After Labor’s 32 years in the political wilderness, party luminary Wayne Goss wrestled the state of Queensland from the conservatives, officially drawing a line under the Bjelke-Petersen era.
Now, three decades later, the decisions of the Goss government’s first full year in power can be revealed, with the public release of secret cabinet minutes from 1990.
After a landslide victory in November 1989, Mr Goss’s Labor regime oversaw numerous reforms from the Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption.
Digital Economy Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Goss government had a strong environmental agenda, a forward-looking social agenda, and a firm focus on the public service and the rights of workers.
University of Queensland political expert Chris Salisbury said the Goss cabinet was “businesslike”.
“The minutes don’t reflect a program of wholesale change, nor change at breakneck speed – we shouldn’t depict, I think, the Goss government as one that radically reshaped Queensland or that took on a reckless program of change,” Dr Salisbury said.
“It was meticulous, planned, and the minutes reflect this.”
Still-familiar faces such as Kevin Rudd, who served as the premier’s chief of staff, were instrumental in the Goss years but he features little in the cabinet minutes.
After a daylight saving trial over the summer, a taskforce recommended the clocks only be wound forward in south-east Queensland.
More than 89 per cent of written submissions were not in favour of daylight saving, with people citing the climate, family lifestyle, meals, television news, long days, skin cancer and primary production as reasons they opposed it.
However, cabinet agreed to introduce legislation to enact daylight saving across the state “on a permanent basis”, which would “[settle] the question once and for all”.
A referendum on the issue in 1992 came back with a 54.5 per cent “no” vote.
The perennial issue is unlikely to be settled “once and for all” any time soon, as Ms Enoch said daylight saving was not a priority for the Palaszczuk government.
Modernisation of the Queensland public service
While in opposition, Labor made known its desire for major reform to modernise the Queensland public service and make it more efficient.
From January 1990, cabinet signed off on the Public Sector Management Commission to review government departments and agencies and administer merit-based appointments.
National Party premier Russell Cooper ran advertisements during the 1989 election campaign arguing that Labor would “go soft on marijuana”, and “even plans to make homosexuality legal”, but Labor remained supportive of decriminalisation.
In November 1990, cabinet agreed a bill should be prepared to amend the Criminal Code to make legal “certain sexual activities between consenting [male] adults in private”.
Contrary to a parliamentary criminal justice committee recommendation that the age of consent should be set at 16 years old so it was “equalised’ with laws on heterosexual intercourse, cabinet decided it should be 18.
In 2016, the Palaszczuk government lowered the age of consent for all forms of sexual intercourse to 16.
Two of the key reforms from the Fitzgerald inquiry – the electoral and administrative review commission, and the criminal justice commission – were set up in 1990, with key staff appointed and legislation written.
Cabinet agreed a register of members’ interests should be developed.
More recently, former treasurer Jackie Trad became embroiled in controversy in 2019 after failing to declare the purchase of a Woolloongabba house on the register.
In October 1990, cabinet deliberated on the government-funded superannuation entitlement paid to Don Lane, who became the first former Nationals minister sentenced to jail following charges from the Fitzgerald inquiry.
After Mr Lane’s conviction for misappropriating public funds, which he had since repaid, cabinet discussed taking action to recover part of the state-provided portion of his superannuation, about $400,000.
In February, cabinet acted on a recommendation in the Fitzgerald report that the Police Act should be “redrawn and modernised”, with then-police minister Terry Mackenroth describing the legislation as “archaic” and “having been changed little from its 1937 origins”.
Cabinet approved the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area Agreement; sought to work with the federal government and sand-mining companies to balance conservation and sand mining on North Stradbroke Island; and launched a public inquiry into conservation and land management on Fraser Island.
Things change but yet they stay the same
Cabinet considered the possibility of four-year parliamentary terms, with the option for a referendum on the issue to be held with local council elections in 1991.
The old TE score used for entry into university courses was described as “the subject of vehement public criticism”, with cabinet deciding to adopt the new Overall Position (or OP) measure.
At the end of October 1990, Commonwealth and state leaders assembled in Brisbane for a special premiers’ Conference. It was a forerunner to COAG, later replaced by national cabinet.
Cabinet also decided to increase the cost of train fares, which would lead to a city zone fare costing 80 cents for an adult, but expected the public would complain about increases to the cost of living.
Felicity Caldwell is state political correspondent at the Brisbane Times