Wayne Goss, who has succumbed to cancer at 63, was steeped in Queensland Labor tradition and history and yet his premiership broke with the tradition and made its own history.
He was 32 when he won preselection for the state seat of Salisbury – a young lawyer who had worked for the Aboriginal Legal Service before setting up his own practice heavily committed to defending the rights of the vulnerable.
He won the support of the powerful Australian Workers Union but was an independent spirit who looked completely out of place with many of his colleagues in the parliament, whose places were gifted by the Trades Hall, and were mostly old-style conservative unionists.
He came into the parliament ambitious but unwilling to pursue that ambition at any cost. He knew credibility and trust had to be won. He rejected the cheap headline and pursued issues with thoroughness and integrity.
Soon after coming into parliament he was made shadow Justice Minister, and in that role I approached him with the results of six months’ investigative work I had been doing on the widespread illegal use of bingo machines as de facto poker machines in the state.
Network Ten’s lawyers were nervous about publishing some of the dynamite I had uncovered because my sources were too afraid to give interviews or be identified. Wayne Goss took the ball and ran with it under the protection of parliament. It was the beginning of the end of the endemic corruption that went all the way to the top of the government and the police.
By the time he won the premiership, ending 32 years of conservative rule, I had moved to Canberra. Queenslanders were more than ready for the sweeping reforms he introduced.
He moved quickly to end the gerrymander. That piece of electoral corruption went all the way back to the post-war Hanlon Labor government. It was one ALP tradition emulated and improved on by their conservative successors! Fittingly ended by a true Labor reformer.
On one of his visits to Canberra in late 1991 he shared with me his eyewitness account of history. He was in Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s office when Treasurer Paul Keating walked in to tell him he was quitting to challenge for the top job. He was very impressed by the way Hawke took the bombshell in his stride, finishing the business of their meeting. He saw it as a sure sign of Hawke’s unwillingness to capitulate easily to Keating.
Some years later I met the Goss family by chance on holidays in Port Douglas. They are a loving and gifted crew. The two children went on to win Rhodes scholarships. His wife Roisin is a professional in her own right and I have no doubt integral to Wayne’s success and immense contribution. Their loss will be sorely felt.
When his premiership ended Wayne Goss thanked Queensland and hoped he had left his state a better place than he had found it.
Few would doubt it.
Paul Bongiorno AM reported Queensland state politics from 1978 till 1988 for Network Ten in Brisbane. He is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno