Former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss Dead At 63

BY NOW most of Australia has heard the news that former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss has died today, aged just 63, three weeks after the passing of his idol Gough Whitlam; the former Premier deserves acknowledgement for some worthy reforms in Queensland, but sober consideration of the shortcomings of his government — and its legacy — should temper the torrent of praise and adulation his passing continues to elicit.

First things first: I was genuinely moved this morning to learn that former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss had died after a decades-long battle with cancer, aged just 63; younger than both of my parents (and elected Premier when younger than I am today), the ebb and flow of time sometimes manifests itself in unpleasant ways, and in unfortunate and untimely events such as this one.

Despite being a proponent of “the other side” and representing an early first-hand experience of “real Laborites,” readers know I am emphatic that members of Parliament of all political persuasions are to my eyes human first, and adherents of whichever political creed they follow after that; and in the case of Wayne Goss, I am eager to extend my condolences and very best wishes to his family at what I am sure is a very difficult time indeed.

Yet this ALP trailblazer — Labor’s first Premier in Queensland in 32 years, and whose election (by his own declaration) ended forever the Bjelke-Petersen era — leaves behind a mixed legacy: some good, some not so good, and some ghost stories best left untold.

I met Goss in 1989 six months before he won the state election that December: as a senior student, I organised (on separate occasions) visits by Goss and by Liberal leader Angus Innes to our high school; Innes was a personal friend, but it was the first (and only) time I had met Goss, and whatever reservations I had about him politically, I can honestly say that I found him engaging, perfectly charming, and a highly intelligent speaker and conversationalist.

Even so, I’m not going to indulge either Goss’ memory or the staunch band of slavering sycophants out in force tonight with any drivel about lights at the end of tunnels, silly catchcries about the “Goss Gloss,” or a lot of the other rubbish that has already consumed far too much space in news portals not just in Queensland, but across the country.

But by the same token, I am neither going to catalogue the successes of his government, nor — out of respect — itemise its failures, aside from noting that in spite of the best PR efforts now being orchestrated to the contrary, the latter list would be considerable, and perhaps longer in the end than the former.

The Goss government was a modestly effective outfit that quickly became engorged on the same trappings of office it pilloried its predecessors for indulging in, and what might have been a shiny new beacon of public administration in 1989 was a discredited entity that had well and truly lost touch by the time it slid from office six and a half years later.

Its defeat came despite “fair” electoral boundaries introduced on its watch in 1992 which, to this day, retain a bias toward the ALP of somewhere between 2% and 4%: an indictment on a regime elected on a promise to make elections in Queensland fair and transparent.

And in addition to launching such objectionable and loathsome specimens as Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd on an unsuspecting Australian public, I contend Queensland Labor from that time onwards carries a heavy responsibility for shaping much that is wrong with Labor politics — and Australian politics more generally — now.

Its vicious brutality and its culture of petty, narcissistic populism — coupled with a penchant for photo opportunities and an unreasoning mentality of never being wrong — are all traits that find their modern genesis in the operation conducted by then ALP state secretary Wayne Swan to elect Labor in Queensland in 1989 for the first time in 32 years, and which have subsequently infected the ALP nationally and poisoned to a great degree the politics of this country and the esteem in which it is held by a battle-weary electorate.

To give credit where it is due, it must be acknowledged that much of the entrenched infrastructure of institutionalised corruption, which had been allowed to fester in Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen government, was demolished on Goss’ watch; in its place was an attempt — sincerely contrived, I believe — to restore honesty and transparency to public administration in the Sunshine State.

Sometimes it succeeded, and sometimes it didn’t.

But his government was nowhere near as good as its proponents might argue; and in many cases where great success has often been credited, reality has been found short of the mark.

It is to be hoped that Goss — first diagnosed with a brain tumour 17 years ago — is able to rest in peace.

But unlike Whitlam, his legacy does not warrant the great magnanimity and goodwill the passing of the former Labor Prime Minister elicited; and whilst not unsympathetic to those around him — including his former colleagues, and even those whose politics I viscerally detest — I cannot bring myself to pen any kind of eulogy to his record in office.

Rightly or wrongly, the Goss government did what it was elected to do, and in the chief interests of those who voted for it. Beyond that, it did few people any favours. On the former count it did no more than was expected of it, and on the latter nothing to warrant any accolade of greatness or inclusivity.

