The Queens’ Land — Dark Princess of Power

Just like watching the detectives,
Don’t get cute
Watching the detectives,
Am                                         G
I get so angry when the teardrops start
F                                         C
But he can’t be wounded cos he’s got no heart
G                         C
Watching the detectives,
Watching the detectives —
Elvis Costello “Watching the Detectives” [with chords].

“It is 9th February 1985.

We have no power.

Each suburb in Brisbane gets only about one and a half hours power each evening.

Tonight we got 45 minutes because we’re near factories in West End that are mostly shut down.

Joh is trying to take three weeks to do something that Thatcher has spent 10 years trying to achieve (in England). He is trying to destroy the economy of Queensland. First he knocked down the Brigalow, then the Democratic Rights groups and now the union.

There have been 500,000 workers stood down throughout the state. All major industries and most commerce have ground to a halt. The dream of the economist, Milton Friedman, has arrived. The National Party believes that the economy, having been destroyed, will rise up, like a Phoenix from the ashes, into a far more powerful and virulent form of free enterprise.

For once Joh’s rhetoric tells all:

“The power workers will get there jobs back at the end of the world…There is no turning back…This is a life and death struggle…I am offering a strike-free Queensland.

As a memorial someone has suggested that we erect a clown statue of Joh in King George Square. It must be like one of the clowns from the circus that have their mouths agape and you feed them ping pong balls as you try to get the lucky numbers. Its face should resemble Petersen’s. When this is all over and the Joh men finally go, people in the future can put twenty cent pieces into the clown’s face to hear a speaker reveal some of Joh’s rustic quotes: “I have told the arbitration commission that you can’t unscramble a scrambled egg (when Joh was speaking of the Industrial Relations Commission’s recommendation to reinstate the sacked power workers)…

“The way I handle this dispute with the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) is the same way we round up cattle on my son John’s property.First we get these unionists into a big paddock, called Ten Mile, which is a half a mile wide at the far end.We gradually herd them down to a yard at the other end.This is a small yard where we keep all the bullocks.That is the stage we are at now in this dispute.We’re herding the bullocks into the small yard.”

Joh didn’t say what he’d do when he got the ETU organizers in the yard. One media rep said that cattlemen in the same situation either brand or slaughter.

Perhaps the 20 cent pieces from the ‘Joh clown’ will one day go to the branded or slaughtered workers.

The trade unions responses are couched in the language that would appeal less to the farmer. Their rhetoric is that: “Joh Bjelke-Petersen is the funnel web in the pants of society.”

A local lawyer was not to be outdone; he called Joh “A Prince of Darkness”.

Bjelke-Petersen, if you haven’t already guessed is trying to ‘privatise’ the Queensland Electricity industry by getting private contractors to do work previously done by unionists.

The electrical trades union (ETU) is trying to protect workers jobs like the National Union of Miners (NUM) in Britain. The ETU members affected went on strike. Joh intervened and sacked them all (1,002 workers). Other ETU members and power station operators have gone out in sympathy with the sacked workers. Joh has advertised Australia wide and overseas for scabs to take the jobs of the ETU men on strike.

Joh is offering wages up to $80,000 per annum for scabs to take over the crucial job of switching in the various power stations. The only condition is that they sign a contract saying that they won’t strike.

In a municipal library in Ann Street across the road from the Campaign against Nuclear Power headquarters people look for books on shelves using the old hurricane lamps lit for the purpose by the librarians. The librarians are members of the Municipal Officers Association (MOA).

Their union does not call them out in solidarity with the sacked ETU men.

Across town Telecom workers connect fix and maintain the phone system. Their unions do not go out either.

Many workers are stood down in the factories for lack of power, but still no general strike as there had been in 1982 for the 35 hour week. The truck drivers of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) eventually form a blockade at the border.

The Leader of the ACTU Simon Crean flies to Queensland and calls off the blockade.

From February to August the workers meet weekly at Perry Park Soccer stadium in Bowen Hills calling for the ALP and Trades and Labour Council to take action. Buses of workers are sent south to Canberra to seek help from the Hawke Government. Food parcels are organised for the families of the sacked linesmen at Perry Park. The workers hang on now in a desperate bid to get support. 15,000 workers gather at Lang Park waiting for the call from the TLC.

Silence still.

Some march on parliament and are arrested.

Marx said that Capitalism in its highest form is commodity production where wage labour is treated as a commodity in itself.

Petersen is trying to reduce the power operator’s labour to the level of a commodity bought by the highest bid.

All the unionists involved refuse to be bought out. The price of losing the right to strike is not worth the candle.”

The lights were turned back on after a deal was brokered by the leader of the Labor Party, Nev Warburton. He went on TV to announce “People of Queensland, I have good news for you tonight. We have turned the lights back on”. That is all he got out of a/premier Llew Edwards for getting the power station workers to turn the lights on. He did not even get a promise that superannuation or long service leave entitlements of the sacked workers would be honoured. Of course there was no chance of re-instatment unless you scabbed.

