Joh

AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY IN THE present moment fulfils all of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's promises to the future. Joh, Premier of Queensland 1968–1987 presided over a State with all the qualities Australia enjoys today: it was parochial, violent, hypocritical, complacent, as crooked as a broken finger, as racist as the day is long. Since he failed to become Prime Minister, we have no sense of how Joh would have treated the border, but we can infer his probable attitudes from today's current affairs, a strongman Fortress Australia that looks inward, punishing the vulnerable, wondering why anyone would want to leave.

The most interesting and ambitious people left late 20thC Queensland. The most powerful people dominated it without any real agenda except to enrich themselves and their friends, and to punish their enemies. Since political dissenters were treated as criminals, the concept of politics shaded into the question of crime, and the only real politics was to decide what kinds of things were to be punished or not. Leaders and Ministers stole, bribed and took bribes, and conflicted themselves into knots. The law was a bare figleaf over power. The society was power-worshipping, authoritarian, and dominated in practice by the Police. Extractive industries were favoured: real estate, mining, agribusiness. Culture war is everything, but ideas are for suckers.

Our political arrangements are as nakedly clientelist as Joh's proto-thief state, all the Parties openly bidding: the Nationals pork-barrelling for the regions, the Liberals rewriting the rules of property on property's behalf, Labor ritually dancing a 1980s dance to bring back an imaginary 1980s loyalty-owing working class, the Greens promising social housing and a renters' paradise, but taking one listen to their voters and sensibly rejecting development, protecting inner-city Character (and housing prices). It's not a question of the behaviour of Parties, it's the end result of a concept of the political that delivers State power to People Like Us.

There's minor differences now---the most interesting and ambitious can't emigrate, since it's against the law to leave. Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a sincere Christian whose religious practices came before his politics, a thing hard to say of any current prominent politician.

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