MINING disaster, Christopher Skase, new infrastructure and the tallest building in the world - Queensland Cabinet documents from 1986 reveal the Joh Bjelke-Petersen National Party government at the height of its power.
The documents, declassified today after 30 years, show a government that operated with far less transparency than would be expected today.
Documents for cabinet decisions were often only showed to a select number of ministers and at times input from departments would not be sought.
Current Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch said over the course of 1986 the cabinet deliberated 2526, "often trivial", submissions. Ms Enoch said modern cabinets only looked at a few hundred submissions each year.
She said the 1986 documents showed decisions were being made about appointments and promotions that would not be made at a cabinet level today.
Ms Enoch said in 1986 ministers did not have to excuse themselves from cabinet deliberations if they had a conflict of interest. The cabinet even debated funding for the National Party's own Brisbane headquarters.
The lack of transparency allowed Mr Bjelke-Petersen to push for a pitch from developer Mainsel to build "the world's tallest building" in the Brisbane CBD, despite other proposals being cheaper and better funded.
Griffith University state politics expert Jennifer Menzies said cabinet members began to turn on the Premier when they found he would allegedly profit from the development.
But the first cracks in cabinet unity did not prevent the Nationals from winning the 1986 election - the only time the National Party has won government in its own right in any Australian election.
On July 16, an explosion at the Moura No. 4 mine killed 12 underground coal workers and caused extensive damage. The documents show Mines Minister Ivan Gibbs initially found nothing out of the ordinary was reported before the disaster. But later Mr Gibbs said expert advice from Britain might be needed to find out what caused the disaster. Mr Bjelke-Petersen gave verbal approval for a $50,000 grant to the Moura Mine Disaster Relief Fund.
Two of Brisbane's most prominent pieces of transport infrastructure opened in 1986 - the Gateway Bridge and the Roma Street Transit Centre. Although the Transit Centre's construction was well underway in early 1986, the cabinet approved a last-minute proposal from a developer to build a second office tower at the site - but it was never built.
Now-disgraced businessman Christopher Skase and his Qintex group pushed for a major development on the Southport Spit with Gold Coast developer Bruce Small in 1986. After approving Mr Small's proposal to reclaim 39,000sq m of seabed for a "motel/boatel" in 1985, the cabinet did not object to Qintex's proposal to add an international hotel to the development.
Throughout 1986 Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bob Katter pushed for Aboriginal workers to be paid award wages. At the time Department of Community Services indigenous workers were being paid less than the relevant industrial award.
In March the department told Mr Katter it was not possible to pay Aboriginal workers award wages because it would cost the government $10 million and cost jobs. But Mr Katter conducted "private research" and said he believed the government was in "extreme legal vulnerability" on the issue. The cabinet eventually agreed that Aboriginal workers would be paid award wages but provided the department with no extra funding to support it - leading to the predicted job cuts.
Throughout 1986 the cabinet concentrated on Queensland's mining and agricultural economy. But Industry Minister Mike Ahern made repeated suggestions to cabinet about modernising and diversifying the economy. The documents reveal Mr Ahern's "Choices for Queensland" proposal to "increase and widen its manufacturing base". But the proposal was not adopted.
- ARM NEWSDESK
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