Aboriginal public servant Charles Perkins so annoyed the government of Malcolm Fraser that they set about getting rid of him.
Among Perkins’ numerous transgressions, according to a submission to cabinet in October 1982, were a series of media interviews including one in which he referred to farmers as “blood sucking bludgers”.
Then there was his commentary on the Commonwealth Games to be held in Brisbane in September-October 1982, in which he frequently referred to the prospect of violence, declaring that the Brisbane games would be Australia’s “Battle of Wounded Knee”.
He seemed to have gone out of his way to offend great sections of conservative Australia. He proposed petitioning the Queen to intercede on land rights issues and referred to the Northern Territory House of Assembly speaker Les MacFarlane as “this redneck rightwing radical”.
And he even wrote to the RSL demanding an explanation for the attendance of the organisation’s president and executive at receptions given by the South African embassy.
In the cabinet submission – released by the National Archives of Australia – Fraser’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ian Wilson said Perkins, the chairman of the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC), had “frequently involved himself in controversial public statements or actions which brought much public criticism and claims that he ought to be removed from office or otherwise disciplined”.
Wilson said that continued even after the Commonwealth Games with Perkins routinely and directly contradicting government policy and statements.
“Mr Perkins through his public statements has openly challenged government policy on Aboriginal land in Queensland and the the Northern Territory. There are growing indications that he could weaken public support for our Aboriginal policies in general,” he said.
As tempting as it may have been, the government couldn’t just sack him as his statutory office protected him from summary dismissal.
That view was confirmed by advice from the Commonwealth solicitor-general who said there was no grounds for suspension on the basis of misbehaviour.
And even if there were, natural justice would require that he be allowed to put his case.
Wilson outlined a series of options to rein in this turbulent public servant, recommending that the government inform him that it had lost confidence and he should resign forthwith. As well he would be publicly rebuked.
But the government hedged and had taken no action by election time in March 1983 when Perkins became a problem for the new Hawke Labor government.
Bob Hawke, it seems, was much more forgiving, observing that Perkins sometimes found it difficult to observe the constraints usually imposed on permanent heads of departments because of his burning passion for advancing the interests of his people.
He remained in the Commonwealth public service until 1988 and died in 2000.