Don Lane (politician)

Donald Frederick (Don) Lane (18 June 1935 – 11 March 1995) was a Minister of Transport in the Bjelke-Petersen state of Queensland's coalition government.[1] A former policeman in the Special Branch, in 1971 he was elected as the Liberal member for Merthyr.[1] Following the 1983 Queensland state election he switched to the National Party (along with Brian Austin), providing it with an outright majority, and was rewarded with a ministry. Following revelations in the Fitzgerald Inquiry, he and three other Bjelke-Petersen ministers (including Leisha Harvey and Brian Austin) were tried in the District Court and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment for falsifying their expense accounts. His autobiography, Trial and Error was published in 1993 by Boolarong Publications.

Don Lane
Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly
for Merthyr
In office
24 July 1971 – 13 May 1989
Preceded byRay Ramsden
Succeeded bySanto Santoro
Personal details
Donald Frederick Lane

(1935-07-18)18 July 1935
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Died11 March 1995(1995-03-11) (aged 59)
Resting placePinnaroo Cemetery
Political partyNational Party
Other political
Liberal Party, Independent
OccupationPolice Officer

Political Career (1971-1989)Edit

Still only a Senior Constable after 19 years on the force, on 24 July 1971, Don Lane entered parliament as the Liberal member for Merthyr, which included the Fortitude Valley area. [2]

Switch to the National Party (1983)Edit

For the 1983 Queensland State Election, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was determined to win power for the National Party outright. Terry White had beaten Llew Edwards for leadership of the Liberal Party, and White was part of the Ginger Group (Queensland) which opposed the Government on a number of issues.

Matters came to a head in 1983 when the Ginger Group crossed the floor of parliament over the establishment of a public accounts committee, which had been a longstanding demand. White claimed that since there was no stated government policy on the matter, he was not bound by cabinet solidarity to vote against it. Bjelke-Petersen was furious, and Edwards quickly sacked White from his cabinet portfolio over the affair. White, in turn, challenged Edwards for leadership of the party, which he managed to secure with the assistance of the other Ginger Group members. Angus Innes was at the same time elected deputy leader. However, Bjelke-Petersen refused to appoint White as Deputy Premier, a post normally held by the Liberal leader. In response, White dissolved the coalition agreement and moved the Liberals to the crossbenches. However, Bjelke-Petersen advised the Governor, James Ramsay, to adjourn parliament, allowing him to stay in power at the head of a minority government until the election without having to face any confidence motions from White.[3]

In the subsequent 1983 election, Bjelke-Petersen called for right-leaning Liberal voters to support the Nationals, suggesting that under White, the Liberals might throw their support to Labor. The election was an unmitigated disaster for the Liberals, who suffered a 14-seat loss. Significantly, from the Ginger Group, only White and Innes survived, with the media and supporters blaming them for the debacle. Don Lane and Brian Austin defected to the Nationals soon after the election, leaving the Liberals with only six members out of 89. The two defectors gave Bjelke-Petersen's Nationals an outright majority, allowing him to form government in his own right.[4]

Start of the Fitzgerald InquiryEdit

In late 1986, two journalists, the ABC's Chris Masters and The Courier-Mail's Phil Dickie, independently began investigating the extent of police and political corruption in Queensland and its links to the National Party state government. Dickie's reports, alleging the apparent immunity from prosecution enjoyed by a group of illegal brothel operators, began appearing in early 1987; Masters' explosive Four Corners investigative report on police corruption entitled The Moonlight State aired on 11 May 1987.[5] Within a week, Acting Premier Gunn decided to initiate a wide-ranging Commission of Inquiry into police corruption, despite opposition from Bjelke-Petersen. Gunn selected former Federal Court judge Tony Fitzgerald as its head. By late June, the terms of inquiry of what became known as the Fitzgerald Inquiry had been widened from members of the force to include "any other persons" with whom police might have been engaged in misconduct since 1977.[6]

Joh for Canberra CampaignEdit

On 27 May 1987, Prime Minister Hawke called a federal election for 11 July, catching Bjelke-Petersen unprepared. The premier had flown to the United States two days earlier and had not yet nominated for a federal seat; on 3 June he abandoned his ambitions to become prime minister and resumed his position in the Queensland government. The announcement came too late for the non-Labor forces, as Bjelke-Petersen had pressured the federal Nationals to pull out of the Coalition. Due to a number of three-cornered contests, Labor won a sweeping victory.

