Figs do not grow on barren trees — Ernie Lane in Dawn to Dusk – reminiscences of a rebel.
Were current and recent Labor leaders ever political activists in Queensland?
Please note: This article was written in response to questions raised by Humphrey McQueen in his piece titled The Very Right-wing Rev. Rudd
It prompted a bizaare exchange of views with a former Qld Special Branch officer which can be read below in the Comments section or in this compilation — After Joh: we’re all mates now
I think the Joh legacy was more than anything, is that there was a group of determined people that came out of the fight against Joh. Goss was one of those, I was one of those – people who wanted a better system.
I mean to be perfectly honest if I hadn’t got arrested in the Springboks, I probably may not have ended up in politics so I mean I should thank Joh for my personally … if I hadn’t got arrested in the anti Springboks marches I probably wouldn’t have been that politicised to go into politics. Who knows?
— Peter Beattie in an interview with Chris Masters on the about Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s legacy on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s FOUR CORNERS – ‘Investigative TV journalism at its best.’
Many of the past flock of labor leaders come from Queensland. People like Rudd, Swan, McKew, Goss, Anna Bligh, Claire Moore and Peter Beattie, grew up here in the 1950s and 60s and most of them went to the University of Queensland in the 1970s.
There were people at the state level like Wayne Goss, Matt Foley, and Anne Warner. It is significant to note that university education had been made free by the Whitlam Labor government in 1972. Like a number of Liberals, some Labor leaders used the university of Queensland student union as a training ground, a sort of toy parliament. Anna Bligh, for one, was president of the UQ student union in the 1980s.
There were other Labor leaders at the local government level who came through the Joh era, people like Tim Quinn and Jim Soorley (lord mayors of Brisbane City Council [BCC]), and cautious John Campbell (a labor alderman in BCC). Then there were all the staffers, some of whom who were actually street marchers people like Lee Birmingham and Simon Blackwood.
During the political development of many of these labor (and liberal) leaders there was a lot of political activity in the form of street marches in Qld, mainly in opposition to the National Party government of Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
The current (2008) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was not involved in political street marches in Queensland. Treasurer Wayne Swan was involved in the University of Queensland student union in the 1970s and marched after the dismissal in 1975. The Member for Bennelong (ex Prime Minister Howard’s old seat) Maxine McKew was a cadet journalist for the ABC during the street marches in 1977-79 and attended some marches (in a pink jump suit) in the late 1970s in that capacity.
Only Foley and Warner (later on) took any direct part in the street marches 1977-1979. Senator Claire Moore took no part in any of these political activities even although she, like Anna Bligh, fell in with left wing and union causes. Anna Bligh built a profile that would enable her to move toward a safe seat in parliament with the support of those that went before her (Anne Warner) and sections of the women’s movement and rank and file that worked hard for her election. In 2018 Bligh was appointed chief spokesperson for the banks in Australia.
As parliamentarians, none have achieved real change, some were and are only there because unions put them there. As least some acknowledge how this came about, people like Graham Perret , who wrote a letter recently saying it was unions like the CFMEU and MUA that got him into parliament. But he still tows the party line. But this piece is not so much about the unions, it is the Labor leaders who got there off the back of democratic rights struggles in Queensland, people like Matt Foley, Wayne Goss, and Anna Bligh.
There is another group that I should mention briefly here — politicians like Cheryl Kernot and Andrew Bartlett who got into parliament as a result of the peace, civil liberties and environment movements.
As we know, Kernot stopped ‘turning up’ when she got a position in the Labor shadow ministry. In contrast, Bartlett always ‘turned up’ and still does. But then he is out of parliament now and the compromises still necessary for people like Claire Moore are no longer necessary for Andrew.
Contrast the current crop of political leaders to union leaders like Alex McDonald (Secretary of Qld Trades and Labour council in the 1960s), Fred Patterson and George Georges* who never gained or sought high political office, but who always tried their best to stick to principle and make a difference. Many of the old timers claim Alex McDonald was the best Labour leader in the trade unions in Queensland. [* It was a fluke that Georges became a Qld Senator].
