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Wednesday 10 November 2010

Queensland: State of Unease

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 23rd November 2009

Has Queensland become too dominant within Australia's federal politics? And if so, what does that mean for LGBT and other human rights?

I recently read an excellent sesquicenntennial volume about Queensland state history, which explained much about the state's inertia when it comes to social change, authoritarianism and social conservatism. It moved slowly to abolish its initial property franchise, introduce women's suffrage, establish a state-wide system of secondary and tertiary education and comprehensive social services, has been negligent when it comes to Aboriginal land and civil rights and has been prone to periods of repression of civil liberties and human rights. This authoritarian political culture culminated in the rise of corrupt Queensland Premier Johannes (Joh) Bjelke-Petersen who misgoverned Queensland through the connivance of widespread police corruption and croneyism for two decades.

Although the Queensland ALP won state government in 1990 and introduced an anti-corruption Criminal Justice Commission, it too has been warped and distorted by the authoritarian political culture within which it exists. To its credit, as well as the CJC, it introduced homosexual law reform and anti-discrimination legislation, which even overtly includes the transgender community (unlike New Zealand), but is dragging its feet over registered partnerships, comprehensive relationship equality reforms and inclusive adoption reform.

Why? Unlike Victoria and New South Wales, Queensland isn't dominated by Brisbane, its state capital and chief metropolitan centre, but still has a significant rural demographic warp. This therefore adversely affects the development of thriving, diverse and pluralistmetropolitan civil societies similar to those which exist in Sydney and Melbourne. It's no accident that the far right Bjelke-Petersen regime lasted for as long as it did, or why Pauline Hanson's neofascist One Nation emerged from this backward countrified miasma. Or, for that matter, why homophobic violence is rife in the state.

At the risk of sounding patronising, Queenslanders do not seem to comprehend meaningful pluralism, diversity and democratic accountability all that well. Unfortunately, current Australian federal Prime Minister Kevin Rudd comes from a rural Queensland background. Queensland is 'different', sure. It is a time warp that reaches into the past of a more authoritarian, repressive Australia.


Ross Fitzgerald, Lyndon Megaritty and David Symons: Made in Queensland: A New History: St Lucia: University of Queensland Press: 2009.

Craig Young - 23rd November 2009

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