He’ll Always be a Winner

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

WAYNE GOSS 1951-2014

Queensland Premier 1989-1996

The time: Early 1990s. Place: Sanctuary Cove, Queensland, developed by the entrepreneurial Mike Gore as Australia’s first “integrated resort property” under its own, unique state act of parliament. Occasion: An outdoor concert by John Farnham in his Age of Reason years.

Among the guests, pressed in among the throng, were Premier Wayne Goss and his wife Roisin. They were standing just in front of me. Queensland’s First Foot-tapper was discreetly rattling out the beat as Farnham performed. The Premier was enjoying himself.

He knew – because we were well acquainted and had already exchanged the customary smile-and-nod greetings we reserved for public occasions – that immediately behind him stood the chief leader writer of The Courier-Mail, also foot-tapping. Possibly he was pleased that it was not the chief gossip columnist. But – the delicious moment has stayed with me for more than  20 years – he did seem to memo himself that for once The Courier-Mail was keeping perfect time.

He was there in his official capacity. I was there unofficially, as I so often was, as chief handbag to the then chief spruiker for Sanctuary Cove. Doubtless The Courier-Mail’s chief gossip columnist was somewhere in the crowd.

It is one among many personal Wayne Goss anecdotes in my memory bank.

So it was very sad to hear today that Goss, 34th Premier of Queensland and the first Labor premier in 32 years had died of a brain tumour at only 63. That’s far too young for anyone to go, and it’s especially sad when it is someone who not only led the third most populous state in Australia but was also a very nice man.

Goss came to power when the atrophy and moral turpitude of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era finally proved too much even for Queensland’s astonishingly conservative electorate. By 1989 Bjelke-Petersen had gone (he left office in 1987) and most of his corrupt cronies had gone with him, but his successors Mike Ahern and Russell Cooper had failed to wipe away the stain.

But he didn’t win in 1989 because – to borrow an aphorism from a little earlier in Labor history – even the drover’s dog would have tossed the incumbents out. He won as well as he did because he had a program the voters accepted as correct, because he had demonstrated that he knew what he was doing, and because he was a nice man.

Goss probably never knew this (I didn’t tell him) but he was the second of the only two Labor leaders I’ve ever voted for. My natural political homeland is on the other side of the light on the hill, a now sparsely populated country where the anti-busybody constituency rejects the concept of government being big brother, big sister, or big anything.

The other was Gough Whitlam. He got my vote in 1972 because no one in their right mind could possibly have voted for poor, ineffectual, Billy McMahon or his dysfunctional coalition (I’d have voted for Gorton) and Labor presented a vision. It really was time. Goss got my vote in 1989 because the Nationals, frankly, had disgraced themselves and wouldn’t face reality, and Queensland would benefit from a change in its political colour.

This is not an obituary. Others have written very ably about the Goss legacy and his time in office. But I think I owe him a personal farewell. His most attractive feature – apart from his withering anger when appropriate – was his modesty. Nowadays we tend to use the word humility. It sounds rather Uriah Heep-ish. Modesty is a better term.

Goss had this quality in (modest) spades. He never pretended to know things he didn’t, or bang on about them. There’s a lesson there for others, including one other in particular who once ran Goss’ office.

One other anecdote comes to mind to illustrate the point. After one of the Goss Government budgets – it was late in term I think – and at the end of the arcane media “lock up” that accompanied this annual function, the assembled media had a final question.

Treasurer Keith De Lacy and his media advisor – my friend Ron Watson – had long departed, as had the Treasury boffins. It was a technical question, actually of no great impact, but Goss was plainly stumped for an answer.

He looked, poor chap, rather as one imagines a rabbit might look when confronted with a sudden, unexpected spotlight. Then he spotted me (I’d been in the lock-up too, writing the next morning’s editorial) and he evinced immediate relief.

“Richard, can you explain it?” he said brightly, or possibly hopefully.

Fortunately, I could. I did. The chooks shuffled off satisfied.

Vale Wayne Goss. You’ll always be a winner.

Wayne Goss died today, Nov. 10, 2014, of a brain tumour. He was first diagnosed with brain cancer 17 years ago.