September 10, 2007 | Graham

Beattie: fox but no beaver

The hagiographers are out in force painting a saintly picture of Peter Beattie. But if they’re right, and Beattie is an honest man, then he’ll have no problems with this piece.
Beattie will be remembered as a wiley politician, but not as someone who built Queensland. He’s a fox, not a beaver, and it’s a pity that there aren’t indigenous equivalents so I can make the image suitably Australian, but then, Beattie is unique.
I shouldn’t write his building skills off entirely. The modern Queensland ALP is a formidable organisation, and Beattie played his part in creating it. Indeed, as a young State Secretary he took high stakes political chances to bring about change, and was at one stage expelled from the party. In 1974 the Queensland ALP was reduced to a cricket team without anyone to carry the drinks – 11 members. Within 15 years it had wrested government from the National Party, and has held it since with a brief interegnum between 1996 and 1998.
Without Beattie that modernisation and renovation might never have occurred.
He took that high stakes approach into parliament when he eventually succeeded in winning a preselection. (He ran for Redlands at one stage, but was beaten). It took him years to become a minister, despite his obvious talent. This was in part due to his chairmanship of the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee where he frequently took sides against his own party. He was demoted from the chairmanship after one term.
When he did become a minister it was only after Labor had effectively lost the 1995 state election. They remained in power for six or so months while matters wended their way through the courts, leading to the Mundingburra re-election and their absolute defeat. This led to Beattie becoming Leader of the Opposition, but only because he was the last man standing with any credibility. His factional enemies supported him, but only out of necessity.
I’ve always admired Beattie for his pre-1998 achievements.
I’ve also had a lot of admiration for his political skills post 1998. In 2001, he effectively campaigned against his own party, which had been condemned by the Shepherdson Inquiry, apologised for its transgressions and demanded a mandate so that he could fix the problems. He was rewarded with a huge majority.
This modus operandi became standard, to the point where he is now a caricature of himself. Beattie will take responsibility for any mess he has created, assert that he is the only one who can fix the problem and demand a mandate to do so.
At the last election, held in 2006, voters re-endorsed Beattie on this argument, even though they saw through it. While they held their noses as they went into the polling booths, they deemed the opposition even less competent.
In policy terms the Beattie era has been full of wasted opportunities. Like the Goss government before him he has been concerned with maintaining the status quo at the same time as paying off selected constituencies and flooding the electorate with public relations bumpf. Essential services are decaying from lack of expenditure and feather-bedding of administrative staff at the expense of those who deliver. So more hospital administrators, but no more doctors and nurses, or at least not proportionately so.
Queensland inherited an extraordinarily strong balance sheet from the National Party – it is the only state to have fully-funded public service superannuation – yet that balance sheet was never used to put the infrastructure into place at the optimal time. Instead, infrastructure has been built only after a crisis has occurred, leading to dislocation in essential industries, like water supply and mining, delays and high costs. Properly managed Queensland could have been kilometres in front of the other states and an even stronger magnet for investment and immigration.
In other areas, unnecessary increases in regulation have led to huge cost increases. Beattie bears a disproportionate blame for high housing costs because of the regulations introduced via planning legislation.
Beattie boasts about his success with the Smart State, but the SS is no more than a slogan. Queensland continues to prosper from the innovations of the Coalition governments of the 60s and 70s, but they were in traditional industries. Gordon Chalk and Joh Bjelke-Petersen introduced the Japanese into the mining industry, expanded agriculture and tourism, and by abolishing death duties directly caused the immigration of older Australians to the sun-belt state. Agriculture, mining, tourism and property development are still the backbone of the economy.
If Queensland is more cosmopolitan now than it was, that is a legacy also left by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. In bringing Expo 88 to Brisbane he set in train events that would be capitalised on by two Brisbane Lord Mayors – Atkinson and Soorley – which would lead to the state’s capital becoming more optimistic, outgoing and confident. It is this change in Brisbane which makes Queensland seem less the “hick state”.
Beattie is leaving the state a worse place than he found it. That is a pity. I, and many other Queenslanders, had higher hopes for him when he took over the premiership. There are some competent members of the team that are left, and if Anna Bligh is a good manager, she will give them more freedom than Beattie did. Bligh will be the first female premier of Queensland. This is strongly symbolic, but unlike Beattie, I hope she will strive for more than mere symbolism.

Posted by Graham at 11:32 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. He could end up being remembered for letting Brisbane run dry – if it doesn’t flood this summer. Then again, I guess he has handed over just in time and it ‘only’ risks being Anna Blighs legacy?

    Comment by Jennifer — September 11, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  2. He’s mea culped up his own backside. I think the correct term is parody of himself rather than caricature.

    Comment by Bill O'Slatter — September 11, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  3. I’m not a QLD er. I remember visiting QLD in Joh’s days, it’s a vastly different state now, and I think while there has been neglected areas it first had to have more people, Beatie has done that.
    His priorities can be argued, but it is better now than when it was ruled by Joh, and Beatie did that. He first had to drag the QLD labor into the 21st centry, he did that now the infrastructure is in need of priority. Chicken and egg, cart and horse.
    I trust the new premier has the where withal to do that.
    A good article, encapsulates my ambitions for SA, If he wants a job SA needs him.

    Comment by frank luff — September 11, 2007 @ 10:40 am

  4. Those residents of Bundaberg who are lucky enough to be alive are glad Red Pete is going.

    Comment by Biff — September 11, 2007 @ 10:26 pm

  5. A confident Queensland or the wasted years?

    In the wake of his resignation on Monday, Peter Beattie’s record is being examined from conflicting viewpoints. I don’t think there’s any denying that purely as a politician, he was one of the smartest we’ve seen for a very long…

    Comment by Larvatus Prodeo — September 12, 2007 @ 12:00 am

  6. Well, what do people expect, how does the current system encourage honest politicians and honest parties.
    Look what happened to Latham when he suggested an alternative way of dealing with woodchipping in Tasmania in 2004, that the vested interests immmediately threw a tantrum at, despite the reasonableness of the proposal.

    Comment by paul walter — September 16, 2007 @ 3:03 am

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