30th Anniversary of the election of the Goss Government

November 27, 2019

Next Monday, 2 December, marks 30 years since the election of the Goss government in Queensland. Whilst there will be an element of sadness, as Wayne's passing means we won't be able to recognise him in person, there's still so much to acknowledge in his and his government's achievements, 30 years on. I think recent generations look back on that period and think that that election was an easy one for Labor to win. Given that there was such a tarnished administration and a corrupt and backward-looking government, the thought was that the 1989 election was always going to be a fait accompli. But it wasn't, and there was so much to overcome. There was the vested interest and the institutionalised corruption, let alone the outrageous gerrymander that made it so hard for the Labor Party to win a majority government. To just get the Labor party in a position to win an election was a remarkable achievement, let alone to go on and form government and then set up a modern Queensland. It was a fantastic effort by a group of passionate Queenslanders who were true believers, very diligent and professional. All they wanted was fair, decent and good government for Queensland. That election on 2 December 1989 really heralded the modernisation of Queensland. The Goss government were elected with a big agenda—modernising Queensland and bringing integrity and accountability to public administration in Queensland—and they built a remarkable list of achievements during their two terms of government.

I think, as Labor people, we always think about those first two decisions that they made. The first was abolishing the imperial honours system, which obviously the previous Premier used to curry favour with the business community through corrupt acts. They disbanded the Special Branch that was used by the corrupt police force to target political opponents and target people who were standing up to the administration. They went on to set up a lasting legacy that Queensland still benefits from today: they implemented the recommendations of the Fitzgerald inquiry—the inquiry that was undertaken into the Bjelke-Petersen government and police corruption. The Goss government were responsible for implementing that. They removed the gerrymander and restored electoral fairness to Queensland—one vote, one value—and set up the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission. There were merit based appointments to the Public Service and public service reform. The Public Sector Management Commission was the first piece of legislation passed by the government. Labor made it mandatory to advertise and interview for senior Public Service positions. They allowed street marches—something that was taken away from Queenslanders during the Bjelke-Petersen government. They decriminalised homosexuality and brought in antidiscrimination and equal opportunity legislation.

They set a remarkable list of environmental achievements. They created new national parks. Fraser Island is one example, and it came with an economic and social package for the workforce of the Wide Bay area. There were environmental protections and heritage and pollution acts, and they ended the logging of rainforests. They established a World Heritage area in the Wet Tropics and protection for the Great Barrier Reef, let alone what they achieved in social progress. They appointed Labor's first female cabinet minister and Queensland's first female Governor. They introduced the first freedom of information legislation and created the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, whistleblower protections and judicial reviews. The tertiary entrance system was reformed, including the introduction of the OP system. They provided a couple of thousand university places and hired a couple of thousand teachers. Standardised testing of literacy and numeracy was introduced for primary schools and an Asian languages program was brought into schools.

A public works program during the 1990s recession helped the Queensland government balance the books, retain the AAA credit rating but keep Queenslanders in work. That included a 10-year hospital rebuilding scheme that was so desperately needed after 32 years of neglect. They worked had to increase spending in areas of need whilst maintaining the state's enviable low tax status. The structure imposed an overarching policy of no new taxes, full funding of government liabilities and no borrowing for recurrent purposes. Borrowing could only take place for commercial assets with a demonstrable rate of return. There was increased spending each year on education, health, family services and the environment. A determination meant that Queensland was net debt free by 1995—the only state in such a position.

They set up the estimates committee in parliament to ensure that the parliament was being held accountable and that ministers were being held accountable. For the first time, precise rules of engagement, deliberation and consultation were introduced and documented in the Cabinet handbook. They abolished ministerial credit cards and cash advances to ministers and introduced a ministerial code of conduct and a pecuniary interests register for all elected representatives. They reformed censorship provisions for films and magazines, promoted public housing and introduced the Home Ownership Made Easy scheme. The Office of the Coordinator-General was re-established to expedite major projects and assist with government approvals.

As you can see from that list, there is such a legacy that the Goss government delivered for Queensland. Obviously, I was quite young during the Goss government. I can certainly remember the headline from The Sunday Mail the day after the election: 'Goss the Boss'. I subsequently got to know Wayne on a personal level. He was always thoughtful, tough, fierce and so demanding of high standards. In some of the conversations I had with him when I was a party official, I thought I was having a casual conversation and then, all of a sudden, he would ask questions about the state of the Labor Party or state of the particular government at the time. You soon realised how fierce and uncompromising he could be. He certainly drove high standards—high standards from his government but also high standards from his ministers and the Labor Party in general. In Queensland, we've always maintained a professional standard as a result.

He has a legacy of careful economic management—something that he was very proud of and the party remains very proud of. He modernised Queensland's social services and put them on a path to proper funding—something that took a long time to catch up on, but it wouldn't have happened without the election of the Goss government in 1989.

He was certainly environmentally ambitious. There was so much that had been neglected after 32 years of conservative rule that needed the Goss government to come in—the protection of national parks, the protection of the state's heritage, which had been so badly damaged, and also the protection of a place like Fraser Island, which was able to phase out of sand mining and maintain its status as such an environmental icon today that so many people want to go and visit.

Integrity and accountability with the Goss government and with Wayne in particular were non-negotiable. It is something that he obviously witnessed from his time in the parliament. He saw how tough it was to overcome, but he never wanted to see Queensland risk returning to those dark old days. There is no doubt that he was a government for all of Queensland. That is something that Labor governments in Queensland continue to this day. They understand that Queensland is a big and diverse state, that you need to be a government for the whole of Queensland. Whilst Premiers Beattie, Bligh and Palaszczuk, who have come after him, deserve credit in their own right for what they have achieved, there is no doubt that that Goss legacy provides a platform for Labor governments to have been in power now for 25 of the last 30 years.

I look forward to gathering with true believers and some members of the Goss government on Saturday night. I pay tribute to those people who played such a significant role in the election and the modernisation of Queensland. I look forward to celebrating with them on Saturday night, when we can pay tribute to a remarkable legacy and a remarkable premier, but we also acknowledge the work that has gone on since to continue to ensure that Queensland becomes the modern, vibrant state that it is and remember when it all started on 2 December 1989.