And it certainly made no attempt to heal the raw wounds and divisions in Queensland from the tumultuous final years of the 1980s which immediately predated its ascension to office.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: Wayne Goss was elected as Premier at a state election in Queensland on Saturday 2 December 1989; he was not — as has been widely  written in the publications of both Fairfax and Murdoch today — elected on 7 December: that was the day he was sworn into office, along with his ministers. To the journalists responsible for this basic error of fact (and/or for copying each other’s work) I simply have to say this. GET IT RIGHT!

 

Good Riddance: Rudd Ends 25 Year Reign Of Terror

HISTORY will record that Kevin Rudd destroyed arguably the best Prime Minister in Australia’s history at the ballot box, and arguably the worst through subterranean machinations inside the ALP; there is little of merit to otherwise remember his time in public life, which — thankfully — is at its end.

As recently as Monday, it seemed all too clear that the cretinous, posturing Kevin Rudd was resuming his antics and games to begin yet another assault on the Prime Ministership, no matter how unlikely or wildly unrealistic.

Indeed — as we discussed in what now seems destined to be the last of our “Ruddwatch” segments — it appeared Rudd had metaphorically returned to the well, revisiting the very issue on which he had launched his bid for parliamentary office back in 1996.

But last night, in a statement to the House of Representatives, Rudd announced that he was resigning his seat of Griffith, and thus from Parliament, bringing down the curtain on a political career that began 25 years ago as the Chief of Staff to then Queensland opposition leader Wayne Goss.

I was initially surprised to receive the news shortly after the announcement; after some reflection I’m not really surprised at all. Either way, however, Rudd has unquestionably made the right call, and to some extent should be commended for doing so.

The allusion to the French Revolution is fitting; easy parallels can be drawn between Rudd and Robespierre, one of the central figures of those troubled years in France.

One prosecuted a reign of terror with open vigour; the other did so in all but name.

Yet by the time Rudd came to be adopted as Labor’s candidate for its “safe” seat of Griffith in 1996, “a name” was certainly something Rudd had made for himself in Queensland: as Director-General of the Office of Cabinet, Rudd was widely accused of botching reform of the Public Service, and was later accorded the moniker “Dr Death” on account of blame for mismanagement of the state’s health bureaucracy widely sheeted home to him.

On Rudd’s watch — and as Queensland’s public service was purged (I use the word advisedly) of National Party-aligned bureaucrats inherited from the Bjelke-Petersen regime — many careers and livelihoods were ruined; and once the known National Party adherents had been cleaned out, the purge extended to others: personally sympathetic to Labor but outwardly rigidly neutral, many silent but diligent time-servers who had survived the National Party regime fell victim to its successors.

There remains the perennially unresolved blight of the Heiner Affair from that period as well, and in time Rudd may be compelled to answer questions on the record in relation to that sorry episode of government malpractice.

I contend that the parliamentary career of Kevin Rudd is, mostly, unspectacular; certainly it will be remembered more for what should best be forgotten than for any meaningful or constructive achievements.

Almost from the day he arrived in Canberra, stories of his undermining of Labor leaders began to spread: Kim Beazley, then Simon Crean, then Mark Latham, then Beazley again.

Latham — for his faults — recognised Rudd for what he was — a disruptive, destructive influence with endless ego and ambition. But Rudd entered Parliament as one of Labor’s “best and brightest,” and through rat cunning, his undeniable intellect and the good fortune of timing, eventually seized the leadership of what would prove an unwilling party.

Rudd’s victory at the 2007 election will likely prove the zenith of his career; yet even this is largely the result of forces beyond his control: facing off against an ageing Prime Minister, insecurely seated in a marginal electorate, who passed up the opportunity to retire a hero was an almighty stroke of luck. A $13 million war chest, provided by unions to fight an unpopular suite of laws in WorkChoices, was another.

But to the extent the win in 2007 had anything to do with Rudd at all, it was for the wrong reasons; 2007 was the first Australian election won off the back of cheesy slogans that extended no further than their component words. Kevin `07! An Education Revolution!

Rudd loyalists will argue that his Prime Ministership will be well-regarded by history for his apology to the so-called “stolen generations,” and for his government’s “stewardship” of Australia through the global financial crisis.

