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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

by Brian F. Stevenson

This article was published online in 2020

Donald Frederick Lane (1935–1995), police officer and politician, was born on 18 July 1935 at Toowoomba, Queensland, eldest of three sons of Frederick James Lane, an English-born mechanic and later shopkeeper, and his locally born wife Mary, née Bentley. The family moved a number of times. Don attended the State primary schools at Somerset Dam (Silverton), Sandgate in Brisbane, and Harlaxton at Toowoomba, and the State Industrial High School, Brisbane (1950). He was an apprentice turner and fitter at Warwick, before joining the Queensland Police Force as a cadet on 11 February 1952 in Brisbane.

Appointed as a constable in 1955, a plain-clothes officer in 1958, and a detective constable in 1961, Lane was posted to Cloncurry (1956), Mount Isa (1958), and then back to Brisbane (1961), where he joined the Consorting Squad. While temporarily performing general duties, on 27 January 1962 he assisted Detective Sergeant Jack Ryan to apprehend an overwrought man who fired a rifle at Ryan as the two officers ran towards him. For his part in the arrest, Lane was awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s commendation for brave conduct. In 1965 he was promoted to detective senior constable and two years later was transferred to the Special Branch, which investigated activities deemed subversive.

On 28 April 1962 at St Andrew’s Church of England, Lutwyche, Lane had married Beryl Rose Pankhurst, a secretary. An active member of the Liberal Party of Australia, he won a by-election for the safe inner-Brisbane seat of Merthyr on 24 July 1971, having resigned from the police service the previous day. He had campaigned on law and order issues during the tour of the South African Springboks rugby union team (June–August), which attracted anti-apartheid demonstrations and prompted the Queensland government, headed by Premier (Sir) Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to declare a state of emergency.

Appointed as minister for transport in December 1980, Lane proved to be confident, capable, and effective in the portfolio. He championed the ambitious Main Line Electrification project, approved in 1983. School crossing traffic wardens (‘lollipop people’) were introduced at his instigation (1983). Construction of the Brisbane Transit Centre in Roma Street, begun in 1984, was another of his projects, as was the introduction of photographic drivers’ licences (1986). He oversaw (1982) the reduction of the legal blood alcohol level for drivers and the introduction (1986) of the Reduce Impaired Driving scheme of random breath-testing. In 1986 he claimed to have saved the railways ‘$25 million a year initially and another $15 million a year ongoing’ (Stewart 1986, 12), the efficiencies contributing to an operating profit of $108 million in the previous financial year. Sir Llew Edwards, the State treasurer in 1978–83, later said Lane was the best transport minister Queensland had ever had.

The National and Liberal parties’ coalition collapsed in August 1983 and an election was called for October. Though he supported the notion of a coalition, as a Liberal Lane had to resign from cabinet. The Nationals narrowly failed to win government in their own right, gaining 41 seats in a legislature of 82, and the Liberals were reduced in numbers from 20 to 8, Lane being among the survivors. With a bleak backbench future in mind, he was amenable to a suggestion by one of his fellow ‘Coalition Liberals’ (Lane 1993, 123), Brian Austin, that the pair join the National Party of Australia–Queensland. The switch attracted public opprobrium and the scorn of the Australian Labor Party politician Tom Burns, who accused Lane in parliament of being a ‘police pimp’ and a ‘rotten scab’ (Lane 1993, 127). Many in the Liberal Party’s Merthyr branch, however, followed him into the National Party and he saw the change as ‘a move I have never regretted’ (1993, 127). He was reappointed as transport minister, remaining in cabinet until Bjelke-Petersen’s resignation in December 1987.

Bjelke-Petersen’s successor, Mike Ahern, left Lane out of his ministry, although he had been a strong Ahern supporter. The premier was aware that G. E. (Tony) Fitzgerald’s commission of inquiry into corruption was investigating Lane. It found that he had booked meals, accommodation, car hire, and other costs to his ministerial expense account when ‘it did not appear [he] had been engaged on some official duty’ (Lane 1993, 249). In 1988 he confessed to the practice and told the inquiry that it was common in Queensland and other States for ministers ‘to live to some extent on their ministerial expenses’ (Lane 1993, 252). Additionally, he admitted to making false claims of about $68,000 as tax deductions. He broke down and sobbed uncontrollably in the witness box after naming fourteen serving or former ministers whom he believed had also misused their expense accounts.

Although Lane intended to remain in parliament until the Fitzgerald inquiry findings were handed down, daily criticism from the Sun newspaper proved too much for him, his family, and even his electorate secretary, who was hospitalised after media harassment. On 30 January 1989 he resigned from parliament. In October 1990 he was found guilty on twenty-seven counts of misappropriation and sentenced to gaol for one year. A week later he pleaded guilty to a further sixty charges, receiving another one-year term, to be served concurrently. Fifty-five other charges were dropped, the prosecutor arguing that he had been sufficiently penalised.

Jack Herbert, a disgraced former policeman, had alleged to the Fitzgerald inquiry that, when in parliament, Lane had accepted bribes. He denied the allegation. Later, claims would be published that Lane had been prominent in a network of corrupt Queensland policemen and politicians (Condon 2015, 364). For the offences of which he was convicted, his imprisonment, together with his public shaming and the destruction of his career, distressed many who had known him as a capable, confident, and considerate minister and as an attentive servant of his constituents.

Determined to be ‘the most cheerful prisoner around this gaol’ (Lane 1993, 273), Lane earned $1.85 a day sorting magazines and later worked in an outside laundry. In April 1991 he was released on parole, deciding ‘studiously [to refrain] from complaining or whingeing’ (Hay 1991, 12). He was a large and imposing man with a prominent, rubicund nose, the result of a medical condition. In retirement he lived in Brisbane at Hamilton and, with his wife, operated a small beef-cattle property at Gladfield, near Warwick. Trial and Error, his account of his career, was published in 1993. He died of myocardial infarction on 11 March 1995 at his farm and was buried in the Pinnaroo lawn cemetery, Aspley, Brisbane. His wife and their son and daughter survived him.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Condon, Matthew. All Fall Down. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2015
  • Hay, John. ‘It’s Real Hard Yakka Down on Don Lane’s Farm.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 1 December 1991, Magazine 12
  • Lane, Don. Trial and Error. Bowen Hills, Qld: Boolarong Publications, 1993
  • Petersen, Don. ‘Walking with Don Down Memory Lane.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 8 April 1991, 9
  • Queensland. Inquiry. Report of a Commission of Inquiry Pursuant to Orders in Council, Dated 26 May 1987, 24 June 1987, 25 August 1988, 29 June 1989. G. E. Fitzgerald (Chairman). Brisbane: The Commission, 1989
  • Queensland Police Museum. Service History: Donald Frederick Lane
  • Stewart, Andrew. ‘Lane Leads Cost Cutting.’ Queensland Times (Ipswich), 8 February 1986, 12.

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Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Lane, Donald Frederick (Don) (1935–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lane-donald-frederick-don-27836/text35582, published online 2020, accessed online 22 October 2020.

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