19/12/2007 - 22:00

Labor made the running in ’07

19/12/2007 - 22:00


Save articles for future reference.

Future generations of Western Australians are likely to recall 2007 because of several significant, indeed unique, political events.

Future generations of Western Australians are likely to recall 2007 because of several significant, indeed unique, political events.

Those recalling it will firstly do so because it marked the rise of Queenslander Kevin Rudd – otherwise known as Kevin07, who, we learned during 2007, visited Perth three times during 2006 for advice from former WA premier, Brian Burke.

This celebrity focus is understandable, since so much historical writing hinges around personalities, especially prime ministers, presidents, monarchs, and even generals.

Joyful Laborites will undoubtedly reinforce the Kevin07 focus since they waited more than a decade for the Howard era to end; an era that for them had become less tolerable since Australia was allied with US President George W Bush in the fight against Jihadism’s opening moves to create a global Caliphate.

More circumspect Laborites, however, are likely to focus upon events that most outside WA are likely to overlook.

These will firstly see year 2007 as the year during which Kim Beazley bowed out of politics.

Also of note is that, just two months earlier, his politician father, also Kim, died.

The Beazley name has been integral to WA Labor history since shortly before the end of World War II.

Not widely realised is the fact that, during the 1950s and even the early 1960s, Kim senior was seen as a possible national Labor leader and thus prime minister.

He’d entered federal politics in 1945 as member for Fremantle, taking over from Labor’s iconic prime minister, John Curtin, and holding the seat until 1977.

Beazley jnr entered federal politics in 1980 as member for Swan and twice came close to following Mr Curtin by becoming the second Western Australian to be PM.

But, as with his father, that was not to be.

Year 2007 also marked the demise of WA Labor’s other dominant family name –  Burke.

Brian Burke entered state parliament in 1973, the year his father, Thomas, died.

Tom Burke entered federal parliament in 1943 as member for Perth and many saw him as a potential Labor treasurer after that other iconic Labor leader, Ben Chifley, departed the national political stage.

But Tom Burke only held Perth until 1955 when it went to the Liberals, primarily because of Labor’s third great national split over communist influence in the unions at the height of the Cold War.

Tom Burke and Kim senior were close political allies and their sons, Brian and Kim, were pals from early childhood years.

One outcome of Labor’s bitter 1950s left-right imbroglio was that Tom Burke was expelled from the Labor Party by the then-dominant far left faction in the WA branch.

Notwithstanding Labor’s ideological turmoil and angst of the 1950s, after just 10 years in parliament, Brian Burke became premier and five years later was ambassador to Eire and Vatican City, appointments then seen as precursors to a later re-emergence as a federal MP.

And many saw him as a likely future prime minister.

But that was also not to be.

As disappointing as these developments have undoubtedly been for both families, 2007 brought something even more bitter for Mr Burke, since he was told by fellow former journalist, and now Labor premier, Alan Carpenter, to get out of the Labor Party, something he, by now WA’s most successful political lobbyist, felt compelled to do.

A key contributor to the demise of the Burke family’s more than 60 years of association with Labor was long-time rival and leftist factional powerbroker, Jim McGinty.

Let’s never forget this arose via the McGinty-created Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC), which he’d endowed with powers to tap telephones, bug homes and other premises, and intercept internet and other communications.

The fact that electronic eavesdropping was integral to Labor closing down the Burke era in 2007 is likely, as time passes, to leave quite a sour taste in many sentimental Labor mouths.

Because of the longevity of the Beazley and Burke associations with WA Labor, their departure is far more significant than, say, that of one-time Liberal leader, Colin Barnett.

He’s recently announced he’ll leave parliament at the February 2009 election.

When compared with the Beazley-Burke departures, this is little more than a tiny blip on the historical radar screen.

Unless, of course, Mr Barnett’s long-awaited political biography, to be called ‘Black Swan’, isn’t just another self-serving tract but a warts-and-all expose of life within local Liberal circles.

In a recent interview with The Subiaco Post, he said the low point in his political career was the attempt by several powerful Liberals to parachute federal Liberal MP, Julie Bishop, now national deputy leader, into the job of state opposition leader without consulting him, when Richard Court stood down in 2001.

“It caused immense damage to the party,” Mr Barnett said.

“It made my job virtually impossible for two to three years.

“It was very poor behaviour by a number of people.

“As a result there are some who still can’t look me in the eye.”

Let’s hope ‘Black Swan’  tells us more, much more, about this and other such cloak-and-dagger plots that abound in Liberal ranks but are rarely the subject of published accounts.

Mr Barnett also has a unique opportunity to set out clearly and objectively an original WA perspective on the Howard-Costello era, which means his book could become a local variant of the famous and popular The Latham Diaries.

We can only hope he doesn’t bungle this unique opportunity like he did his 2004 bid to become premier (by committing the Liberals to digging a $14 billion Kimberley-to-Perth open air canal that he’d calculated to only cost $2 billion).

Unfortunately, neither Mr Beazley nor Mr Burke has indicated that they’ll be putting pen to paper to present their perspectives on WA’s recent political past.

Let us hope they follow Mr Barnett’s lead.

And while hope springs eternal, why not include Mr McGinty and doubly hope for the most unlikely – that he too will record his days in power since 2001.

That said, it’s worth noting that the research and writing of the better part of a book on Mr Burke’s political career has taken place this year.

State Scene refers here to Edith Cowan University academic, Professor Quentin Bereford’s, coming biography of Mr Burke.

This, I’m told, promises to be a major contribution to understanding not only Mr Burke’s dramatic appearances before the CCC and an in-camera Legislative Council select committee during 2007, but also his five tumultuous years in power.

But 2007 will, for State Scene, always be remembered as the one during which a prime minister – John Howard – was removed from power by a challenger who sought and got Mr Burke’s advice not once, nor twice, but three times.

Year 2007 will, for State Scene, be the one Mr Beazley, who came so close, at least once, to becoming the second prime minister from WA, left the political scene.

And year 2007 will, for State Scene, also be the one in which Mr Burke was removed from the Labor Party, as his father had been in 1956.

That political hat-trick made 2007 a unique year.


Subscription Options