Geoffrey GT Harrison is more than old style public servant. In 1961, he was appointed Queensland’s Chief Inspector of Fisheries and Senior Biologist. The story following his appointment is the subject of his book.
The title is no accident. It refers to “power of or rule by demons”.
Redlands2030 were invited to the book launch!
Former Premier Mike Ahern pays tribute
Attended by over 50 people, friends of Geoffrey Harrison, past acquaintances and family (including his wife of 54 years Eunice) the book was launched by former Qld Premier Mike Ahern. Mr Ahern described the challenges of the fishing industry from the early 1960’s until his own appointment as responsible Minister. He also described the insular nature of the Queensland public service and the difficulties Geoffrey faced as an outsider.
Then paying tribute to the author he told us that “Queensland fisheries would have been better off today if the Government had acted on his (Harrison’s) professional advice”.
Mr Ahern said Geoffrey Harrison was given the job of managing the State’s fisheries he was not welcomed by some senior public servants who had the job lined up for one their own. In fact he said that on his first day Geoffrey was told to go…and for some time he was given no staff, no phone and no budget.
The former Premier paid tribute to Geoffrey’s tenacity saying,
“I’ve come down here today to say this guy is one of the heroes of the fishing industry. He understands the environmental challenges that fisheries faced and are still facing today. He just didn’t cop the stuff that was thrown at him…he just thought the job he was meant to do, was too important to give it away.
I want to tell you, in the history of the State how important it was that he showed that courage, that he sustained his effort when lesser people would not have gone to the lengths he did…would’ve gone and done something else. He didn’t. I for one on behalf of the (Fishing) Industry here in Qld, I acknowledge it…a great effort, Geoffrey you are one of my heroes”
The Crown of Thorns and the GBR
An example Of Geoffrey’s tenacity was concern for the impacts of the Crown of Thorns Starfish. It was Geoffrey’s early belief that the phenomenon of an exploding (starfish) population was in someway related to man’s activities. Possible causes included the removal of triton shellfish for the tourist trade, pollution from run off and dredging.
The scientific based warnings made jointly by Professor Bob Endean and Geoffrey were ignored at the highest levels of the Government of the day in favour of the non-professionals and this approach rendered “any attempt at control starfish numbers impossible”.
Science denied: Raby Bay and Toondah
In the early 1980’s Mr Harrison was very concerned about the push to develop Raby Bay. He stood by the protection of mangroves for over 10 years fending off the development until he was no longer in the job and “yes men” could make it happen. “Raby Bay was almost solid mangroves”. He still maintains “it should never have been developed”.
Today, he has concerns about the Toondah Harbour development. He said the push to develop the 3600 apartments in Moreton Bay. It has traits of the destruction at Raby Bay and the systemic blindness to the science about the crown of thorn starfish.
Mangrove man dismissed out of sight
Whilst overseas on long service leave his position of Director of Fisheries was reclassified and made non-appealable. Mr Harrison spent his last few years in the public service as the Fisheries Adviser in the Aboriginal and Islanders Affairs department. Despite being given no set duties he set up projects in the Torres Straits, the Edward River and on Palm Island. His attitude of ‘I was bought here to do a job and I will do it in spite of them’ came through again.
Reflecting on his role in Queensland which followed over 13 years as Chief of Fisheries for HM Colonial Service in Ghana, Mr Harrison said his job here was not easy,
“in my case it was made almost impossibly hard by the opposition of a group of people who let’s face it didn’t want me here. In spite of those people, and in spite of the fact that I had so few real supporters like Michael (Ahern) and others including (Sir) Tom Hiley and (Sir) Frank Nicklin (Premier 1957-68), I’d like to believe I have achieved a few things and left behind me something of a good reputation.
I think I’m known as the “Mangrove Man”… I feel that’s a good thing (laughs).”
Community Radio Bay FM gets a hand
In retirement Geoffrey was busy in community affairs and for many years took another different tact as the Technical Director for the community radio station in the Redlands…. BAY-FM, after he obtained the technical qualifications required as a broadcast radio licensee.
DEMonOCRACY instead of Democracy in Queensland
While the book follows Mr Harrison’s public service career it includes insights of a broader nature about the public service and the malaise in the political system. He tells it as he sees it arguing “democracy in Queensland is not working”. A politicised bureaucracy, combined with a tightly controlled party-political system, helped along by cronyism has ensured the perpetuation of DEMonOCRACY instead of democracy.
The book includes a Chapter that is an extract from the Courier Mail by Scott Prasser in 2010 titled “It’s our system that’s stuffed”. The article on ON LINE Opinion and concludes:
Most think about Queensland’s infrastructure crisis only in terms of inadequate roads, dams, schools, power stations, public transport and traffic congestion. Poor planning, lack of funding and delayed decision-making are usually blamed for this mess.
That’s only half right. The real culprit is Queensland’s other infrastructure crisis, our governance infrastructure: our parliamentary institutions, election processes, the public service, the judiciary system, government business enterprises, our political parties and the way we develop and deliver policy.
They do not work any more. They are out of date, ossified and manipulated by whoever is in power to maintain office rather than to reflect democratic will or to be accountable to the electorate.
To do ending “jobs for the boys”culture
In response to the book launch Mr Harrison concluded by saying “ I consider my book contains enough meat and I hope it inspires the readers to put things right. That is, to do something about ending the ‘jobs for the boys’ culture, which should have been eliminated generations ago
Geoffrey Harrison’s book is a good read, and a warning to decision makers to this day. Purchase DEMonOCRACY & OTHER FISHY MATTERS and see bonus content on the DEMonOCRACY website.