ components within the Liberal Party which, in coalition with the National Party, had kept him in power for nearly two decades. In 1983 Joh’s uncompromising attitude on a range of civil liberties, educational and social issues had seen him forcibly dissolve this long-standing power-sharing arrangement. The 1986 election, which followed a redistribution that increased the number of seats from 82 to 89, was aimed at securing him a workable parliamentary majority in his own right (the luxury recently acquired by the current Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk).

‘In Joh’s case, as in Palaszczuk’s, it was a close-run thing of Napoleonic proportions to take on not just the reviled socialists but also the Brisbane bourgeois establishment. The Nationals secured a majority in their own right, with 49 seats – the only time that the Nationals have ever won enough seats to govern alone.

‘… Journalists Phil Dickie and Chris Masters had exposed the dark underbelly of Queensland corruption in early 1987; Dickie in articles in the Courier-Mail and Masters in ‘The Moonlight State’ aired on the ABC’s Four Corners in May. They exposed corruption among the police in relation to gambling and prostitution, and in the government’s dealings with mining and property developers. Joh was out of Queensland when ‘The Moonlight State’ was aired; acting Premier Bill Gunn established the Fitzgerald Inquiry the day after it was shown. The Inquiry reported in 1989.

‘By the end of 1987, there was a definite sense of rising optimism. This culminated in Joh’s resignation on 1 December and the accession to power of Michael Ahern.’

The ”Dawkins Revolution”

In the second of his reflections on the release of Cabinet papers from 1987, Roger Scott focuses (9.1.18) on the tertiary education reforms instituted by federal Education Minister John Dawkins.

‘By the middle of 1987, I had completed a decade of service at the University of Queensland, first as a Professor of Public Administration, and then facing the prospect of completing a second term in one of the elected offices within the university administration. I was appointed Principal of the Canberra College of Advanced Education later that year.  My colleagues on the top storey of the University of Queensland administration block had regarded my appointment with levels of puzzlement: people leaving the presidency of the Academic Board who did not wish to relax back into their previous professorial duties tended to aim at, and often win, leadership positions in ‘real’ universities.

‘Viewed from a university ivory tower, CAEs were barely above the basement occupied by TAFE. But I was the oddball, having somehow managed in 1977 to scale the parapet and be promoted from a principal lectureship at the Canberra CAE, to the professorship in Queensland.   So the Canberra CAE was literally going home. It was a move that took place after a decade during which my oddball background led to invitations to serve on various national committees of inquiry such as the Ralph Committee on Management Education and on accreditation panels for various state governments charged with accountability for college-level institutions. In as much as I had a ‘research’ record, it was mainly focussed on tertiary administration and in particular on the relationship between CAEs (especially former teachers colleges), universities and state government employing authorities.

‘My first task as Principal of the (then) Canberra College of Advanced Education was to provide its Council with a briefing paper on the significance of the Green Paper for the College and specifically future relationships with the other tertiary institutions in the ACT.’

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