15/05/2007 - 22:00

First-time candidates take aim

15/05/2007 - 22:00


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State Scene had a variety of casual and part-time jobs before graduating from a Perth ivory tower to enter the ‘school of hard knocks’ as a full-time worker.

State Scene had a variety of casual and part-time jobs before graduating from a Perth ivory tower to enter the ‘school of hard knocks’ as a full-time worker.

In some, the pay and conditions were the outcome of union awards. In others they stemmed from private negotiations.

In one case, however, they arose from the Howard government’s 1997 Australian Workplace Agreements.

No one ever became rich by being a worker. It’s always been that way and that’s the way it’ll always be.

No-one knows this better than those opting for business and/or politics, which explains why there’s a steady flow of people of differing aptitudes constantly launching business ventures, and why so many trade union bosses doggedly beaver away through Labor’s various factions to line up safe parliamentary seats, where their remuneration and perks are markedly boosted.

That’s why Victorian Nationals leader, Peter Ryan, was able to so succinctly and gruesomely describe ACTU secretary Greg Combet’s step-up into federal politics, via the safe NSW seat of Charlton, accompanied with the dumping of incumbent Kelly Hoare.

“The Labor Party machine has whacked her [Ms Hoare],” Mr Ryan said.

“The Labor Party machine has said: ‘Off with your head, you are gone, we’re going to parachute Greg Combet into your seat’; that is, if he stops crying.

“Isn’t it so galling, it’s just the double standards, the way they are prepared – they would eat each other’s young, this lot, if it meant getting a seat.”

Such manoeuvrings are often quite torrid affairs, which explains a press report that Mr Combet broke down in a highly emotional speech delivered to union affiliates in Melbourne since after being so upset by union infighting over his replacement for his ACTU job.

In other words, there’s already a conga line of union bosses angling for his job, which carries a handsome salary plus travel and other perks.

Mr Combet is one of a several high-profile candidates being brought in by Kevin Rudd-led Labor to help ensure Australia’s 11-year-old Howard era is ended.

Among them is Maxine McKew, the wife of former Labor Party national secretary Bob Hogg and a journalist of long-standing, who is challenging John Howard in his marginal seat of Bennelong.

There’s little doubt Labor is hoping for a re-run of 1929s election, in which the Bruce-Page nationalist government was toppled, and prime minister Stanley Bruce was also unseated; something that had never happened before or since.

Ms McKew’s bid has received a welcome boost, with internal Labor assessments showing she stands a good chance of toppling Mr Howard.

The figures apparently reveal that Labor’s two-party preferred Bennelong vote at the March 21 NSW state election had her at 52.4 per cent, to Mr Howard’s 47.6 per cent.

Clearly, the PM’s going to be relying heavily on the personal vote he’s built up since 1974.

“Quite encouraging,” Ms McKew told a reporter.

“It’s do-able – Bennelong will be a Labor seat eventually – but whether the list of accumulating grievances against John Howard will get me across the line this time, I’m not sure about.”

Win or lose, the fact that she’s been slotted into this key contest means Mr Howard will be spending much more time on his home stump.

And that means far less time campaigning in marginal seats across Australia where every seat will count.

Western Australia has two-high profile Labor contenders.

Firstly there’s, Peter Tinley in the Stirling seat, a man with an enviable military past that includes high level military planning for the allied invasion of Iraq.

According to State Scene’s Labor and other sources, he’s confident he’ll topple Liberal Michael Keenan, a last-minute replacement at the last election for Paul Afkos, who withdrew after striking problems involving use of one of his vehicles by a drug trafficker.

Mr Keenan hails from the WA Liberal Party’s left or wet side, so will find it tough going against Mr Tinley, a Kim Beazley recruit.

However, Mr Tinley may have already fatally blundered by publicly griping about Australia’s Iraq commitment in support of Great Britain, the US and all those Iraqis who were offside with the murderous tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

Australians don’t take too kindly to whingeing, so Mr Tinley should perhaps be more cautious as the campaign unfolds.

Labor’s other WA high profiler is Gary Gray, who takes over Kim Beazley’s safe seat of Brand.

Mr Gray is far and away WA’s best new Labor candidate.

Not only is he a former ALP national secretary – so knows where all Labor’s skeletons are hidden – but has a wealth of experience in Australia’s emerging oil and gas sectors because of his many years at Woodside Energy.

This means he also knows his way around Canberra’s various economics bureaucracies, and has also gained some experience in foreign relations.

As one Labor insider recently told State Scene: “No-one who I know has a better knowledge of East Timor than Gary Gray.”

But his knowledge doesn’t stop there. He’s the son-in-law of former Labor finance minister and ex-senator, Peter Walsh, who is undoubtedly in the handful of best-ever MPs WA has dispatched to Canberra.

Having such an economic affairs tutor, or adviser – it matter little which – certainly boosts his credentials, and the WA Liberals will find it difficult to match him.

All that said, it would be wrong to overlook another Western Australian that Mr Rudd has pulled in to help unseat Mr Howard by beavering away across the nation’s business community.

State Scene is, of course, referring to Sir Rod Eddington, a Christchurch Grammar alumni and University of WA engineering graduate, who Mr Rudd has named as Labor’s business sector contact man and adviser.

He plans to convene an advisory group that will include small and medium business representatives, and perhaps even people from various lobby groups like education.

But he insists it will be a lean advisory machine.

Sir Rod gained a Rhodes Scholarship the year after State Scene departed that campus for the ‘school of hard knocks’.

Sir Rod instead headed for historic Oxford, where he is reported to have “firmed up a friendship with Kim Beazley forged when they were undergraduates at the University of WA”.

Although Mr Beazley returned to a Perth academic job at Murdoch University Sir Rod’s career spanned a swath of high-flying position with airlines, including Ansett, British Airways and Cathay Pacific.

He has also worked with Rupert Murdoch’s New Corporation, Rio Tinto, and Allco Finance.

And he has advised the Blair government and is helping Steve Bracks’ government in Victoria.

State Scene first encountered Sir Rod somewhat indirectly way back in the 1990s when reading through some WA Electoral Commission returns on donations to WA political parties.

One of the returns showed that WA’s Labor Party had received a $10,000 gift from the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank.

That naturally prompted a call to the local ALP office to inquire why a foreign bank was funding Labor.

An hour or so later a party official telephoned to explain that there had been a mistake in that entry.

The $10,000 gift was in fact from Cathay Pacific Airlines, which Sir Rod then headed, and the official who complied in disclosing this had accidentally entered the name of the bank rather than the donor’s name on the return.

This error was subsequently corrected.

While in Hong Kong, Sir Rod got to know Mr Rudd during the latter man’s diplomatic stint in China.

All in all, it’s hard not to suspect that, if Labor wins the coming election, two WA Oxfordians may well be in line for new taxpayer funded careers.

State Scene’s guess – it can be no more – is that Mr Beazley may be seen as admirably qualified for a Washington-based ambassadorial stint, while Sir Rod could well find himself in Beijing or perhaps even London with a similar rank.

Let’s wait and see.


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