14/08/2007 - 22:00

Power and influence retained

14/08/2007 - 22:00

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The road transport lobbies are very close to the government, as can be observed at any social function where they lob.

Power and influence retained

“The road transport lobbies are very close to the government, as can be observed at any social function where they lob.

“Senior ministers are also close to the investment banks interested in closing off other roads and tolling the captured.

“(The spies at Spring St tell me that Bracks and Brumby have been sounded out for future jobs.)”

The above paragraphs were received by State Scene in a long email on July 25 2007.

Two days later – July 27 – then Victorian premier Steve Bracks resigned, with John Brumby becoming Labor leader and premier three days later.

“Spring St”, for those unfamiliar with Melbourne’s political jargon, means Victoria’s Parliament House and nearby ministerial offices.

The reason for the email was that State Scene had asked the Melbourne-based contact about the fate of a just-launched major Melbourne urban transport investigation, headed by Sir Rod Eddington.

Sir Rod is doubling as big business affairs adviser to Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, over the current federal election campaign and many believe he’s in line to become governor general.

Several things can be said at this stage, including that State Scene’s contact has well-informed “spies at Spring St”.

We will, of course, know how well-informed if Mr Bracks, who stressed his departure was for family reasons, surfaces in the next few months in a well-paid new job, especially if it’s with a “road transport” lobbyist or “investment bank”.

The latter, it’s worth noting, are presently eyeing-off all sorts of infrastructure projects and proposals across Australia that are linked to state Labor governments.

It won’t be surprising if that happens, since there’s already a precedent.

Mr Bracks’ NSW counterpart, Bob Carr, who left politics in August 2005, surfaced two months later as a consultant to Macquarie Bank – Australia largest investment bank involved in governmental programs – on a annual salary reportedly around $500,000.

Earlier, one-time Victorian Liberal treasurer, Alan Stockdale, had joined Macquarie.

Now, some may say the “spies at Spring St” weren’t entirely on the mark since Mr Brumby went from treasurer to premier, not out of parliament.

True. But there’s time for him to ensure that tip-off eventuates, with nothing stopping him following Mr Carr in, say 2010, or perhaps a later, particularly if Mr Bracks takes the Stockdale-Carr consulting path.

Now, it’s not that long ago that Western Australia featured in the gripping Crime and Corruption Commission inquiry into Smiths Beach and the roles played by former premier Brian Burke and ex-Labor minister Julian Grill.

As that inquiry was beginning, another former WA premier, Carmen Lawrence, was quizzed by the ABC about Mr Burke and what’s become known as lobbying, although Mr Burke prefers to term it ‘consulting’.

“Look, I think it’s important that people such as Brian, anyone for that matter, who’s been in his position, is allowed to go ahead and make a living and make choices about how he supports his family,” Dr Lawrence said.

“But I think there’s a big problem in Australia and in some ways the position of Mr Burke illustrates this.”

She was, of course, referring to senior politicians vacating the public arena with a dilly-bag of insider knowledge about government projects, plans and programs.

She’s right, it’s a prickly area, one that hasn’t been closely inspected and may yet result in considerable strife for the Labor Party, which has dominated state politics Australia-wide over the past decade.

Since very few are prepared to focus on this let’s do so.

In the corporate world, insider trading, that is using inside knowledge for personal financial gain, is a serious offence.

But former senior politicians moving into the corporate world invariably leave with a great deal of inside information that big corporations, including investment banks, undoubtedly value highly.

Just so many former Labor MPs are re-inventing themselves as lobbyists/consultants, to the point that it’s fair to say Labor’s upper echelons are being privatised.

So it wasn’t a surprise to see Mr Bracks’ name surface – within a week of his departing the corridors of power – as a likely witness before a forthcoming Victorian upper house inquiry to investigate an issue involving a former Victorian Labor minister now working for Labor-oriented nationwide lobbyists, Hawker Britton.

The following few paragraphs were carried in Melbourne’s Sun-Herald on July 31.

“Outgoing premier Steve Bracks could be hauled before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about his secret dealings with powerful pokies bosses and controversial lobbyist David White,” the report began.

“As a member of the lower house, Mr Bracks was exempt from appearing before the upper house committee investigating the government’s handling of key poker machine and lottery licence tenders.

“But his exit from state politics means he may no longer enjoy that protection.

“The upper house panel is expected to seek advice on whether it will have the power to subpoena Mr Bracks after the Williamstown by-election.

“Areas of investigation include a meeting between Mr Bracks and Tattersall’s bosses in February 2003.

“Mr Bracks has repeatedly denied ever discussing pokies or lottery licences with Tatts.

“But a leaked internal company document from the meeting claims licences were discussed.

“Mr Bracks would also face questions over a seaside dinner with Mr White at Lorne during the 2003-04 holiday.

“Mr White, a lobbyist and influential ALP powerbroker, was hired by Tatts to help it secure new, lucrative gambling licences.

“Five weeks before the Lorne dinner and just several weeks later, Mr White briefed Tatts chiefs about the government’s position on the $2.5 billion-a-year pokies industry.

“Tatts and rival operator Tabcorp are awaiting the decision of a government review on whether their pokies licences will be extended beyond the 2012 expiry date.”

So who is this so-called “contro-versial lobbyist David White”?

That’s easy to answer. Log on to Hawker Britton’s website and go to the Victorian site.

Here’s what you’ll read: “David White, director, Victoria.

“David’s understanding of the operations of the Victorian government and parliament is unmatched by any public affairs consultant in Australia.

“As a minister in the Victorian government for more than 10 years – in areas covering health, electricity, gas, industry, water, ports, roads and gaming – David negotiated key investments in the state, including: Mobil’s refurbishment of its Altona oil refinery; Kodak’s commitment to 800 jobs at Coburg; introduction of the gaming industry in Victoria; and the establishment of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

“David established Hawker Britton’s Melbourne office in 2000 and continues to play a key role in the Victorian ALP.

“At Hawker Britton, David works with some of Australia’s highest-profile firms in developing and executing government relations strategies.

“David’s unique experience and expertise is widely sought by a range of corporate clients seeking to work more effectively in Victoria.”

For those who don’t know the Hawker in that company’s name, it’s Bruce Hawker often described as a senior Labor strategist and managing director of Hawker Britton.

Mr Hawker was once a staffer for Mr Carr.

Now, without making any judgment about Victoria’s forthcoming upper house inquiry into “the $2.5 billion-a-year pokies industry” but keeping Dr Lawrence’s comments in mind, what we find is that there’s a steady flow of Labor ministers, MPs, and Labor staffers who are consulting and lobbying Labor governments.

And there’s no way the average voter could possibly find out precisely what such individuals are doing and for whom. Where's the democracy?

That said, one person has publicly hailed Mr Bracks’ decision to depart public life at the ripe old age of 52.

Here’s what that person claimed.

“All political leaders have ‘use by’ dates,” he wrote in a national newspaper’s opinion pages.

“The smart ones, such as Bracks and Carr, recognise this and time their departures before their governments can be successfully tagged with being stale and out of touch.

“By going when they did, they probably secured long terms in government for their successors.

“By refusing to plan for a smooth succession Howard and the Liberal Party have made their re-election planning a much more complicated task.”

No prize for guessing that Bruce Hawker is the author.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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