Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen paper on the Joh for Canberra campaign, available at the Queensland National Party annual conference, Townsville,
6 November 1987
(Chapter 21, p. 242)
There has been much said (and written) recently that is misleading and sometimes blatantly untrue. So this is setting the record straight, so that from now on events of the last twelve months will be seen as they were, and not as some have twisted them to appear.
I have been very much a target in recent times. I owe it to my family as well as myself, and to this Party and the people of Queensland, to make sure that what was sought for Australia is judged by history on the basis of fact, not on bias and malice.
Throughout 1986, it was constantly and forcefully put to me, by many eminent people, that only a crusade representing Middle Australia, under my leadership, could reverse the frightening trends of Government in the nation.
Hopes of tapering off political life here [in Queensland] were then put aside. I had to think instead of the Australia that would await my own and others’ children and grandchildren if someone did not step into the political vacuum on our side of politics.
For there was a vacuum, I don’t think many will deny that, even now. As early as 1984, it was becoming apparent that many Australians were increasingly alarmed by Hawke Government initiatives. But they did not believe that an Opposition pasted together out of the defeated and discredited Fraser Government could defeat the Socialists.
From this widening alarm and desperation, there began to emerge in all States many new movements, bodies and groups. They all embodied true conservative aspirations, but they wanted to operate outside regular political party structures.
There was growing concern on our side of politics. The old political mechanisms were being seen as inadequate, with key political figures viewed with almost cynical distrust and suspicion. The media was seen as hopelessly left-wing.
The majority of Australians were dispirited, and saw the struggle to maintain a lifestyle based on traditional Christian values as a very bleak prospect indeed.
A good indication of this unhappiness, and doubt of Federal Opposition capacity, is seen in the fact that by last year there were 181 conservative “new” groups working and representing tens of thousands of people all over Australia. Some of them were minor, but many were major, and all were working outside parties to underwrite a Hawke defeat.
As well, there were vigorous contributions from major figures: John Leard, Kathryn West, Des Keegan and others. It is against this background of escalating concern that my involvement needs to be seen.
This concern was worsened by the far-reaching social and economic changes spawned by Canberra’s theorists and humanists.
- denying people common law protection with such new bodies as Commissions for Human Rights, and Sexual and Racial Discrimination
- overthrowing States’ Constitutional rights with the Franklin Dam issue
- consolidating the power of the new trinity of Big Business, Big Unions and Big Government
- abject surrender to Union blackmail
- attacking individual liberty with a Moscow-style Bill of Rights
- a massive balance of trade blow-out and growing overseas debt, threatening national solvency
- hostility to basic Christian morality both by downgrading marriage and the family and using the AIDS issue to protect homosexuality and promote promiscuity in our young people.
There is much more. A lot of this got through without too much resistance from the Opposition – some of it was tacitly accepted by those who, representing us, should have fought those things to the end.
You may as well know – I think you already do – that I can’t be mealy-mouthed about such things: I will fight them to the death, as I always have done, no matter what it may cost in political terms.
So we come to our own State Election of last November.
None of you should need reminding of the circumstances of that election. Every opinion poll the newspapers could muster, every two cent academic expert, every pompous media pundit: All were certain – that I was politically dead, and my Government would be swept to defeat. I was, they said, detested.
Labor’s Warburton, they said, was much more popular. We were smeared with charges of graft, corruption and cronyism.
But despite all this, what happened on that first Saturday of last November was that we confounded all the self-appointed experts, the prophets of doom – and had a wonderful victory.
We won more votes and more seats than ever before, and dealt Labor such a blow that it sent Mr. Hawke reeling. I had never held any doubts about the outcome, and once again, I was proven right and the doubters were proven wrong.
But inevitably, this victory only added to the Federal pressure. More and more eminent people were urging, in ever stronger terms, that I should marshal a drive that would defeat Hawke.
It would include that multitude of new Middle Australia organisations: People who were aching for the chance to be part of an anti-Hawke crusade, but did not want to be tied to political machines they no longer respected.
Through the early months of this year, I was being given widespread assurances of support, including the intentions of some very important names indeed to stand as candidates. It was very much “all signals go,” with everything right for the launching of a citizen’s movement, to provide an umbrella under which all conservative-minded people could shelter.
I still believe that had we gone ahead then, we would have swept Labor from Office for decades to come. There is always a tide in these matters to be taken at the flood. But I was reluctant to cement in place any steps that might not be in the National Party’s best interests.
As events worked out, this cost us the flood tide and as a result, I have been labelled a liability to the National Party.
While, in the vital early months of this year there was so much that could and should have been done to harness and direct all those wonderful possibilities, it wasn’t done. There were some whose advice and experience I trusted, who urged that fitting the crusade to a National Party pattern shouldn’t be attempted, especially if Australia saw it as essentially a Queensland National Party pattern.
They also advised there was an imperative urgency in setting up the organisational hardware essential to any good political operation. Branches and units needed to be set up across Australia, and seasoned professionals put into the field to direct and focus all the effort.
But the early weeks, and then months, went by without this basic organisation being established, and this proved eventually to be the beginning of our failure.
I had started at Wagga what I believed would be a “bushfire” to rage throughout the nation. Two New South Wales by-elections supported this, when Labor lost 20 percent of its vote. But instead of picking this up, the Opposition lost 10 percent of its vote.
More and more, a people’s crusade, transcending the normal party lines seemed the only realistic answer.
And yet, still, the urgent realities of basic field organisation were not being grasped. Instead, we had divisive struggles as Federal figures fought to maintain their positions at all costs.
And when the “permanent Coalition” issue was fought in March, I am proud to say Queensland took the right stand.
There is no future whatever for any party that doesn’t believe in itself and can’t stand on its own. We should never be a party that has to swallow policies it didn’t make and doesn’t want. Coalition outside Government is an absurd contradiction in terms.
But the “middle Australia” campaign really ran off the rails when it was announced that the Queensland National Party would take over control and direction of what all had, until then, seen as an Australia-wide movement.
This announcement met with dismay almost everywhere. It became obvious that people wanted – indeed, were eager – to be part of a broad group that included the scores of new organisations that had sprung up. But they were not prepared to become part of (and it was increasingly seen this way) a move to install the Queensland National Party as Supreme over all other National Parties and organisations.
And still the vital fund-raising and organisational machinery was being delayed. The early nonsense of millions of dollars there for the collecting had proved most injurious. We could not get going, even though by April/May there were clear signals of an early election.
I don’t think anything more dramatically reveals the power of that people’s movement than Labor’s terror at its growth. It was this, and this alone, that caused Hawke to deny yet another of his sacred promises, and call yet another early election for July 11.
There was no sensible option but to abandon the endeavour. And so began one of the worse [sic] periods of my life. And that is how it happened.
I have just one thing more to say to you.
Over the years, our Organisational wing has developed a disturbing tendency to tell our Parliamentary wing what it should do on particular issues that develop from time to time. Advice is one thing, but if framed in forms that can be construed as instruction, then that is another. That happens when so-called advice is given in the form of Press statements, or sent to members by hand-delivered letters that everybody knows will be immediately leaked to the Press.
Unlike the Labor Party, we do not direct our Parliamentary Members. They are properly expected to act within the Platform, but they mustn’t be made to publicly appear as puppets whose strings are pulled by Party room masters. The Party is in peril if it appears to the electorate as modelling itself on an authoritarian Socialist party.
Joh Bjelke-Petersen November, 1987.