Ross Rolfe

Interviewed by
Chris Salisbury & Peter Spearritt
May 27 2011
Ross Rolfe
Time Summary Keywords
00:00:07 Ross Rolfe states that he was born in Charleville and taught by his mother on the family property by correspondence. In grade 3 the family moved to the Sunshine Coast where he attended Mooloolaba and Buderim primary schools and then Nambour high school which he completed in 1973. He was at Nambour at the same time as Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd.  Nambour was a large school with over 1500 pupils and a senior and experienced teaching staff.
00:05:40 Ross Rolfe comments that he studied history at the University of Queensland and then joined the graduate program of the Commonwealth Public Service in Canberra in the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. When the Queensland government changed in 1990 he moved to the equivalent department in Queensland, the Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs. Aboriginal Affairs, Aboriginal and Islander Affairs, Commonwealth Public Service, Family Services, University of Queensland
00:18:34 Ross Rolfe recalls how in the 1980s the federal department had been involved in obtaining secure land title for Aboriginal people who had lived on reserves and Town and Country Reserves. Johnny Koowarta had successfuly taken the Queensland government to the High Court over the pastoral lease at Archer Bend, which in response was turned into the Archer Bend National Park (now Mungkan Kanju National Park). The Commonwealth then purchased an adjacent pastoral property in Cape York called Meripah Station which became the first pastoral lease transferred to Aboriginal people. Rolfe comments on the leadership of Noel Pearson. Indigenous issues, land rights, Noel Pearson, pastoral leases, Town and Country Reserves
00:23:50 Ross Rolfe comments on the agenda of the incoming Queensland Goss Government including objectives around implementing recommendations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry and electoral reform, Environment Minister Pat Comben's (1989-92) agenda of national park expansion, Head of Cabinet Office Kevin Rudd's agenda on languages in schools, general interest in public sector reform. Fitzgerald Inquiry, Goss Government 1989-96, Kevin Rudd, National Parks, public sector reform
00:31:30 Ross Rolfe discusses the relationship between the Department of Environment and Heritage and the Cabinet Office and the changes in the public service on the  election of the Goss and then Borbidge governments. He discusses the hit list against public servants prepared by the coalition when in opposition and its methodical implementation in 1996. He describes the process of being stood down as Director General of the Department of Heritage and Environment and receiving a weekly letter for 6 months until his contract was terminated in July 1996. Borbidge Government 1996-98, Cabinet Office, Environment and Heritage, Hit List
00:43:05 Ross Rolfe discusses his work after 1996 in the private sector, especially in the gas and petroleum sectors and his decision to return to the public sector in 1998 as Director General firstly of Environment and then of State Development and CoG. He enjoyed his role in the economic development strategy with the Beattie Government, including delivering resources infrastructure, promoting investment in minerals and agricultural industries. He discusses his role in reforming the timber industry, phasing out native forest logging and investing in plantation based industry. He describes the Beattie Government's focus on industries of the future including new research capability in life sciences, mineral processing, information technology and the commercialisation of research. agricultural industry, Beattie Government 1998-2007, commercialisation, Coordinator General, investment, mineral industry, research, resources infrastructure, State Development Department, technology, timber industry
00:51:09 Ross Rolfe discusses the budgetary process in the Beattie Government, and the ability of the Department of State Development to finance some of its own inititaives through ownership of industrial land. He discusses his relationship with other departments including Health, Main Roads, and Queensland Rail and the implications of the resources boom for rail and port infrastructure. Beattie Government 1998-2007, infrastructure, Queensland Rail, resources boom, State Development Department
01:00:57 Ross Rolfe discusses his relationship with various ministers and his policy of maintaining a working rather than personal relationship with them. He worked with experienced ministers who understood the different roles of ministers and directors general. relationship with ministers
01:05:41 Ross Rolfe discusses infrastructure spending and priorities in the annual budgetary cycle and the limitations of cost-benefit analysis in delivering significant infrastructure. Discusses Goodwill Bridge, Clem 7 tunnel and role of the BCC in infrastructure development. Brisbane City Council, Clem 7 tunnel, Goodwill Bridge, infrastructure
01:14:04 Ross Rolfe describes the Smart State strategy and the origins of some aspects in the Borbidge Government such as the Institute of Molecular Biosciences. He states that the Beattie Government took it to a new level providing operational funding and attracting researchers and forming clusters. He describes how the biosciences strategy was developed in first 6 months of the Beattie Government. Beattie Government 1998-2007, biosciences, Smart State
01:15:19 Ross Rolfe describes the relationship between government and vice chancellors under the Beattie era, including John Hay at UQ, and Dennis Gibson at QUT, Glyn Davis's links between government and Griffith University, and the role of Ken Fletcher and billionaire philanthropist Chuck Feeney. Chuck Feeney, Dennis Gibson, Glyn Davis, Griffith University, John Hay, Ken Fletcher, Queensland University of Technology, universities, University of Queensland, vice chancellors
01:18:30 Ross Rolfe reflects on the relationship between premiers and universities, including Peter Beattie and Mike Ahern, and Peter Beattie's ability to convince the media of its importance. He describes the spread of Smart State-ism to other activities including 'clean coal' technologies, gas, coal seam methane, and aviation. He describes the failure in the synchrotron bid and the resulting initiative with Paul Greenfield of the University of Queensland to get federal funding for the AIBN. AIBN, aviation, coal seam gas, Mike Ahern, Paul Greenfield, Peter Beattie, Smart State, Synchrotron, universities, University of Queensland
01:33:07 Ross Rolfe describes the approach by Peter Beattie in 2005 that led him to become Director General of Department of Premier and Coordinator General, and discusses the 3 major policy challenges in 2005-07, namely infrastructure, health and water policy. Coordinator General, health, infrastructure, Peter Beattie, Premier's Department, water policy
01:39:40 Ross Rolfe outlines the challenges of building water infrastructure in a short period of time. He praises the work of the Queensland Water Commisson and its chair Elizabeth Nosworthy. He discusses the Gold Coast desalination plant and the various other solutions canvassed. He rejects the solution of supplying water tanks. He states that based on modelling it was clear that a range of things neded to be done including construction of Wyaralong Dam and Traveston Dam, recycling, Gold Coast desalination plant, raising the Hinze Dam and applying water restrictions. He regrets the decision not to build the Traveston Dam. desalination, Elizabeth Nosworthy, Queensland Water Commission, water infrastructure, water policy
01:46:50 Ross Rolfe discusses his role in the recovery program following Cyclone Larry in 2006 with Peter Beattie, appointment of Peter Cosgrove to lead the recovery and the role of the Australian Armed Forces. He describes the good relationship between Peter Beattie and John Howard, and his own with Peter Shergold. He tells of the role of Terry Mackenroth in oversighting the appeals fund. He states that within 9 months the 20,000 destroyed houses had been rebuilt and local economy had recovered. Cyclone Larry, Peter Beattie
01:52:37 Ross Rolfe discusses his knowledge of Peter Beattie's retirement plans. Peter Beattie
01:54:11 Ross Rolfe describes what he considers to be his main achievements - conservation work, Aboriginal land title, forest agreements, bilby colonies, life sciences, gas strategy, water infrastructure, and health reform.
02:03:08 Interview ends.