Since then, times have got worse for many workers.

If only the ETU strikers could have held on longer in February, if only the power station operators had not turned the lights back on.

Joh later said that if the power operators had not turned the lights on when they did; he would have been forced to retreat and give the strikers their jobs back.

Things could have been different.

Hopefully with better politics and stronger organisation unions will be able to turn the tide against the sons of Joh, Beattie and Howard.

Ban Bjelke

clip_image002This was the first banner to be carried in a street march after Bjelke-Petersen banned street marches on 4 September 1977. We marched from the University until we were stopped by 300 Queensland police. Then we went on to a rally in support of the unionist Ted Zaphir who had been charged by the Bjelke-Petersen Government for performing his union duties.

This banner was painted by JM and me in the Forum area at Queensland University just prior to the first of many street marches against the ban. Over 3000 people were arrested in the marches and pickets that followed.

We all have seen the banner leading that first march from Queensland University many times on TV in the intervening 28 years. Those involved in the Democratic Rights struggles  signed the banner at a stall on May Day 2006.

This is our memorial to Joh and the sons of Joh (and their cronies and pals).

In 2009 the ALP counterparts of Joh  are trying to privatise water, power, rail and ports. The Bligh government may even become Queensland’s greatest princess of darkness.

Ian Curr

3 thoughts on “The Queens’ Land — Dark Princess of Power

  1. The Far Right & Democratic Rights says:

    Citizens Electoral Council (CEC) have been turning up at Save Our Public Assets (SOPA) rallies and meetings.

    It should come as no surprise that the Right has been mobilising against the GFC in Queensland well in advance of the Left.

    There is criticism overseas of the Keynesian stimulus packages put together by the federal reserve in the US and Gordon Brown’s Labour Government.

    Most of this criticism is coming from the Right, not the Left which continues to flirt with Keynesian economic ideas like printing money.

    The argument being run by right wing groups is that the US government should let the firms hit by the Global Financial Crisis [GFC] to go to the wall — government should not interfere when the market determines who goes under. This is classic free market theory. I don’t know if the Citizens Electoral Council [CEC] is involved in this critique of the US Federal reserve [treasury].

    Printing money does have inflationary effects on the US economy that will force the Chinese government to try to stop the US government from printing more money. This is because American workers will soon not be able to afford Chinese goods hit by inflation.

    The CEC has its roots in the USA and is not as well organised here in Queensland — at least not as organised as One Nation, the Shooters Party, the League of Rights, religious fringe groups and disaffected people from the old Qld National Party.

    I have received some reports that ‘One Nation types’ have been mobilising in regional Queensland for some time against the Bligh government’s economic rationalist approach in dealing with the GFC. For example, these right wing groups actively mobilised people in towns adversely affected by the Bligh Government’s amalgamation of the shire councils last year. It is hard to pin down the political views of these groups because there is an appeal to populism (a la Pauline Hanson) and even some old style Country Party agrarian socialism mixed in there. Since town councils have been affected by Bligh’s move to corporatise and sell off water and drainage boards this is in turn affects workers in those shires.

    There is one place such groups have had little success so far, this is in the unions. The right used to mobilise in unions through industrial groups (the groupers) but they have lost their hold.

    We should make the arguments to workers against all these right wing groups (not just the CEC). Their free market policies and ideas are already entrenched in the Labor Party, so there is little hope there.

    The Bligh government is trying to sell off water, power, railway and port assets to buy another term in government.

    It is up to us to reject these ideas from finding a base in the union movement.

    We should not exclude these groups from meetings, we should practice democratic rights in the workplaces, in the campaign groups, the the unions and reject their free market ideas.

    Ian Curr
    September 2009

  2. The danger of the CEC and their fellow travelers is that unlike One Nation or The Shooters Party (who hold right wing views) the CEC aims and organises to build a mass fascist movement in Australia.

    A good overview can be found at

    I disagree with the statement that the CEC ‘ is not as well organised here in Queensland.’ It is well organised, has branches in most states and even has a call centre in Victoria which helps raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the CEC. The were formed in Queensland in the 1980’s out of the fascist League of Rights. It hasn’t been as visible in Brisbane until recently but they have built a base in Queensland outside of Brisbane, particularly on the Sunshine Coast and its hinterland.

    One Nation or more extreme Nationals and Liberals do spout amongst other things racist and sexist ideas that are poison to the workers movement but these groups are not fascist nor are they seeking to build a mass fascist movement in Australia. The CEC does.

    While the CEC cloaks itself in “left” speak about globalisation and privatisation it represents the extreme opposite of what the left stands for – the interests of working people. Such groups need to be uprooted before they can be used by capitalists to protect their system from workers.

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