Fitzgerald Inquiry HearingsEdit

Fitzgerald began his formal hearings on 27 July 1987, and a month later the first bombshells were dropped as Sgt Harry Burgess—accused of accepting $221,000 in bribes since 1981—implicated senior officers Jack Herbert, Noel Dwyer, Graeme Parker and Chief Commissioner Terry Lewis in complex graft schemes. Other allegations quickly followed, and on 21 September Police Minister Gunn ordered Lewis—knighted in 1986 at Bjelke-Petersen's behest and now accused of having taken $663,000 in bribes—to stand down.

The hearings were told by Jack Herbert that Don Lane had been paid significant bribes. The inquiry showed that taxation and banking records proved that Lane had significant unexplained income. As a result Lane confessed to misuse of his ministerial expenses, and named a number of other colleagues who he also claimed had done the same.[7] It has been noted that the confession of rotting ministerial expenses is much more benign crime than what he had been accused of.

The Fall of Bjelke-PetersonEdit

The ground had begun to shift out from under Bjelke-Petersen's feet even before the hearings began. The first allegations of corruption prompted the Labor opposition to ask the Governor, Sir Walter Campbell, to use his reserve power to sack Bjelke-Petersen.[8] His position deteriorated rapidly; ministers were openly opposing him in Cabinet meetings, which had been almost unthinkable for most of his tenure.

Throughout 1986, Bjelke-Petersen had pushed for approval of construction of the world's tallest skyscraper in the Brisbane CBD, which had been announced in May. The project, which had not been approved by the Brisbane City Council, enraged his backbenchers. During a party meeting, MP Huan Fraser confronted Bjelke-Petersen, saying "I know there is a bloody big payoff to you coming as a result of this. You're a corrupt old bastard, and I'm not going to cop it."[9][10]

By this time, National Party President, Sire Robert Sparkes had also turned against Bjelke-Petersen, and was pressuring him to retire. On 7 October, Bjelke-Petersen announced he would retire from politics 8 August 1988, the 20th anniversary of his swearing-in.[6]

Six weeks later, on 23 November 1987, Bjelke-Petersen visited Campbell and advised him to sack the entire Cabinet and appoint a new one with redistributed portfolios. Under normal circumstances, Campbell would have been bound by convention to act on Bjelke-Petersen's advice. However, Campbell persuaded Bjelke-Petersen to limit his demand to ask for the resignations of those ministers he wanted removed.[11] Bjelke-Petersen then demanded the resignation of five of his ministers, including Deputy Premier Bill Gunn and Health Minister Mike Ahern, Brian Austin, Peter McKechnie and Geoff Muntz. All refused. Gunn, believing Bjelke-Petersen intended to take over the police portfolio and terminate the Fitzgerald Inquiry, announced he would challenge for the leadership. Bjelke-Petersen persisted regardless and decided to sack three ministers—Ahern, Austin and Peter McKechnie—on the grounds of displaying insufficient loyalty.[12]

The next day, Bjelke-Petersen formally advised Campbell to sack Ahern, Austin and McKechnie and call an early election. However, Ahern, Gunn and Austin told Campbell that Bjelke-Petersen no longer had enough parliamentary support to govern. While Campbell agreed to the ouster of Ahern, Gunn and Austin, he was reluctant to call fresh elections for a legislature that was only a year old. He thus concluded that the crisis was a political one in which he should not be involved. He also believed that Bjelke-Petersen was no longer acting rationally. After Bjelke-Petersen refused numerous requests for a party meeting, the party's management committee called one for 26 November. At this meeting, a spill motion was carried by a margin of 38–9. Bjelke-Petersen boycotted the meeting, and thus did not nominate for the ensuing leadership vote, which saw Ahern elected as the new leader and Gunn elected as deputy.[13]

Dumped from CabinetEdit

Despite having helped do the numbers to topple Joh, in December 1987, Lane was dumped to the backbench after being named adversely in the inquiry.[14]

Decision to not seek Re-ElectionEdit

On 30 January 1989, Lane resigned from the house, and he was succeeded in his seat of Merthyr by The Liberal Party’s Santo Santoro, who had previously only narrowly lost to him (by 31 votes) in the 1986 Queensland state election.

