Nov 27, 2014

Condolence motion – Hon. Wayne Goss

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:41): When I was a young man growing up in the progressive political movement in the 1980s, people from my home state of New South Wales used to poke fun at Queensland and Queenslanders. The joke used to be that, when you crossed the Tweed River in Queensland, you had to wind back your watch 10 years.

Of course, there was an element of parochialism in such remarks; people from New South Wales and Queensland have always been friendly rivals, and that age-old rivalry is played out each year in State of Origin matches. But, for most of the 1970s and 1980s, there was also an element of truth to the charge that there was something wrong in Queensland.

People knew that, while the weather was fantastic up north, the political atmospherics were, to be generous, somewhat cloudy.

Wayne Goss changed all that. This mild mannered lawyer, politicised by the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975, was a genuine hero. Although he was in office for only six years, Wayne Goss brought fundamental change to Queensland—change that dragged the state out of the political dark ages and into the light.

Let’s consider Queensland in the 1970s. It was run by a right-wing populist. Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a reactionary who derided education. He refused to introduce a prep year for Queensland schools, meaning that Queenslanders were a year behind children in southern states when they finished school.

It was a corrupt state. Police were on the take. Conservative politicians collected donations in brown paper bags. It was a police state. Protests on anything from workers’ rights to the right of people to protest were met with truncheons.

It was a morally bankrupt state. A South African rugby union team chosen on racial grounds was welcome while anti-apartheid protestors were not.

Wayne Goss was there that day in 1971 when police tore into anti-apartheid protesters with batons. Like hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders, he grew up living under the shadow of an arrogant government with no respect for civil rights.

As a young lawyer, he would have heard National Party politicians swearing blind that there were no illegal casinos in Brisbane, even though he could see such establishments openly operating. He also watched as the National Party entrenched its power with a political gerrymander.

Part of the problem was the weakness of the Labor Party of the time. It was run by a small group which was unable to build the political momentum to confront the Bjelke-Petersen regime.

But by 1983 the party had shifted after an intervention by then federal Labor leader Bill Hayden. A new group of leaders emerged—a new group of leaders that understood that Labor needed to endorse candidates with broader political appeal. Wayne Goss was one of their first draftees.

He entered parliament in 1983 in the seat of Salisbury and by 1988 Wayne Goss was Leader of the Opposition. One of his first decisions in that role was to hire the then young Kevin Rudd as his chief of staff. Together with Wayne Swan, then Labor’s Queensland party secretary, the trio led Labor to victory in the 1989 election, helped by the fact that the Fitzgerald inquiry had finally laid bare the police and political corruption that had flourished under the coalition.

Goss’s list of achievements in government was impressive.

He implemented the findings of the Fitzgerald inquiry, eliminating the gerrymander and creating proper institutions to prevent a re-emergence of police and political corruption. He decriminalised homosexuality. He abolished the much hated police Special Branch, which the Nationals had used to keep track of political opponents. He ended logging on Fraser Island. He created parliamentary committees, including budget estimates committees, to increase the power of the Parliament to keep the executive honest. This was, of course, critical given the Queensland Parliament has no upper house.

Above all, Goss restored pride to Queenslanders.

Before Goss, Queensland was the political badlands—a place where dodgy dealings were common and went unnoticed due to a lack of proper institutions. After Goss, Queensland was respectable again.

No government can ever completely stamp out corruption and wrongdoing, but Goss did what any government should do: he put in place the proper checks and balances that should be part of any well-functioning democracy. This took immense courage and strength.

Wayne Goss was also a dedicated Labor man who entered politics because he wanted to deliver opportunity for all. He knew from his own experience that education is the great enabler. He understood struggle. Wayne Goss grew up in a housing commission home in Inala, in Brisbane’s south. He was the oldest of six children and the first of his family to attend university. He learned from his own experience that education and hard work represent the pathway to personal social mobility. Having risen from a housing commission home to the highest office in Queensland, Goss wanted to make sure others would have the same opportunity. That is why he lifted education funding.

While Goss had a soft heart, he also had a hard head. He was a non-nonsense Labor man who knew no amount of opportunity can change a person’s life if they do not learn the value of personal responsibility and self-reliance. Once asked by a journalist whether his government was providing enough welfare support for the poor, Goss shot back, ‘The best form of welfare you can give a person is a job’. This was why his period in office was marked by careful economic management that aimed to grow the Queensland economy and thereby grow jobs for his fellow-Queenslanders.

Wayne was endorsed to contest the safe Labor seat of Oxley in the 1998 federal election. The illness that finally took his life intervened, preventing him from bringing his intellect and leadership to the national stage.

In the wake of Wayne’s death, there has been some criticism of the fact that tributes to his life have stressed the shortcomings of the Bjelke-Petersen era. Bjelke-Petersen’s supporters claim his period in office was not as bad as has been claimed by people reviewing Goss’s achievements.

I would like to finish today by respectfully rejecting this view. Bjelke-Petersen did oversee a dark period in Queensland history. Anyone who wants to view that era through rose-coloured glasses ought to read the report of the Fitzgerald inquiry. Wayne Goss liberated Queensland from a period of its history which should be remembered for its lack of proper governance.

It took great strength and immense integrity.

He deserves our gratitude.

These days, entering Queensland is not regarded as a step back in time. Wayne Goss was forward-looking and dynamic, and his approach transformed Queensland permanently. His efforts ensured Queensland’s natural beauty was harnessed for the benefit of Queensland and the entire nation. In fact, many Australians move there from the southern states, knowing the bright sunshine is matched by a political system that sets a standard for openness and accountability.

In recent years Wayne spent considerable time in Sydney on business. On a number of occasions, he would take me aside and offer advice on issues of the day or on more general political analysis. He was always a very intelligent man and humble about his own achievements. His advice was always well-considered, thorough and strategic, and I benefited from that advice.

I express my condolences to Wayne’s friends, particularly his good friends Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan. I also express my sincere condolences to his beloved wife and life partner of 32 years, Roisin, and his children Ryan and Caitlin. Wayne Goss’s legacy is extraordinary and I pay tribute to this great Queenslander.