Peter Beattie – a typical case
There have been claims by a variety of people, historians, academics, even activists that the former Premier of Qld, Peter Beattie, was involved in the Queensland street marches campaign against Joh Bjelke-Petersen. These claims are dealt with in some detail below. I have done this as an example, a metaphor for other Labor men and women, of their opportunism and therefore hindrance to any real change to Australian capitalism. I know only a few of these people personally, my criticism of them is not personal, it is political.
The political street marches in the late 1970s were about the democratic right to organise.
This arose because of opposition to uranium mining and export was becoming more popular, attacks were made on trade unions, on women and on aboriginal people [for Murris is was under the racist legislation referred to as the Queensland Acts].
As part of my research for this article I have consulted records of arrests in the political street marches from 1977 – 1979. By this I mean I have been through actual Watchouse and magistrates court lists of those arrested in street marches. I have been through records of the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee [CLCC] and the later Civil liberties Campaign group [CLCG] that organised these marches and raised bail for those arrested. These records were kept by both those organisations. I was a member of both organisations. They were entrusted to me after these campaigns were over.
Peter Beattie’s name does not appear on any of the arrest lists. Nor do names of any of the other Labor leaders who came from Qld in that period (except Foley mentioned above). I attended all the political street marches of the period 1977 – 1979 and do not recollect Peter Beattie or any of the others having any active involvement in them.
It is important to know that it was the policy of the ALP opposition to oppose any active involvement in political street marches of the late 1970s. The ALP state secretary threatened to have Senator George Georges dis-endorsed in 1977 if he took part in one of the marches. At that stage George Georges obeyed this directive, but later in 1978 became an active participant and helped organise the Civil Liberties Campaign Group.
There was an earlier political street march campaign in Qld in 1967 – 68 around civil liberties but I have never seen anywhere claims that Peter Beattie was involved in those campaigns, much less that there are claims he was arrested. I do not know of the existence of any records of those people arrested. Both attorney general (Foley) and police minister (McEnroth) in the Goss Labor Government claimed that special branch records were destroyed after Labor came to power in 1989. Matt Foley, the attorney general in the Goss Labor government of the 1990s had been arrested in a street march on 11 November 1977, the eve of a state election.
PETER BEATTIE: Everybody knew if you went to a protest there was always photos being taken. You know, you’d always pose to get your best side. (Laughs) And they had a dossier on everybody. — Hall, Allan, ‘Springbok Tour’, Rewind Television, ABC Television, broadcast, September 26, 2004, available at abc.net.auhttp://www.abc.net.au/tv/rewind/txt/s1204845.htm
These claims about Special Branch files were made to me in writing by these Ministers after I sought information about special branch records that relate to these periods 1967 – 1979 and specifically to Qld’s political street marches in 1977 – 1979. I doubt both these written assertions by these former Labor ministers for a variety of reasons. Some selected people were shown their special branch files. University Lecturer, Dan O’Neill was one of these. A special branch officer of that period, Barry Krosch, claims to have written a book about the history of the special branch in Qld [See https://bushtelegraph.wordpress.com/2006/10/28/not-guilty/#comment-87]. Many Special Branch files were given to ASIO. Some files were very large and those years and much public expenditure to acquire. Isn’t it unlikely that police officers who had served under National party government for many years and had spent so much time compiling these records would give them up for destruction by a labor government? Sources claim that the special branch files were placed in state library archives. Perhaps we will find out more if Barry Krosch’s book is ever published.
Nevertheless I think that Peter Beattie was too young to have been involved in the 1967 – 68 marches.
There were political demonstrations in opposition to apartheid in South Africa during a tour of the Springbok Rugby union side in 1971. In the interview with Chris Masters, Beattie claims that he was involved in one demonstration and was arrested by police. The demonstration he is referring to was in Brisbane in 1971 outside the Tower Mill Hotel. This was the place where the Springbok Rugby Team was staying in Brisbane during its tour. During that demonstration Qld police (many from country police stations) charged through a crowd of protesters and beat up many people in nearby Albert Park. There were some arrests. A young Sam Watson was arrested at that demonstration. He was knocked out. He was lucky that one of his aunties who was a trained nurse had been arrested and was in the paddy with him. She revived him on the floor of the paddy wagon.
