The Honourable Sir Walter CAMPBELL, A.C. Q.C. 

Formerly Patron of The Society of St Andrew of Scotland (Queensland)

Formerly Governor of Queensland: 22nd July 1985 - 29th July 1992



Sir Walter Campbell, the former Governor of Queensland who has died aged 83, had to cope with the antics of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier whose long grip on power ended in gross scandal.

Campbell might have been born to the task. He had strength of character, shrewdness and learning; he practised diplomacy and tact, and had a cheerful nature. Too late, the premier found out that he could run no risks with such a governor.

When Bjelke-Petersen's party eventually soured on him in 1987, he waited until the Queensland Parliament had gone into recess. Then, in a desperate effort to hang on to the leadership, he moved to reconstruct his government by sacking five ministers.

But as the new ministers arrived at Government House for the swearing-in, the governor objected "in no uncertain way", Bjelke-Petersen recalled.

Campbell refused to accept the dismissals until he was sure that the premier could retain the confidence and support of his party; and with the government engulfed in scandal, there was no chance of a vote of confidence being passed. So the premier kept within his rights by dismissing only three ministers.

In his memoirs, Bjelke-Petersen maintained that the governor had caused delays over some days that proved fatal, though he said that he was not alleging this was done deliberately. In fact, his party's formal vote for another leader sealed his fate.

When Bjelke-Petersen refused to go, the governor judged it unnecessary to use his reserve powers to remove him, and was duly proven right when the premier was eventually persuaded to go.

As Bjelke-Petersen handed Campbell a letter at Government House, he said: "Well, Wally, old fella, you ought to be proud of yourself. You've done a mighty job, and I want to congratulate you. In the years to come I hope you have many proud, happy memories of what you've done. Good on you, old fella, Cheerio."

On the way out, he told a secretary "I'll never darken these doors again", thus ending a premiership that had lasted 19 turbulent years.

Ironically, it was because of Bjelke-Petersen's taste for intrigue that Campbell went to the governor's residence. Campbell had been a justice of the Queensland Supreme Court for 15 years when, in 1982, the post of Chief Justice fell vacant.

Bjelke-Petersen refused to accept a senior puisne judge, who had voted Labour in an election 10 years before. However the Liberals, who were the junior partners in a coalition government, refused to accept his choice, a more junior judge. As a result both sides compromised in appointing Campbell to the post.

Campbell was Chief Justice for three and a half years before his translation to governor; but this was long enough to show that he was no one's poodle.

When the Bjelke-Petersen government prepared some particularly badly drafted child welfare legislation, Campbell declared that it was in part nonsense and a garbled mixture full of difficulties which needed rewriting. The mystery was how Bjelke-Petersen could have accepted Campbell as the next governor.

It was thought that he wanted a new chief justice, and expected Campbell to be neutered by his new role. Other chief justices had moved on to Government House, without any problem.

Bjelke-Petersen could say that in 40 years of political life, nearly half of them as premier, previous governors had always accepted his advice. But, of course, no governor could accept advice unless it was constitutionally sound.

In the months leading up to Bjelke-Petersen's downfall, Campbell had to look on as revelations of corruption in the Bjelke-Petersen regime began to unfold publicly.

An official inquiry into police corruption spread until the government found itself hopelessly compromised. Five cabinet ministers were jailed; a sixth died while awaiting trial; and retribution overtook many lesser fry. Sir Joh (appointed KCMG in 1984) became the 213th person to be charged.

He was accused of perjury before the royal commission; but the jury, led by a 20-year-old member of the Young National Party, failed to reach a verdict after retiring for more than 60 hours.

Although there was an announcement that the Jury Act would be amended to enable Bjelke-Petersen to be tried again, it was eventually decided that, in the light of Sir Joh's 80 years and the uncertainty about whether witnesses would return from abroad, to abandon a retrial. By then Queensland had a Labour government.

Walter Benjamin Campbell was born at Burringbar, northern New South Wales, on March 4 1921. He was educated at Downlands College, Toowoomba, and Queensland University. After spending the war as an RAAF flying instructor, he completed degrees in Arts and Law.

In 1948 he was admitted to the Queensland Bar, taking silk 13 years later having acquired a reputation for ability and ethical standards. From 1966 to 1967, he was president of the Australian Bar Association.

In his short time as chief justice, he helped to haul the court into modern times, introducing significant administrative improvements, replacing the antique office equipment and providing secretaries.

Campbell was at various times Chancellor of Queensland University, President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Chairman of the Churchill Memorial Trust selection committee, and Chairman of the Law Reform Commission.

He also chaired the Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal and was sole member of the Commonwealth Academic Salaries Tribunal. Somewhere amid all this and the responsibilities of a family man, he found time for golf and for reading.

Campbell proved a popular governor throughout his seven years in office; and he demonstrated his continuing belief in Australia's constitution by writing a spirited letter to The Daily Telegraph in 1993, pointing out that most Australians did not share the lust for constitutional change of the Labour prime minister Paul Keating.

Walter Campbell was appointed KB in 1979 and AC 1989. In 1942, he married Georgina Pearce; they had three children.