Burke busy in backroom

EVERY few months Perth’s media carries a story or two claiming former Labor Premier and one-time Australian Ambassador to Ireland and the Vatican, Brian Burke, has been dabbling, behind-the-scenes, in Labor politics.

The reports are sometimes denied while others adamantly claim they are true, so we are left up-in-the-air.

I first saw Brian Burke during a school football match that we played against each other – he for Marist Brothers, Subiaco, and me for Marist Brothers, New Norcia, where the game was held.

I had him pointed out after the match by a primary school mate in the Subi side because the Burke family was well known across WA.

His father, the late Tom Burke, a former Labor Federal MP, had been prematurely and rather nastily dumped by then powerful leftists within the Labor Party.

Catholics, including myself in those days, looked up somewhat to Tom Burke, in part, because of the tardy way he had been treated for purely leftist ideological reasons.

Another likely reason was that most Catholics backed the Labor Party, seen then as now by some as the party of the underdogs, which Catholics generally felt they were.

This undoubtedly had a traumatic effect upon everyone in the Burke family, especially the children.

I next encountered Brian at the University of WA – he was only briefly there – and after that his name gradually came to the fore because of his move into state politics.

Never media shy, probably because of his days as a reporter, he quickly built up a formidable power base, along the lines that he had done while at school.

So it was no surprise when former Labor Leader, Ron Davies and later Agent-General to London, was toppled by Labor’s emerging young duo, Brian Burke and Mal Bryce, that Brian became the leader while Mal was just deputy.

Brian’s penchant for being at the centre and in charge of things goes back a long time.

One friend, who knew one of Brian’s primary school teachers, told me that the teacher could not help noticing his proclivity to be the one pulling the strings, even then, back in the 1950s.

And now we often read or hear of Brian apparently again being behind the occasional behind-the-scenes move within the Labor Party.

Could it be otherwise? Do old dogs learn new tricks? Or more pertinently in this case, do they forget lifelong ones?

Brian has been a political activist for longer than I can remember.

He grew up in a stolid Irish-Australian Labor family. Politics has been and will continue to be his favourite past time.

It appears the main reason the reports of his involvement in politics surface so regularly is to suggest he is somehow destabilising Labor Leader Dr Geoff Gallop.

One reason this view is held is that many say that some of his backers markedly destabilised Carmen Lawrence’s Government through media leaks and an array of other political ploys.

Whether that was so is too difficult to say because most political activity can be portrayed as quite normal and rightful goings on.

What to someone is manipulation or interference to another can be seen as looking after the interests of an allegedly powerless group or faction in need of backing. Politics is never clear-cut.

According to a former Liberal politician I occasionally meet, Brian still acts as a consultant to an array of clients. And that means not simply Labor groups or factions, but business.

Like him or hate him he still has good contacts in party political circles and elsewhere.

Brian is also a family man with a larger than average family.

So it would be surprising if at least one of his children did not have political aspirations – in this case it seems one, a daughter, has an eye on such a remunerative career.

Despite Brian’s less than fortunate encounter with the State’s legal system following the Royal Commission into WA Inc. wheelings and dealings, nothing there should disqualify one’s children.

Let’s not forget that another former and fallen WA political idol, one-time Liberal strongman, Senator Noel Crichton-Browne, has a son who it seems is opening up a political pathway through the Young Liberals, a launching pad for so many bright political careers.

It is expecting too much from off-springs in families where politics was an integral part of every day life, and for so long, not to at least consider it as a likely career option.

That, after all, is precisely what happened to Brian and to his elder brother, Terry, the former State MP for Perth.

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