The pollie who said no

By: Sue Lappeman (Gold Coast Bulletin)

I HAD heard about this mythical creature, the politician integritatis, a sub-species and natural enemy of the more common politician megalomaniac and politician cowardus.
Featuring a backbone and the unique ability to stand up to its misbehaving pack leaders, the rare critter is normally only seen in the wild, not in the natural habitat of its trough-feeding, invertebrate adversaries, Parliament House.
But there he was, former Liberal leader and humble pharmacy magnate Terry White, sheltering from the rain in the Premier's Hall, under the creepily following eyes of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's portrait, 27 years after committing the very unpolitician-like act of standing up to the corrupt National Party regime and telling them to take the coalition agreement and shove it.
Mr White's side of the tumultuous events of 1983 has been revealed in a new biography written by multi-award winning journalist Tony Koch of The Australian, who as a political reporter was in a box seat witnessing the commotion.
There is a lesson in this book for today's politicians - you too can stand up to your own side if you think they are doing the wrong thing.
Sure, like Mr White, who theatrically ripped up the coalition agreement (although in reality it was a press release) you might get dumped on, persecuted, shunned and ultimately lose your seat. But on the bright side, he's a Hedges Avenue millionaire now.
Corruption buster Tony Fitzgerald, QC, launched the book, A Prescription For Change: The Terry White Story, at a function in Parliament House well attended by a slew of LNP politicians, happy at the rare opportunity to be proud of one of their MPs from that era.
So they sat smugly in anticipation of hearing Mr Fitzgerald sink the boot into the Labor Government, as he did to such devastating effect last year on the 20th anniversary of his corruption inquiry.
And he did not disappoint, describing Labor as `taking its turn to give its supporters their turn at the trough'.
``There is a bright side. Queensland is no longer the isolated `deep north' but is now in the mainstream of political malpractice,'' he said.
``Here, as elsewhere, politicians do not permit ideals, ethics, or principles to distract them unduly from the acquisition, exercise and spoils of power.''
But he also had a few choice words for the LNP. As a red-faced LNP president Bruce McIver looked on, Mr Fitzgerald said its relationship with the National Party had corroded the Liberal Party to its core.
``Its future was, and perhaps still is, grim,'' he said.
``After it abandoned the attempt by Terry and his ginger group to import principles into Queensland politics, it failed to recover its courage and became largely a party of opportunistic urban Nationals.
``Although both include decent people, the two parties, Liberal and National, are now united in an implausible hybrid of convenience which the National Party continues to dominate.''
Funnily enough, the LNP, who lauded Mr Fitzgerald's perceptiveness when he slammed Labor last year for secrecy and cronyism, were now not so sure the former Federal Court judge knew what he was talking about.
``I don't think Mr Fitzgerald clearly understands where the party is at today,'' said Mr McIver.
But Mr Fitzgerald is not the angel he would have us believe, revealing he had his first cigarette at one of the theatres owned by Mr White's father - when he was six. Shocking!
Mr White, who spends half his time on the Gold Coast these days, said he was initially apprehensive about having a book written about him but decided to jump in with a `warts and all' account.
``It is a period of history in Queensland politics that needed to be captured . . . and hopefully future generations of politicians can learn something from it and remember corruption is always around the corner and governments have got to be eternally vigilant,'' he said.
And he definitely had no regrets about standing up to Sir Joh even if it meant the end of his promising political career.
``It gave me a whole new career in pharmacy and we were able to go on and develop that throughout Australia,'' he said.
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