Former Queensland Premier Mike Ahern passed away at the age of 81. Ahern, a member of the National Party, served as premier for two years and governed during the explosive Fitzgerald Inquiry into official corruption. Though Ahern is often overshadowed by the controversial era of his predecessor, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and Wayne Goss’s subsequent election victory, he will be remembered as a man of integrity who steered Queensland through a time of crisis.
Ahern was born into a dairy farming family in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and followed in his father’s footsteps by entering Country Party politics. He entered parliament in 1968 and became the youngest member ever elected in Queensland. However, due to his youth, moderate views, and tertiary education, Ahern spent over a decade on the backbench and faced skepticism from the older party members. He was elevated to the ministry in 1980 and held various portfolios, including health and environment.
In 1987, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s leadership began to falter. The Fitzgerald Inquiry had uncovered widespread corruption, and Sir Joh was under pressure to resign. Ahern challenged Sir Joh for the party leadership, and after a political standoff, he succeeded in becoming premier. Despite inheriting World Expo 88, a major festival held in Brisbane, Ahern’s government struggled due to resistance from the older party members and the widening of the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s terms of reference to include politicians.
Ahern’s premiership was defined by his commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. However, after only 22 months in office, Ahern was toppled by his police minister, Russell Cooper. The National Party subsequently suffered a crushing election loss, leading to 32 years of conservative rule coming to an end. After retiring from politics in 1990, Ahern enjoyed a successful career in business and received numerous awards for his contributions to politics, trade relations, education, and charities.
Former colleague Rob Borbidge described Ahern as a good and decent man who made a significant contribution to Queensland. Borbidge credited Ahern with starting the reform process following the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which laid down a new template for how government should operate in the state. Ahern’s legacy lives on in the reinvention of government in Queensland. Federal National Party Leader David Littleproud also paid tribute to Ahern, highlighting his integrity during his time in public office.