Later Life (1989-1995)Edit

On 3 October 1990, Lane was sentenced to 12 months prison for 27 counts of misappropriating public money (totalling $4538.17). He was sentenced to 12 months with hard labour, and ordered to repay the moneys within 21 days. However after only seven weeks, Lane was transferred to a half-way house (along with former Cabinet Minister Brian Austin). He was released on home detention on 3 February 1991, and paroled two months later.[15] So ultimately Lane was only successfully prosecuted on fairly minor self confessed charges, compared to what the Fitzgerald Inquiry had found him guilty of.

His autobiography, Trial and Error was published in 1993 by Boolarong Publications. The book is somewhat defensive about some of the accusations of violence made against the Special Branch, but is honest in describing how unprepared the branch was for protest movements and how amateurish information on people was categorised. He admitted that the Special Branch treated protesters as they did with criminals. And he was scathing about the pre-Whitrod 1970 memorandum on 'subversives' that directed the police to classify suspects on a hierarchy of values down to '"a person suspected" by police of possessing certain opinions and views'. 'I thought this categorising of people in this way was stupid,' recalled Lane, '... it was not arrived at by any clearly defined basis and has no legal merit'.[16][17]

Lane died in 1995[1] and was buried in Pinnaroo Cemetery.[18]

The various leaders of each party paid tribute to Lane, noting the significant progress he made as Transport Minister and noting his close ties to the then significant Italian community of his seat of Merthyr.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Former Members". Parliament of Queensland. 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  2. ^ Bishop, Steve 2014, The Most Dangerous Detective: The Outrageous Glen Patrick Hallahan and the Rat Pack, Steve Bishop.
  3. ^ Moon, Jeremy; Sharman, Campbell (2003). Australian politics and government: the commonwealth, the states, and the territories. Cambridge University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-521-53205-1.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Koch, Tony (2010). A Prescription for Change, The Terry White Story. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 978-0-7022-3742-3.
  5. ^ "The Moonlight State – 11 May 1987". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 17 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b Whitton, Evan (1989). The Hillbilly Dictator: Australia's Police State. Sydney: ABC Enterprises. pp. 116–136. ISBN 0-642-12809-X.
  7. ^ Fitzgerald G.E (Tony), "Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Police Misconduct", Brisbane p116.
  8. ^ Barlow, Geoff; Corkery, Jim F. (2007). "Sir Walter Campbell: Queensland Governor and his role in Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's resignation, 1987". Owen Dixon Society eJournal. Bond University. Archived from the original on 12 April 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  9. ^ Knocking off the hillbilly dictator: Joh's corruption finally comes out; Mitchell, Alex; Crikey, 24 September 2015 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ All Fall Down Condon, Matthew; University of Queensland Press, 2015
  11. ^ Walter Campbell "Letter from Governor Walter Campbell to Premier Bjelke Petersen, 25 November 1987," 1 in Walter Campbell, Johannes Bjelke Petersen & Michael J. Ahern, Copies of correspondence relating to the change-over from the Bjelke-Petersen government to the Ahern government in late 1987. (Brisbane: Queensland Government, 1988).
  12. ^ Whitton, Evan (1989). The Hillbilly Dictator: Australia's Police State. Sydney: ABC Enterprises. pp. 137–139. ISBN 0-642-12809-X.
  13. ^ "Australian Political Chronicle: July–December 1987". Australian Journal of Politics and History. 34 (2): 239–240. June 1988. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8497.1988.tb01176.x. ISSN 0004-9522.
  14. ^ Fitzgerald G.E (Tony), "Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Police Misconduct", Brisbane p116
  15. ^ Whitton, Evan The Hillbilly Dictator, Chapter 44: God has Judged Me
  16. ^ Lane,Don "Trial and Error", Boolarong Publications pp. 59, 57, 47.
  17. ^ Finnane, Mark Accessed 15 September 2019
  18. ^ Lane Donald Frederick Archived 21 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine — Brisbane City Council Grave Location Search. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  19. ^ Hansard Accessed 15 September 2019

External linksEdit

Parliament of Queensland
Preceded by
Ray Ramsden
Member for Merthyr
1971 - 1989
Succeeded by
Santo Santoro