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Friends and Enemies (1987)


Friends and Enemies follows the bitter fight between the Queensland Coalition Government and members of the Electrical Trades Union from the start of the Union’s strike to the permanent loss of jobs nine months later.

In 1984, the Queensland Government decided to sack the staff of the South East Queensland Electricity Board in favour of employing contractors. Power station workers blacked out south-east Queensland in protest. After 14 days, Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen offered to reinstate the workers if they signed a no strike contract. They refused, and Sir Joh made strikes and protests illegal.

In April 1985, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) created a blockade to prevent freight from entering Queensland by road, rail, air and sea. The Federal Government passed legislation to outlaw the Queensland Government’s action. The Bjelke-Petersen Government challenged the legislation in the High Court and created a stalemate. Meanwhile former power workers were refused unemployment benefits and their families were without income for nine months.

As the union action continued, fights broke out between the ACTU, the ETU and the union branches. Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland government won the battle as contract labour took over the role of the former permanent employees of the Queensland Government.

Curator’s notes

A well-made documentary that outlines the path to disaster for the electricity workers. Each step is well documented and the frustration of the workers is palpable. The story of a machiavellian plan to destroy union power is well told.

Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen and his government was discredited in 1989 with the Fitzgerald Enquiry proving widespread corruption.

Filmmaker Tom Zubrycki’s credits include, Molly and Mobarak, The Diplomat, Billal, and Homelands. Zubrycki chose to make Friends and Enemies after being awarded a Documentary Fellowship.

He had good contacts in the union movement and when this story broke his instincts told him this was shaping up into a big story. In an attempt to tell both sides he made friends with the Minister Vince Lester, a farmer from Central Queensland.