Known to contemporary Australians simply as "Joh", Bjelke-Petersen lead a regime which became legendary for its political dominance ("The Bjelke-mander) and its authoritarian policies. His power extended beyond Queensland - by employing the powers granted to Premiers by the Australian Constitution in unprecedented ways, he played a key role in the downfall of the Whitlam Federal Government.
Bjelke-Petersen's Government enthusiastically encouraged the development of Queensland. Major infrastructure projects were commenced, irrespective of their short-term political popularity. He shrewdly abolished state death duties, leading to a steady flow of retired people moving from the southern states of Victoria and New South Wales to Queensland, particularly the Gold Coast. Most of the other states eventually abolished this tax in attempt to stem the flow of people to Queensland.
The rapid rise in population in the Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast led to a building boom that has lasted for three decades, often not greatly interrupted by recessions occurring in other states.
Bjelke-Petersen's Premiership appeared to be politically invulnerable until the late 1980s, when investigative reporting by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program Four Corners brought to light evidence of widespread corruption in both the police force and the National Party government. The subsequent two-year-long Commission of Inquiry into "Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct", chaired by barrister Tony Fitzgerald (the Fitzgerald Inquiry), which in 1989 lead to the end of the National Party's thirty-two year hold on government and to several senior state bureaucrats and government ministers being convicted for corruption and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
As these events unfolded, Bjelke-Petersen made an extraordinary political move, launching an unwinnable National Party campaign for the Prime Ministership, working against the Nationals' usual coalition partner, the Liberal Party (under the leadership of John Howard). The Joh for Canberra campaign was of significant benefit to the incumbent ALP Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.
Sir Joh himself was deposed as National Party leader on November 26, 1987, but incredibly, refused to resign the office of Premier at the same time, as was the convention in such a situation. He proclaimed that he would let the State Parliament decide his fate. This brought about a constitutional crisis which ended with his reluctant resignation as Premier on December 1st.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry ultimately led to a criminal prosecution against Bjelke-Petersen for perjury. The trial resulted in a hung jury, amid claims that the jury foreman, a National Party member, was responsible for the result. Whilst Joh was not acquitted, prosecutors opted not to attempt to try him again.
In 2003, an aging Joh Bjelke-Petersen re-appeared in the public spotlight when he filed a lawsuit seeking AUD $338 million in damages as a result of lost superannuation and business harm, allegedly caused by the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
Despite the proven corruption of some within Bjelke-Petersen's Government, he personally remains a popular figure in Queensland, demonstrated by the willingness of current Premier Peter Beattie to be photographed with his predecessor quite frequently.