Innes was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland in 1978 representing the Brisbane-area seat of Sherwood at a by-election to fill a vacancy created by the death of John Herbert. Campaigning heavily on opposition to the controversial street march legislation of then-premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Innes easily won the seat, relegating the ruling National Party to a distant fourth place.
Progressive by nature, Innes had little time for the conservative social policies of the National-dominated government, even though under the coalition agreement between the Nationals and the Liberals, he was nominally a government backbencher. Innes became associated with a faction within the parliamentary Liberal Party dubbed by the media as the "ginger group", who frequently criticised government policy. The Liberal leader at the time, Llew Edwards was more supportive of National party policy, and urged the unruly Liberal backbenchers to be "good coalitionists".
Innes did not agree with Edwards' assessment, and went as far as challenging him for the leadership of the party from the backbench. While Edwards survived, it was only by twelve votes to ten, making the growing power of the Ginger Group faction plain for all to see. The group eventually took power a year later when Terry White became Liberal leader and Innes replaced Sam Doumany as deputy leader. This arrangement did not last long, however. When Bjelke-Petersen refused to appoint White as deputy premier, he and Innes tore up the coalition agreement and led the Liberals to the crossbenches. In the ensuing 1983 election, Bjelke-Petersen convinced many right-leaning Liberal voters that White and Innes might join forces with Labor. As a result, the Liberals were reduced to a rump of only eight members, including Innes. Two more defected to the Nationals, and Innes was deposed as deputy leader soon afterward.
Innes was reelected in 1986, helped by the fact that his National party opponent forgot to submit the required paperwork in time. In January 1988, he became leader of the Liberal party, taking over from William Knox. Innes was leader at the 1989 election, which saw the Australian Labor Party take power in Queensland for the first time in decades, and Innes retired from parliament soon afterwards.
- "Queensland Parliament: Record of Members and Office Holders". Queensland Parliament. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- O'Lincoln, Tom (1993). "Chapter 8". Years of rage: social conflicts in the Fraser era. Bookmarks Australia. ISBN 978-0-646-14643-0.
- Wear, Rae (2002). Johannes Bjelke-Petersen: the Lord's premier. University of Queensland Press. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-0-7022-3304-3.
- Koch, Tony (2010). A Prescription for Change: The Terry White Story. University of Queensland Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-7022-3742-3.
- Murphy, Damien (10 October 1986). "The rugby star quit but the pigeons are fine as the Nationals sputter". The Age. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
- "Queensland Parliament Members Register". Parliament of Queensland. p. 244. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
|Parliamentary Leader of the Liberal Party in Queensland