1987’s Cabinet minutes reveal pivotal year for Queensland

The release of the 1987 Queensland Cabinet Minutes this week by QSA, reveal a landmark year for Queensland politics which saw strained relations with Bob Hawke’s federal government, the start of the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the resignation of long-serving premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

The Cabinet minutes show  the enormous workload of the Cabinet which often heard more than 50 submissions in a meeting and deliberated over 2811 submissions throughout the year.

The Cabinet minutes for 1987 highlight key political moments of Queensland history, from the submission by Acting Premier Bill Gunn on 25 May to appoint Tony Fitzgerald QC as a commissioner of inquiry into allegations about the Queensland Police Force to Sir Joh’s final Cabinet submission on 30 November.

Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 5717: Portrait of Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen

But as tumultuous as the political machinations were, the Cabinet minutes also reveal a much broader picture of events that have gone on to shape our life today in Queensland, from the decision about the future of South Bank site after Expo to decisions made about education, industrial relations and the environment.

There were controversial projects, such as Sir Joh’s backing of the world’s tallest building, the flashpoint of the Hawke government nominated Queensland’s northern rainforests for World Heritage listing, and the implementation of a task force to investigate domestic violence.

Cabinet decisions involving public health and safety campaigns were notable, including the warnings on cigarette packages, the results of Queensland’s first trial random alcohol breath trial and police raids on university campuses to crack down on condom vending machines.

Indigenous affairs was a key issue, with Cabinet documents noting the Queensland government’s agreeing to cooperate with a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody but unwillingness to contribute financially to the inquiry costs and a decision to allocate additional funding to legally oppose Eddie Mabo’s land rights claim.

In stark contrast to today’s employment conditions, Cabinet also decided that reduced funding to Queensland from the Premiers’ Conference meant it would no longer meet its previous commitment to pay award wages to Indigenous workers employed by the Department of Community Services.

The Cabinet documents show that Premier Bjelke-Petersen’s preference for oral submissions continued, and ministers often did not see all submissions and were poorly briefed before the meetings.

In the final month of the year when Premier Mike Ahern began to chair cabinet, the processes of autocratic power by the Premier and Treasury in the Cabinet room changed with the implementation of a Budget Review Committee and an Expenditure Review Committee.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper, Dr Tracey Arklay, Jennifer Menzies and Sue Horton from Griffith University’s Policy Innovation Hub have already done the hard work for you. You can read their overview and selected highlights on our publication portal.

The 1987 Cabinet Minutes are now available to the public at Queensland State Archives, located at 435 Compton Road, Runcorn. Opening hours are 9.00am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, as well as the second Saturday of every month.

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

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