Queensland's Parliament House in Brisbane.
Queensland's Parliament House in Brisbane. Rae Wilson

1988 cabinet papers reveal decisions that shaped Gladstone

1988 WAS an interesting year for the Gladstone region.

Bob Hawke was prime minister, (I've Had) The Time of My Life was the number one song on the ARIA charts and the film Die Hard was released.

Back home, the city still had a drive-in cinema, the Marina was still under construction and Kmart just opened at Kin Kora.

The state member of parliament at the time was Labor MP Bill Prest.

This week, Minister for Digital Technology Mick de Brenni unsealed and released state government cabinet meeting minutes from 1988.

They provided an insight into the establishment of Gladstone as an industry town.

The documents also showed some interesting parallels with today's issues - illustrating the cyclical nature of the region's economic and demographic growth.

In 1988, it was tumultuous period in state politics with public trust in the government at all-time lows.

Former premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was shown the door by the National Party due to allegations set out in the Fitzgerald Inquiry, with his treasurer Mike Ahern installed as leader and premier.

Mr de Brenni said the release revealed an attempt by the state government to respond to the demand for stable government, and establish the year as a 'year of change'.

"They took a significant number of decisions in 1988 - 2524 decisions in fact, implementing transparency models in-order to rebuild trust with Queenslanders,” Mr de Brenni said. Some of those decisions related to the Gladstone region, with a total of eight cabinet documents.

Three were related to proposed cyanide, magnesium and gas stripping plants.

Two were about gas pipeline projects from the Surat Basin and Wallumbilla respectively.

Another two documents detailed ongoing discussions with Comalco and the State Government over electricity supply to the alumina smelter.

The final document outlined discussions about the Yarwun Crown Industrial Estate, then named the West Calliope Industrial Estate.

Deputy Mayor Chris Trevor was a lawyer in Gladstone at the time, and lived next door to former state MP Bill Prest.

He said 1988 was a time of hope for the city.

"It was an era after the finalisation of the smelter project in Boyne Island,” Cr Trevor said.

The smelter was built between 1979-1983 and brought prosperity to the region.

However, the boom died down and the region was in a 'lull' in terms of investment, and was looking for more projects.

"Between 1983-1988, we've had a period that wasn't as bad as what we're going through, but certainly a lull in investment opportunities, infrastructure and construction in the Gladstone area,” Cr Trevor said.

"[Mr Prest] was a fierce advocate on the floor of parliament for many matters that affected the Gladstone area.”

To counter the lull, cabinet documents revealed the National Party had approved the proposals for the cyanide, magnesium and gas stripping plants, in addition to the Surat Basin-Gladstone pipeline.

Today, the region is in a similar position after the completion of the LNG project.

Projects in the pipeline include a beef processing plant, an ammonia plant, and an inland rail project from Melbourne to Gladstone.

Like 30 years ago, it's hoped that these projects will drive Gladstone's economy forward.

Earlier this week, current Member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher said plenty of projects are happening in the region this year. "I think it's going to be a good year for Gladstone,” he said.

Next week The Observer will look at some other aspects of the documents, including the Surat-Gladstone pipeline.

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