30/10/2007 - 22:00

Burke spotlight on McGinty

30/10/2007 - 22:00

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It’s not often a really fascinating tip-off falls into a journalist’s lap.

Burke spotlight on McGinty

It’s not often a really fascinating tip-off falls into a journalist’s lap.

However, several months ago, State Scene was the recipient of such a leak, one that, if true, had the hallmarks of being truly intriguing.

According to a long-time Labor insider, former premier Brian Burke and long-time Labor leftist powerbroker, Jim McGinty, were in contact during the last state election campaign via a third person.

To say I was stunned to hear this is an understatement.

Because the informant is so knowledgeable about Labor machinations, I took particular note.

As is well known, Messrs Burke and McGinty have been bitter rivals since the late 1970s.

But power is power and factional rivalries are understandably set aside when elections arrive.

Sidelining factional differences is easily justified by declaring that one’s enemy’s enemy can be one’s temporary friend.

Now, this intriguing piece of information continued tickling my mind for more than a week.

I put it up to the light and considered it from all angles, with the intention of perhaps eventually reporting it. Finally, however, I reluctantly decided nothing could be done with it.

Would Mr McGinty confirm it if I’d approached his office? Unlikely. And there was no way of identifying the intermediary.

Soon after I met a journalist friend whose judgement I value.

We chatted and I eventually raised the alleged Burke-McGinty campaign tete a tete.

Our chat went roughly thus: “You won’t believe this, but I’ve heard that Brian Burke and Jim McGinty had some sort of informal-style of ongoing contact during the last election campaign with Brian advising Jim to help ensure Labor won.”

The surprised, but not disbelieving, look on my friend’s face prompted me to continue.

“Apparently the advice was passed by Brian to Jim via a third party,” I continued, adding that the intermediary, a lawyer, obviously knew both quite well.

“The lawyer regularly spoke to both, with Brian’s advice and campaign assessments therefore reaching Jim.”

I added that I knew for a fact Mr Burke had assisted at least one Labor candidate during the February 2005 campaign because I’d stumbled onto this at the time while inquiring into how the Liberals were faring in a crucial northern Perth suburban seat.

I can’t recall who, but one of us commented that there weren’t too many campaigners as astute as Mr Burke, so the story certainly seemed credible.

We agreed that Mr McGinty would certainly have appreciated such advice, so may have decided to tap into his (Burke’s) assessments when the opportunity arose.

At one point I said that, having known Mr McGinty well during my university days, I knew he played politics hard; being in contact with Mr Burke for advice wasn’t such a silly suggestion.

“He’d have known from internal Labor polling just how precarious things were for Labor until the last few days,” I continued.

“All I can say is that my informant is impeccable and quite frankly, I believe it’s true.”

On the question of polling it should be noted Geoff Gallop-led Labor, as recently pointed out in this column, (‘Close but no cigar for Libs’, October 4 2007) retained power by just more than 1,000 votes.

It was that close.

We then discussed another topic and, quite frankly, I never expected this matter to arise again.

I saw it as one of those things one hears, briefly thinks about, discusses, and it fades into the annals of time, never to be referred to or thought about again.

But that’s not what happened.

The day after the Corruption and Crime Commission’s report on the proposed $300 million Smiths Beach imbroglio and Mr Burke’s lobbying activities was tabled, the following lines appeared in The Australian.

“Last night, in the midst of the CCC fallout, Burke hit the airwaves with a dazzling claim that he had lunched with McGinty, supposedly his arch enemy, and even advised him through a middleman prior to the last election.”

A day later, Premier Alan Carpenter, speaking from Kununurra, was confronted by ABC morning host, Geoff Hutchinson, with several incisive questions.

Hutchinson: “Are you satisfied that your members, including senior ministers like Jim McGinty and his staff members are having no contact at all with Brian Burke and Julian Grill?

“Are all the old relationships, your own included, so fenced off now, the doors are boarded up, that we never need ask this question anymore?”

Carpenter: “Oh, people will ask it forever. I mean there are some bizarre propositions being put around. I can’t believe this one, that Jim McGinty is sort of, you know, seeking advice from, being influenced by Brian Burke.

“I mean, it’s just so farfetched that it defies belief and if people who are making those sorts of assertions are too lazy to get down and actually do some real analysis of the circumstances…”

Hutchinson: “Well let’s just put that one on the record that you say that that’s not happening?”

Carpenter: “Well, of course…of course it’s not. Jim McGinty and Brian Burke, for God’s sake Geoff.”

Since this issue is now in the public arena it should be fully and finally resolved.

Did Messrs Burke and McGinty lunch together or not, and did they communicate in a somewhat clandestine manner via a third party during the 2005 state election campaign?

That, to use a current cliche, is the elephant in the room. And the reason is that Dr Gallop had blackbanned Messrs Burke and Grill from speaking to or meeting ministers.

Now, did that apply to all ministers, including the attorney-general?

Or was Mr McGinty, the state’s first law official, bequeathed a privileged status.

If the latter, who decided he could meet with and communicate, via a third party, with Mr Burke?

Did Dr Gallop know of this? And if not, why not?

It’s time Mr McGinty came clean. There shouldn’t be one law for the state’s first legal officer and another for other MPs.

Another reason is that it was Mr McGinty, as attorney-general, who gave the all-clear for Mr Burke’s telephone to be tapped by CCC eavesdroppers, and for Mr Grill’s apartment to be wired.

If Mr McGinty had some form of contact, even if via a third party, with Mr Burke, it’s time this bizarre twist to the CCC’s investigations of Messrs Burke and Grill was unveiled.

The public has a right to know the precise nature of the Burke-McGinty relationship.

How can this best be done?

Simple.

It’s no use the public having to rely solely on Mr Burke’s claims on radio that the two lunched together and used an intermediary to communicate on election campaigning matters.

It’s also no use replying on Mr Carpenter’s weak second-hand denial: “…well, of course…of course it’s not. Jim McGinty and Brian Burke, for God’s sake Geoff.”

No. Only Mr McGinty can provide the answers.

But rather than questions being put to him by the media, the opposition should demand a detailed statement to parliament.  Until then, the ever-intriguing CCC inquiry into lobbying won’t be fully disclosed.

Presumably Mr Burke, as the target of Mr McGinty’s all-clear for the tapping of his telephones, would want to be in parliament’s public gallery as Mr McGinty explains.

That, of course, is if the Carpenter government doesn’t ban Mr Burke from entering Parliament House.

If it does, the opposition should move for a parliamentary inquiry and call Mr Burke and Mr McGinty for questioning.

Remember, last December, Mr McGinty demanded nothing less, and he got it, when complaints surfaced about failed Liberal leader, Matt Birney’s tampering with his pecuniary interests file.

State Scene is confident Mr Birney would willingly move such a motion for the convening of a parliamentary committee of inquiry.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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