Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Lane, Donald Frederick (Don) (1935–1995)

by John Wanna

Don Lane was a man for all seasons. He was a hard man of politics with a nose for personal survival. He had an astute political brain and rose to prominence as one of Queensland's most senior Liberal politicians, very much in the Bolte mould. Perhaps not exactly the "Colossus of Roads'' in Queensland politics, he loved trains, liked opening railways, revelled in farm life, and gave his face to many public campaigns.

His fall from grace during the Fitzgerald inquiry in the late 1980s was a result of his own admissions over misusing ministerial expenses.

Although suffering "humiliation and public scorn'', he had the courage of his own convictions and stood by the system that condemned him even though many others on both sides of the Queensland Parliament escaped public execution.

Lane's working life spanned an enormous gulf in Queensland politics.

He began as a country policeman stationed in Cloncurry, northern Queensland, where mounted police would hunt "wild'' Aborigines and drag them back to town on the end of a rope. He ended life as, to some, a scapegoat and to others an outcast, overtaken by a new environment of accountability and political propriety.

In the meantime, Lane had been a detective in the special branch, state parliamentarian for the Merthyr electorate (1971-89), active local member, astute party tactician, Minister for Transport (1980- 87), political turncoat when the Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, failed to win majority government, electoral "fixer'', and numbers man for Mike Ahern, who finally toppled Bjelke-Petersen in December 1987.

Lane epitomised the wily, street-smart parish-pump conservative: he was calculating, pragmatic, visible and well connected even if some associates proved somewhat "shady''. His early career was spent absorbing police culture, serving the powerful and learning the value of loyalty. He carried these lessons into politics, where they served as the benchmarks for a political career.

Later he came to realise, with some disillusionment, that these principles were unsuited to politics because politicians were apt to turn on each other and loyalty was rarely reciprocated.

It seems ironic, given the emphasis on loyalty, that Lane should abandon the Liberals after the breakdown of the National-Liberal coalition in 1983 when Bjelke-Petersen was re-elected one short of a majority. But by this stage Lane (and Brian Austin, the other defector) was an avowed "coalitionist'' choosing loyalty to a conservative government above party.

He disliked disunity and considered the Liberals something of a pitiful lost cause. His fellow Liberals described him as a "man of straw'', who had sold out not for 30 pieces of silver but for the ``keys to an LTD''. The defection was an opportunistic move, yet Lane reputedly secured his ministry only by beating other Liberals to the Nationals' door. Luckily he was blessed with a thick skin to withstand abuse (which dogged him for the rest of his life).

After his defection Lane was an avid self-promoter and, in the mid- 1980s, could be seen everywhere, on billboards, in TV promotions, and in information booklets and road safety campaigns. By this stage he had become one of those ministers who believed that their role was to be seen to be delivering being a minister involved constructing a high profile for electoral consumption and being recognised as an achiever. Government was about delivering, and public expenditure was vote-buying.

As Transport Minister he was an effective, capable and worldly administrator not one to be gullible or fall victim to bureaucratic ploys, but able to establish direction and nurture major projects.

Like many Queensland ministers he had an informal style that attracted dedication and loyalty. He got some grudging recognition from the Opposition Labor Party for his political and administrative skills.

But media promotion came to nought when the Fitzgerald inquiry began investigating corruption. Allegations were made during the inquiry that Lane may have received payments from organised crime, particularly from brothel owners and in-line poker machine operators in his inner-city electorate. These allegations were never proved (and Lane denied them in a statement to Parliament on 30 January 1989), although Fitzgerald gave advice to Ahern that neither Lane nor Russ Hinze should remain in Cabinet. Bitter at being dropped by a mate, Lane later quit Parliament and then faced 27 charges of misappropriation. Found guilty, he was sentenced to imprisonment and initially lost most of his parliamentary superannuation (although he was granted a payout in 1992).

Never an ideas man, Lane took his punishment philosophically. But jail was an episode of his life he wished to forget and put behind him; he felt frustrated when contemporary inmates contacted him after their release. After prison, he began the slow process of rehabilitation, placing his own recollections on record. He finished a volume of political memoirs, entitled Trial and Error (1993), wrote articles for newspapers and gave occasional lectures.

Unlike other National Party politicians of his generation, Lane was never simply a self-server. For Lane the ends rarely justified the means life was never so simple. Rather, for a determined survivor, politics was more a case of making the best of whatever life dealt.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 3 April 1995, p 16

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Wanna, 'Lane, Donald Frederick (Don) (1935–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/lane-donald-frederick-don-27836/text37048, accessed 16 November 2019.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2019