Joh was no statesman
by Phillip Adams
26apr05

A RESPECTED film producer, if that's not an oxymoron, has a film that should be shot in Queensland and requests a meeting with the premier. Joh Bjelke-Petersen listens half-attentively to the sales pitch.

"Based on a Queensland novel, set in the canefields, backed by the Australian Film Commission, providing a few months of local employment, guaranteed to provide international publicity and bring tourists flocking." And so forth. "We do not seek any further investment but would appreciate your help with ..."

Joh interrupts: "What's in it for me?"

The producer misunderstands the question and begins to recap the pitch. Publicity, employment, tourism ... Joh interrupts again. "No! What's in it for me?"

Excusing himself for a moment, the producer, in panic, rings a friend in Canberra. Andrew Peacock's response is a worldly chuckle. "That's our Joh!" Yes folks, it's brown paper bag time. Pay up or piss off. The producer pisses off and rings me, in my capacity as chairman of the Australian Film Commission. Like Andrew, I'm not surprised.

That's our Joh. And that was also the style of many in his administration. God knows corruption wasn't exclusive to the Queensland government. Readers may recall one of Nifty Neville Wran's ministers going to the prisons he administered as a result of taking "tickets"; bribes that led to tickets of leave. Sentencing was by no means mandatory.

But Joh and his appalling cohorts were in the ticketing business tickety-boo. Take the case of his guru, the choreographer of his calumnies, Allen Callaghan, who was given the job of running the Queensland Film Corporation.

I'm sitting in my office at the AFC when members of the federal fuzz turn up. Nice cop, nasty cop routine. "We're here to ask you about these gifts you've been given," says Nice while Nasty waves a sheet of paper. "What gifts?"

"These gifts," says Nasty, tabling an inventory of expensive goodies. A very expensive watch, for example. The sort of things that Rene Rivkin lavished on his muscular acolytes.

I study the list. "Who gave them to me?"

"The boss of the Queensland Film Corporation, that's who." "When?" "Over a long period of time." "Why?" "That's what we're here to find out."

Needless to say, Allen hadn't got around to giving me the gifts. When I stress that if they had been proffered they wouldn't have been accepted, the cops go on their merry way and Callaghan eventually goes to jail for misappropriating $43,000 from the QFC.

Joh didn't, but it was a near thing. Thank heavens for a hung jury. Not that corruption of government, police, the public service and anyone else on the gravy train was the only issue or even the main issue. Joh ran the closest thing to a police state this country has seen, with his own Stasi collecting files on everyone and his dog. The worst sort of political bully, the old hypocrite cloaked his chicanery in the sheep's clothing of Christian virtue.

OK, I'll admit to a soft spot for the missus. On a few occasions, I'd give senator Flo a lift from the airport and marvel at her armour-plated innocence.

And I had a few meals with Joh, finding him uncomfortably likeable. But he remains one of the biggest blots on our landscape and any attempt to sentimentalise him is as ludicrous as all those vomitous lies at Richard Nixon's graveside.

Writing about Joh during the last wave of Baader-Meinhof and Red Army terror activities, I used these pages to award Joh the Terrorist of the Year Award. This fragment from the accolade remains apt: "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the lethal Lutheran, the creature from the black billabong! Not in her wildest dreams could Ulrike Meinhof have conceived of such success . . . Australia's noisiest minority – one man and a few thugs – have kidnapped an entire state ... While the middle class were told to fear the sound of protesters' thongs slapping down the street, the real danger lay in jackboots clomping down the corridors of power ... but just as Godzilla, Japan's irradiated dinosaur, thrived on munching power lines, Bjelka is nourished by all forms of opposition, particularly by southern satire ... Other terrorists rely on hand grenades and machineguns, but Joh has shown the awesome power of the rough end of the pineapple."

And that's what he deserves now.

The Australian

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