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Johannes (“Joh”) Bjelke-Petersen was an Australian right-wing politician, leader of the Queensland National Party (QNP) and premier of Queensland between 1968 and 1987.
Bjelke-Petersen was born in New Zealand, the son of a Danish Lutheran minister. He worked as a peanut farmer before entering the Queensland parliament in 1947.
His Queensland state chauvinism and extremely conservative policies – such as lack of support for Aboriginal land rights or for conservation issues – and attacks on the trade-union movement, made him a controversial figure outside as well as within Queensland, and he was accused more than once of electoral gerrymandering.
In 1987 he broke the coalition of the QNP with the Australian Liberal Party to run for prime minister, but his action, by splitting the opposition, merely strengthened the hand of the Labor prime minister Bob Hawke.
Amid reports of corruption in his government, Bjelke-Petersen was forced to resign the premiership in 1987. His wife, Florence, was also a senator from 1981 to 1992.
In 1991 Bjelke-Petersen faced criminal trial for perjury arising out of the evidence he had given to the Fitzgerald Inquiry (an earlier proposed charge of corruption was incorporated into the perjury charge).
Evidence was given to the perjury trial by Sir Joh’s former police Special Branch bodyguard, Sergeant Bob Carter, that in 1986 he had twice been given packages of cash totalling $210,000 at Sir Joh’s office.
He was told to take them to a Brisbane law firm and then watch as the money was deposited in a company bank account.
The jury in the case remained deadlocked, and in 1992 it was revealed that the jury foreman, Luke Shaw, was a member of the Young Nationals and was identified with the “Friends of Joh” movement.
A special prosecutor announced in 1992 there would be no retrial because Sir Joh, then aged 81, was too old. One unproved estimate of Bjelke-Petersen’s extortions was at least AU$6 million.
He died in April 2005, aged 94. He received a state funeral at which the then prime minister, John Howard, was a speaker.