Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen

State Cabinet papers reflect a strange world under Joh

THE more Queensland changes, the more it stays the same.

Cabinet documents from 1983 released today under a 30-year disclosure rule have shown a Queensland trying to build a new coal industry - and exploring previously untapped markets to sell it to.

But rather than mining coal from the Galilee Basin to sell to developing India, in 1984 the Joh Bjelke-Peterson National Party government was discussing the Bowen and West Moreton fields and looking to Hong Kong and China.

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Mr Bjelke-Petersen, along with a delegation from Enterprise Queensland visited China in March, while a coal export trial to Hong Kong began in January.

Despite the visit the documents show the government was not confident China would become a major market for Queensland coal.

Mines Minister Ivan Gibbs told the Cabinet "Previous discussions have indicated that unless Chinese policies change, the prospects for the export of Queensland coal cannot be said to be optimistic".

In 2014 the government explored options to grow coal exports into India, while China has become Queensland's biggest trading partner.

The documents show the Cabinet had numerous discussions about concerns regarding exporting coal from West Moreton field near Ipswich.

One miner offered to build a "people mover" for Expo 88 in exchange for the government buying coal.

While the government continued preparations for Expo 88, including a trip to Expo 84 in New Orleans, the documents revealed the Cabinet authorised Mr Bjelke-Petersen writing to Prime Minister Bob Hawke expressing their displeasure over the "current lack of resolution of Commonwealth financial involvement in Expo 88" in April.

The decision to host Expo at the now-South Bank site caused the government to relocate the Interstate Railway Station from South Brisbane to Roma Street.

Meanwhile it continued the construction of Wivenhoe Dam and electrified suburban rail lines throughout Brisbane.

In December the government announced plans to investigate new dams to further flood proof Ipswich and Brisbane and was looking to build a new underground public transport system.


Power rationed as Nationals and unions come to blows

CONFLICT between the National Party government and Queensland's trade unions reached a new peak in 1984.

Union actions lead to power blackouts in parts of Queensland and eventually electricity rationing from October 30.

In January the government decided to block all union access to new employees which would be an "introduction or training courses on the concepts of unionism" in workplaces.

The government introduced a new bill blocking union boycotts which was a crucial element in the 1984-1985 electricity disputes.

After beginning proceedings to deregister the Australian Workers Union and Plumbers and Gas Fitters Employees Union, Cabinet said it would suspend the action if the unions agreed to "comply with State Industrial Commission orders" and not disrupt essential services.

At the following meeting Industrial Affairs Minister Vincent Lester reported to Cabinet the AWU said members would only comply "where there had been a proclamation of emergency under the Essential Services Act" and proceedings to deregister the union continued.


Queensland prefers to save the Queen, rather than advance Australia

THE conservative government's imperial links were on show in 1984.

While the Federal Government officially adopted Advance Australia Fair as the national anthem the Queensland Government refused to play it.

The Queensland Cabinet decided in April 1984 to continue to play God Save the Queen, the Royal Anthem, at official events rather than the newly adopted Australian anthem.

Similarly Queensland in March 1984 decided against implementing a new Australian Fire Brigades Medal, deciding to retain the Imperial Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and the Australian National Medal.

Only a month later the government passed new legislation to "provide that certain Imperial enactments continue in force in Queensland", while in June, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was knighted.



  • Public holidays for elections removed in August 1984. While elections since 1920 had been declared holidays, the Cabinet decided to end the practice - which would save over $1 million in penalty rates. No publicity was given to the decision.
  • The Cabinet decided against upgrading the oil pipeline running from Moonie, west of Toowoomba, to Brisbane.
  • Despite media investigations into alleged parliamentary corruption the Cabinet refused to investigate them.
  • Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson threatened to ban journalists from "loitering" near the cabinet room and in October decided to move government advertising from the Queensland Newspapers-owned Courier-Mail to the Murdoch-owned The Sun to "teach (the Courier-Mail) a lesson".
  • The Criminal Code was amended in January to use the words "mentally handicapped person" instead of "idiot" and "imbecile" which had been used until then.

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