Flo Bjelke-Petersen died yesterday at the age of 97, and upon hearing the news, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted the following:
“After her long life of public service we say thanks to Lady Flo. Rest in peace. Joh and Flo devoted their lives to Queensland and its success and dynamism owes so much to their vision and leadership”
It is rare to have so much drivel uttered in a single tweet, except perhaps by Donald Trump. Joh Bjelke-Petersen was one of the most corrupt politicians ever to hold office in Australia, and but for a quirk of the Queensland jury system, would have been convicted of perjury.
Bjelke-Petersen was eventually brought down by his National Party, prior to the Royal Commission into Police Corruption, which clearly demonstrated that his government was corrupt. Two of his ministers as well as the police commissioner Bjelke-Petersen had appointed and had knighted, were jailed for corruption offences. In 1991, Bjelke-Petersen was himself tried for perjury over his evidence at the Royal Commission1. However, in a quirk of the Queensland system, a unanimous decision needed to be reached, and that could not be obtained. It was later revealed that the jury foreman was a member of Bjelke-Petersen’s party and it was he that had been holding out2. Bjelke-Petersen was deemed too old, at 81, to face a second trial1.
In his first effort at kleptocracy, in 1959, when as a backbencher, he paid £2 ($4) for an authority to prospect, then set up a company (Artesian Basin Oil Co. Pty Ltd) of which he was sole director and shareholder, and agreed to sell 51% of the company’s shares to an American company for £12,650 ($25,300), then sought the transfer of the authority to prospect to his company. The Mines Minister granted it a week later.
In 1962, Artesian transferred its Authority to Prospect to a new company Exoil, NL, for £190,000 ($380,000), and Bjelke-Petersen bought a million shares in Exoil. Three weeks after becoming Premier of Queensland, in September 1968, his government gave two companies, Exoil NL and Transoil NL, in both of which he was a major shareholder, six-year leases to prospect for oil on the Great Barrier Reef. By the time this was brought to light by the opposition, Bjelke-Petersen’s Exoil shares were worth $720,000. Bjelke-Petersen maintained he had done nothing wrong, but resigned his directorship of Artesian in favour of his wife, Flo.
Gerrymandering was also Bjelke-Petersen’s forte. In the 1969 state election, Bjelke-Petersen’s party (then the Country Party) gained 33% (26) of the seats in parliament with 21.1% of the vote, with the Liberal Party (with whom they were in coalition) taking 24.4% (19) from 23.7% of the vote, and the Labor Party with 39.7% (31) of the seats with 45.1% of the vote.
Bjelke-Petersen’s transgressions are too numerous to list here, but they included a proposed $20 million kickback for the promised approval of the state’s tallest building in Brisbane’s CBD which eventually led to a revolt by others in his party and to Bjelke-Petersen being deposed as premier2. Then came the 1987-1988 Fitzgerald Royal Commission into police involvement with illegal gambling, prostitution, drugs, licensing and protection rackets2.
For Malcolm Turnbull to say that the Bjelke-Petersens dedicated themselves to Queensland is simply to ignore the facts. Their main aim was to enrich themselves and their co-conspirators, at the expense of the Queensland taxpayer.