IT was the start of a new era in Queensland politics in 1989, and in more ways than one.
Wayne Goss swept aside the long-term National Party government and with him came a young fresh-faced and ambitious man from the north-west.
Goss wanted new member for Mount Isa Tony McGrady in his first cabinet but there were a queue of more experienced politicians ahead of him so initially his role was chairman of the parliamentary Labor party and head of the public works committee.
“Imagine trying to control a group of people who all thought they were God’s gift to the parliament and my job was to run a successful meeting – that was a big learning curve for me” McGrady remembers.
Eventually two vacancies came in the cabinet, and McGrady picked up one.
“I went to resources industries which was basically mining and energy,” he said.
“While I thought I knew everything about mining, I knew about metallurgy but I knew nothing about coal and that was the big one.” He found a mentor in Bob Flew who was then the CEO of mining giant BHP.
“Bob was excellent and as honest as they come and he taught me a lot about the coal industry,” he said.
“Whenever I went overseas, which I had to do often, Bob would give me a run down of who’s who at the zoo.”
McGrady recalls accompanying then-deputy prime minister Mark Vaile on a visit to the premier of China where Vaile tried in vain to set the agenda.
“No, the premier said, ‘I want to talk about issues in Queensland’, so I had to run the meeting with the second most powerful man in China,” he said.
“It was good for Mount Isa because I took every opportunity to slip in the name of the town.”
McGrady describes his first premier Wayne Goss as “brilliant”.
“The cabinet room was adjacent to his office and we’d all sit there and it was like when you go to church and the priest walks in, a hush descends and that’s the way we were, we’d all be laughing and joking and all of a sudden Wayne would walk in and this hush descended,” he said.
When Goss retired and Peter Beattie came in the atmosphere changed.
“Peter would join in with us but Wayne had style and he was honest, he was intellectually smarter than anyone else in the parliament but at the same time he loved his rock n’ roll,” he said.
“Of all the people I met in politics Goss is up there at the very top.”
But when Labor was returned to power under Beattie, the new premier had a job for McGrady.
“’We want you to take police and prisons,’ he told me,” McGrady said.
This was problematic as McGrady had a court case pending against two Mount Isa police officers who wrongly accused him of not wearing a seatbelt in a car.
“If I lost, I’d had have to resign but the judge threw the case out,” he said.
“They moved the two blokes to Barcaldine and within about three weeks, Commissioner Bob Atkinson and I had to go to Longreach and they all lined up to meet the minister – I looked at these guys as I walked past – I couldn’t shake their hands.”
McGrady as police minister found himself in New York a week before 9/11 lobbying for Brisbane to get the international police and fire games ahead of Adelaide.
“Beattie said bloody Soorley (Brisbane Mayor Jim) is over there and he’ll take all the credit if Brisbane wins and you don’t go.
As it turns out Adelaide won it with their secret weapon the governor of South Australia.
“Because of the way the system works in America the governor runs the state they all assumed he had the power,” McGrady said.
Stay tuned for more Tony McGrady memories in an upcoming edition.