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'Disunity' revealed in 1986 Qld cabinet

AAP logoAAP 31/12/2016 Jamie McKinnell

Decades-old Queensland cabinet documents have laid bare the first cracks of disunity in the Bjelke-Petersen government over a plan to build the world's tallest building in Brisbane.

The 1986 material, released on Sunday, reveal the narrow focus of the then-National Party cabinet on development, agriculture and mining.

Griffith University researcher Jennifer Menzies said the state government was "unassailable" and former premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was at his height.

"They had the levers of power and they weren't letting go," she said.

In April, cabinet considered tenders for the redevelopment of Queensland Railway land on the corner of Edward and Turbot streets in Brisbane.

It was to be the world's tallest building.

A $95 million proposal from Seymour Developments offered the best financial return to the state at $8 million.

But Sir Joh doggedly pushed for the approval of a $300 million proposal by Victorian-based Mainsel Investments, despite the 83-storey tower offering a lower $6.1 million return.

"Mainsel was not the preferred tender and yet somehow it was approved and Joh kept bringing it back to cabinet," Ms Menzies said.

A report handed to cabinet in March 1986 stated Mainsel's project had no financial base guarantee but both proposals were "landmark features".

Party members became aware Sir Joh allegedly stood to financially benefit from the Mainsel project and, in 1987, tensions boiled over. He stepped down during the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

"A lot of the seeds of his demise can be seen in the '86 record," Ms Menzies said.

Documentation about the redevelopment decision was lacking, she added.

"There was analysis around the tender but it wasn't lengthy documentation," she said.

"The decision didn't reflect the analysis anyway."

The sheer volume of matters cabinet "churned through" - 2526 submissions - was striking to now Innovation Minister Leanne Enoch.

At times the premier made oral submissions and ministers often weren't briefed by their departments.

"The 1986 minutes prove a lack of openness and transparency allowed corruption and ignorance to flourish," Ms Enoch said.

"The first cracks of disunity ... were just starting to appear."

The documents reveal maverick now-federal MP Bob Katter, then the minister for community services, warned of the government's "extreme legal vulnerability" as he pushed for equal pay for Aboriginal workers.

It was an argument he eventually won, despite departmental advice it would cost $10 million and jobs would be lost.

In March 1986, Sir Joh gave an oral submission proposing taxpayers foot the bills for certain defamation cases by ministers.

The following day, he issued five defamation writs.

"They weren't really concerned about what people thought," Ms Menzies said.

"That was really shutting down anyone who brought up any issues around corruption - the media and the opposition."

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