It remains to be seen, however, whether anything meaningful was achieved at all by Rudd’s apology; and far from doing the country a favour during the GFC, Rudd and his Treasurer — the obsequious Wayne Swan — set Australia on the path of massive and inefficient public expenditure, underpinned by colossal external borrowings, that has seen the country rack up hundreds of billions of dollars in debt that will take years to repay.

Rudd probably should have gone quietly into the night following the brutal midnight massacre inflicted on his leadership in June 2010.

But the megalomaniac that Rudd is retreated, regrouped, and renewed old pastimes of undermining his leader — an enterprise which, against all odds, saw him reclaim his cherished Prime Ministership earlier this year, albeit for all of about ten weeks.

We have discussed — many, many times — everything that is wrong with Rudd, and to do so again now would seem unduly repetitious. Still, for those who simply can’t resist, here is a little golden oldie, replete with some great links to other articles and clips.

One of the more enjoyable trips down memory lane where thinking of Rudd is concerned.

Yet it is also a salient article to link to, given Rudd has alluded in his resignation speech to the “slings and arrows” of his parliamentary career, and the effect they have had on his family: and to this I simply say that if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.

I don’t think too many people will miss Rudd now that he is going.

Certainly not his party, which (despite restoring him briefly as its leader) has made little attempt for years to disguise the fact that it can’t stand the sight of him.

Rudd’s departure does the ALP a massive favour; it removes an unruly destabilising force from its ranks, and gives the continuing party room clearer air in which to operate: even if new leader “Electricity” Bill Shorten is determined to foul that air anew with his rigid insistence on sticking to the discredited Labor agenda so recently hurled from office.

As I said in my brief teaser piece as news of Rudd’s resignation spread, I have less time for Kevin Rudd than perhaps any other figure currently associated with the ALP, and there are quite a few Labor types — both directly and indirectly — that I have reason to despise.

Reasons far removed from simple partisan preference, just for the record.

But in one last, delicious irony, Rudd is ultimately the victim of his own scheming bastardry: the leadership “reforms” he instituted to entrench himself in the Labor leadership have been retained, making it virtually impossible for him to undermine his way back to the leadership now, and to seek public redemption at the ballot box.

As Robespierre met his end at the blade of Madame Guillotine, Rudd has been summarily chopped by his own party.

In the final analysis, Rudd is simply a cretin: an obnoxious, dishonourable, self-obsessed megalomaniac, to whom the only value of other people is the benefit he can extract from them to further his own advancement and perpetuate the deluded myth of his own superiority that he has allowed to fester for far too long.

This imbecile will be remembered neither as a great Prime Minister, nor a revered one; simply an over-ambitious dickhead whose estimation of his own importance, in the end, far outweighed any meaningfully useful service he ever rendered.

Others may be kinder to him; I simply call it as it is.

Yet oddly, I wish Rudd no ill as he now slithers into overdue retirement: let the man nurse his grievances and lick his wounds from beneath his rock, and away from prying eyes.

Good riddance.

 

Former Queensland Premier To Undergo Brain Surgery

Unpleasant news this evening; former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss will undergo surgery early next week to remove a malignant brain tumour; it is Goss’ third such operation in 16 years, and The Red And The Blue wishes him the best.

Goss, of course, was Labor’s breakthrough Premier in Queensland: coming to power in a landslide in 1989, his government ended 32 years of conservative rule in the Sunshine State; whilst his government ended many aspects of that state’s anachronistic and sometimes corrupt practices in politics, police work and business, the reality of the Goss government never fully lived up to the accompanying hype.

Goss’ government fell from office in early 1996 after a supplementary election in the seat of Mundingburra — the result in which from the previous year’s general election was invalidated by the Court of Disputed Returns — was won by the Liberal Party, tying numbers between Labor and the Coalition, and after Independent Liz Cunningham voted to install a minority Coalition government led by the Nationals’ Rob Borbidge.

Goss’ first surgery for brain cancer took place soon thereafter, with additional surgery occurring in 2002.

It is understood Goss’ impending treatment is for a recurrence of the cancer rather than a new growth, but that his prognosis for a full recovery is very good.

This column wishes to minute best wishes to Mr Goss and his family, and hopes Goss is able to make a rapid convalescence and to return to living a full and normal life in his retirement years.