On the evening of Thursday July 22 (1971) five hundred police confronted four hundred protesters including another future premier, Peter Beattie. ‘Even though I was the one who had been assaulted, I was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest…I will never forgive or forget what came next, I was “verballed” by the police who manufactured the most incredible statements.’ — Hall, Allan, ‘Springbok Tour’, Rewind Television, ABC Television, see above
It has been claimed by a variety of people (including the man himself) that Peter Beattie attended that demonstration and during the subsequent riot by country police and resultant melee in Albert Park, Beattie tried to take refuge in the then nearby Trades Hall (next to Albert Park). There are claims that Beattie was detained and beaten up by police.
PETER BEATTIE: As I’m disappearing into Trades Hall, I sort of got grabbed by this burly policeman and ended up sort of getting thrown onto the ground. And I landed pretty heavily. And I was later charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Now, I don’t quite know how you resist arrest when you’re running away. When I saw the statement of particulars that arrived, I mean, I thought, “This is on another planet.” This police officer and I were not in the same city at the same time, ’cause this did not happen. — Hall, Allan, ‘Springbok Tour’, Rewind Television, ABC Television, broadcast, September 26, 2004
The Trades and Labor council of the time is likely to have ordered that demonstrators be locked out of the building. I remember that the old Trades Hall was only opened in the night time if there were scheduled meetings to be held. This was done by a caretaker. The police charge at the Tower Mill took place in the evening and it was getting dark. If people did try to take refuge in Trades Hall it is likely that they were either locked out or evicted by the caretaker aided by any union officials who happened to be in the building at the time.
Anyway such claims are clouded in mystery and there is little if any objective evidence of claims that Beattie was detained and beaten by police. [See comments section for challenges to this assertion].
However I was not there and do not know. It is interesting that none of the people arrested and bashed that night claim any special knowledge of what happened to Beattie — only the journos, the cops and the special branch.
The following day, I attended a meeting of students and staff at the University, a number of whom had been arrested or beaten. There were many speeches in the Uni refectory that day and I heard descriptions of what had happened the night previous. There was one given by a person whose arm was in a sling, he had been taken to hospital after being beaten by police. He said that his arm was broken.
After his speech, Dan O’Neill put a motion for students and staff to go on strike. We threw up our hands in support, thousands of hands went up inside the uni refectory that day. I do not recollect Peter Beattie being a speaker on that day nor do I remember Peter Beattie being actively involved in organising that strike. However I was just another student, albeit who sympathised with the anti-apartheid cause proclaimed by the speakers.
Peter Beattie may have been involved in some way but he was not a leader of the strike in the way people like Dan O’NeilI were.
Later Peter Beattie did surface as an official of the station officers union in Qld Railways.
Thirty-three years after Beattie was supposed to have been beaten by police near the Tower Mill Motel in Brisbane while demonstrating against the Qld National party government’s racist support for apartheid, a Palm Island man was killed by a Queensland police officer, Chris Hurley.
Peter Beattie’s response was this:
“Many people said at the beginning (when Mulrunji died) that there would not be due process…I said at the time that the coroner would go through due process and the matter would be followed appropriately and that’s what has happened.” — see https://bushtelegraph.wordpress.com/2006/12/09/more-murris-in-jail-while-killer-policeman-runs-free-on-full-pay/
So Beattie put in place ‘due process’ after Mulrunji was killed by Sgt Chris Hurley in the Palm Island Watchouse.
The same due process that allowed Hurley to get off a manslaughter charge and Lex Wotton to be given a prison sentence of 3 years for refusing to accept the initial claim after the government autopsy that it was an accident. Subsequently Lex Wotton and his family were awarded compensation for what happened as a result of Beattie’s declaration of a state of emergency.
Claims that both current and recent labor leaders were one time left-wing radicals in Brisbane involved in political street marches are much exaggerated.
In 2017 Beattie openly supported the Israeli apartheid regime at an Israeli Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
November 2008 [revised 2019].