Before retiring in 2007, he groomed and was then succeeded by his Deputy Anna Bligh, who became the first female Premier of Queensland. He was the unsuccessful Labor candidate for the seat of Forde at the 2013 federal election.
Beattie was born in Sydney as the youngest of seven children. He was raised by his grandmother at Atherton, a small town in North Queensland. At school, he met Heather Scott-Halliday, whom he later married. They have three adult children and live in Wilston, a suburb of Brisbane.
After Beattie moved to Brisbane, he graduated with a law degree from the University of Queensland, earned a Master of Arts degree from Queensland University of Technology, and then entered the legal practice. During his studies at the University of Queensland, Beattie was President of the Student Club at St John's College, University of Queensland.
In 1974, he joined the Australian Labor Party, which had been in opposition for 17 years and had just suffered the worst defeat in its history at the hands of the dominant National Party Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Beattie became involved in the campaign led by Dr Denis Murphy to reform the Queensland branch of the party, which was dominated by elderly and conservative trade union leaders. In 1981 the federal Labor Party leader, Bill Hayden, led a federal intervention in Queensland, and Beattie became Queensland State Secretary. Eight years later, Wayne Goss became Queensland's first Labor Premier since Vince Gair in 1957.
Prior to his election to Parliament and in addition to State Secretary, Beattie was a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland and secretary of the Railway Stationmasters' Union, and had been involved in the fight against the Bjelke-Petersen government.
At the 1989 election Beattie was elected to the Queensland Parliament as MP for Brisbane Central. Something of a maverick within the parliamentary party during his early term, Beattie was mistrusted by faction leaders and kept out of the ministry. His main post was as chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing the Criminal Justice Commission (now the Crime and Misconduct Commission), a role in which he frequently took the side of CJC Commissioner Sir Max Bingham against the Goss government, earning Goss's ire. Beattie also publicly criticised Goss for being out of touch. Goss did not appoint him to the ministry until Labor's near defeat at the 1995 election, where Beattie became Minister for Health. He was only in office for three months before the Goss government lost office following defeat in the Mundingburra by-election.
Goss then stood down as ALP leader, and Beattie was elected in his stead, thus becoming Opposition Leader. His first act as Opposition leader was to move a motion in Parliament preventing the new Coalition government under Rob Borbidge from calling an early election. Labor feared that an early election could give the Coalition an outright majority. The motion carried.
At the 1998 state election Labor won 44 seats out of 89, and was only denied a majority when One Nation won six seats that otherwise would have gone to Labor if not for Coalition preferences. The balance of power rested with two independents, Peter Wellington and Liz Cunningham, and the 11 One Nation MPs. Labor needed the support of only one crossbencher to make Beattie premier, while the Coalition needed them all for Borbidge to stay in office. Wellington announced his support for Labor, allowing Beattie to form a minority government. Later following a by-election, Labor won a majority in its own right.
Shortly before the 2001 election, he faced a crisis when a CJC inquiry - the Shepherdson inquiry - revealed that a number of MPs and party activists—including Deputy Premier Jim Elder, a former State Secretary and newly elected MP Mike Kaiser, and a senior adviser to Wayne Goss—had been engaged in breaches of the Electoral Act by falsely enrolling people to boost their faction's strength in internal party ballots. Beattie acted swiftly, forcing a number of MPs to quit politics and forcing Elder to resign as Deputy Premier. In the ensuing campaign, Beattie claimed a Labor win would ensure stable government. He argued the only alternative was a Coalition government propped up by One Nation and former One Nation MPs—an argument that gained particular resonance when Borbidge's own party room reneged on Borbidge's promise to not give preferences to One Nation. Beattie was rewarded with a smashing victory, winning 66 seats out of 89—the biggest majority Labor has ever won in an election.
Beattie’s key agenda was to transform Queensland into Australia’s "Smart State" by restructuring the education system, skilling the workforce and encouraging research and development and high tech biotechnology, information technology and aviation industries to locate in Queensland. In 2003, the Premier was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Queensland "in recognition of his leadership and commitment to higher education through Smart State initiatives and his support for research in the fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology".
In February 2004 Beattie again went to the polls, and again a crisis blew up shortly before the election, with a highly critical report on the state of Queensland's system of child protection. Beattie accepted full personal responsibility for the issue, and paradoxically turned the issue into a positive for the government. At the 7 February elections Beattie won 63 seats, a net loss of only three, losing four seats to the National-Liberal Opposition but gaining one from them. This made him one of the most successful state politicians in Australian history.
In the latter part of 2005, Beattie faced potentially his most serious political crisis: the revelations and inquiries into Queensland Health and the Bundaberg public hospital after Jayant Patel, an Indian-born surgeon who performed several botched operations, some of which resulted in death, fled the country to the United States, where he had previously been struck off the register. Amid the controversy, the health minister Gordon Nuttall resigned his portfolio, the Speaker, Ray Hollis, resigned after controversy associated with his use of Parliamentary expenditure, and the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Terry Mackenroth, retired, forcing by-elections in the safe Labor seats of Redcliffe and Chatsworth on 20 August. The ALP suffered major swings against it and both seats were lost to the Liberal Party, the first serious electoral setback for Beattie since becoming Premier.
A Newspoll in late 2005 showed support for Labor in Queensland down six percentage points to 50 per cent, an all-time low since Beattie became Premier. Following the retirement of the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr in 2005, Beattie became the longest-serving state Premier among his contemporaries.
Despite this, Beattie went on to win the September 2006 election convincingly, with a slight swing towards the ALP in terms of its primary vote, and two party preferred result. Coalition Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg stepped down. Before the election Liberal Leader Bob Quinn was forced by his party colleagues to step down a fortnight before polling day. The campaign of Quinn's replacement Dr Bruce Flegg was characterized by inexperience and indecisiveness and lacked an organised, professional approach. Premier Beattie therefore was never challenged by the opposition and was able to secure a fourth consecutive term in office. This result puts Beattie in the realm of iconic political figures. He is the only state Labor leader since Neville Wran, NSW Labor Premier from 1976 to 1986, to do so and is Queensland's fourth longest serving Premier after Labor's William Forgan Smith (1932–1942), the Country Party's Frank Nicklin (1957–1968) and National Party Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen (1968–1987).
Beattie announced on 10 September 2007 his decision to retire from politics. His resignation as Premier officially took effect on 13 September 2007. At the time of his retirement, he was the longest-serving state premier in the country. The Labor caucus elected Anna Bligh as its leader on 12 September. In 2009, Anna Bligh led her party to a state election victory, thereby becoming the first Australian female to be popularly elected as a state premier.
He officially stood down as the Member for Brisbane Central on 14 September 2007. Beattie then served as Queensland's Trade Commissioner to North and South America based in Los Angeles, a position he was appointed to by Anna Bligh in March 2008 after previously stating that he would not accept a federal or state government role.
In late May 2010 Beattie announced that he was retiring early from his position as Queensland's Los Angeles-based trade and investment commissioner. In June 2010 it was announced that he had accepted a position with Clemson University in South Carolina. On 24 August 2011, the Gillard Government appointed Beattie as Australia's first Resources Sector Supplier Envoy charged with promoting a Buy Australian at Home and Abroad program for supplying products to the Australian resources industry.
Beattie's popularity often led to speculation that he would enter national politics, particularly after federal Labor's defeat at the 2001 federal election. But Beattie resisted such suggestions, saying that he loved Queensland too much to leave, and anyway Canberra was "too cold". On announcing his retirement he again ruled out a move to federal politics, saying that he would, politically speaking, disappear.
However, in August 2013, Beattie announced his intention to run in the 2013 federal election in the Queensland federal seat of Forde. He was defeated by incumbent Liberal National Party MP Bert Van Manen.
Beattie's candidacy in Forde is not the first time that he has made a run for Federal Parliament. His first attempt was for the safe Liberal seat of Ryan at the 1980 election in which he was easily defeated by Liberal John Moore.
In May 2005 Beattie released his autobiography "Making A Difference", in which he described his upbringing, political life and his views on key issues, including health, education and social reform. The book is part memoir, part manifesto. Beattie says that the reason he released the book while he is in office, rather than when he is retired, is because no-one would want to read about him if he was not in the public arena. This is Beattie's third book after his earlier autobiographical piece "In the Arena" (1990) and the thriller "The Year of the Dangerous Ones".
Beattie's self-description as a "media tart" as well as his political successes have led to a love-hate relationship with The Courier-Mail, Brisbane's daily newspaper. Columnist Peter Wear, for example, ran a long-running satire on Queensland politics in general with the major role played by "President for Life Mbeattie".
The controversy over the performance of the government-owned electricity supplier Energex during the severe 2003-2004 storm season in South East Queensland resulted in the characterisation of Beattie as "Power Point Pete" by Courier-Mail cartoonist Sean Leahy, with the location of the drawing's eyes and nose designed to replicate the holes of a power point.
In August 2007 the Beattie government proposed to reduce the number of councils from 154 to 72, which would result in the merger of a number of regional and extra-metropolitan councils into larger Regional Councils. This proved particularly unpopular in the affected regional areas.
Beattie joined Sky News Live as a commentator across multiple programs in 2015. Beattie began co-hosting his own program with Peter Reith in April 2016, as a replacement format for Richo while that program was put into hiatus following the ill-health of host Graham Richardson.
On 1 January 2001, Beattie was awarded the Centenary Medal for his contribution to Queensland. On 11 June 2012, Beattie was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for "eminent service to the Parliament and community of Queensland, through initiatives in the area of education and training, economic development, particularly in biotechnology, information technology and aviation industries, and to the promotion of international trade."
Peter is married to Heather Beattie, a former professor of nursing. Mrs Beattie was briefly involved in Brisbane City Council politics in her own capacity in 2012. Mr and Mrs Beattie have three adult children, Larissa, Denis and Matthew Beattie. He is an Anglican; and, his wife is the daughter of an Anglican clergyman.