27/02/2008 - 22:00

Rudd-Burke affair to linger

27/02/2008 - 22:00


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It’s surprising that the ongoing revelations of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s close contacts with former Premier Brian Burke have sparked so little media attention

It’s surprising that the ongoing revelations of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s close contacts with former Premier Brian Burke have sparked so little media attention.

One could have expected more analysis of several aspects; especially why a busy Canberra-based frontbencher from Brisbane was flying to Perth to meet a former Western Australian Labor premier who was black-banned by then premier Geoff Gallop from having contact with state Labor ministers.

Yet, the brazen Mr Rudd’s chumming-up is far more interesting than many may suspect.

It’s also worth recalling that former prime minister John Howard effectively sacked onetime WA senator Ian Campbell for breaking the Gallop black-ban, which, to my knowledge, never applied to Liberal ministers, while Mr Rudd has faced no party censure.

There are other aspects to the Rudd-Burke encounter that are worth highlighting.

It’s perhaps because State Scene was educated by the Marist Brothers at New Norcia that I’ve noticed Messrs Rudd and Burke, both raised as Catholics, also have this in common.

Mr Burke was educated at Perth’s Marist Subiaco College, while Rudd attended Brisbane’s Marist Ashgrove College, even though Mr Rudd plays this down now that he’s an Anglican, preferring instead to only highlight his Nambour High School days.

Not widely known is the fact that he, with one of his brothers, attended Ashgrove on a no-cost basis because the Marists knew the boys had lost their father and their mother was strapped for cash.

State Scene raises this because Mr Rudd sparked an enormous hullabaloo by publicly alleging that his father’s farming partner was less than generous to him and his mother after his father slammed into a tree while driving home from a day’s bowling.

I’ve yet to hear Mr Rudd commending the Marists for their charity by educating both Rudd boys gratis after their father’s premature death.

That understandably prompts one to wonder if Mr Rudd has ever repaid their generosity now that he’s a multi-millionaire.

One could perhaps have expected someone of Mr Rudd’s means to have even initiated a scholarship at Ashgrove for students similarly disadvantaged today, if for no other reason than his alleged dislike of those who display a lack of generosity.

Has he done so?

Another similarity between Messrs Rudd and Burke is that both have been Australian diplomats; Mr Rudd serving in Stockholm and Beijing; Mr Burke in Dublin and the Holy See as ambassador.

Both have also sought and gained Labor Party leadership positions; Mr Rudd nationally and Burke as premier, but with federal aspirations.

There’s little doubt that Mr Burke would have moved for federal preselection for a seat like Perth or Stirling had the WA Inc Royal Commission not been called by Carmen Lawrence.

In addition, both have been consultants, the term Mr Burke prefers ahead of lobbyist.

Mr Rudd, after leaving the diplomatic service, worked for the Wayne Goss Labor government in Queensland, and when that government fell in 1995 he joined KPMG Australia as a consultant on Chinese affairs.

He was a consultant until entering parliament at the 1998 election, since his 1996 bid to win the Brisbane seat of Griffith failed.

Furthermore, both are keenly aware of the role of the media as an essential ingredient in realising political and other ambitions, which explains their emailing about a dinner in Perth to be attended by 10 of WA’s most senior journalists.

With so much in common it’s difficult not to contend that what we’ve got here is two birds of a feather.

Despite these similarities, the crucial question still to be answered is why Mr Rudd went to so much trouble to contact and meet Mr Burke, with more meetings planned.

That’s never been satisfactorily answered, and when the definitive Rudd biography is published – as opposed to the couple of quickies written so far – it will need to have been carefully considered, otherwise it will be a flawed tome.

It’s always difficult to pre-empt history, especially in biographies, since, as circumstances change over time, public figures are re-evaluated and re-assessed.

For instance, between about 2000 and 2006, Mr Howard was hailed as something of a Jack the Giant Killer, since he was winning so many elections and seemed invincible.

Yet we’ve recently heard several of his ministerial coterie speaking on a 4-Corners program in quite uncomplimentary terms; even suggesting he was a political incompetent.

Who knows how Mr Howard will be viewed in decades to come?

But what of Mr Rudd, the man who is presently scoring 70 per cent popularity ratings, despite his links to Mr Burke?

Why did he feel compelled to meet him, and on an ongoing basis?

State Scene’s guess – that’s all it can be at present – is that he’d devised a long-term agenda, which was to either depose Mr Burke’s long time friend, Kim Beazley, or defeat whoever may aspire to become Labor leader.

As things transpired, it was to be Mr Beazley that he toppled in December 2006.

The fact that Mr Rudd made contact with Mr Burke two years before this, via the latter’s long-time political ally, Graham Edwards, certainly suggests planning for his power grab came well ahead of the fact.

Significantly, by early 2005, Mr Burke was back in his old swing of things – still, or again, a key factional player in WA’s Labor Party.

That meant he had the wherewithal to bring over votes of several right-wing WA federal Labor MPs with whom he was in regular and ongoing contact.

Labor leadership challenges can be close-run affairs – as Mr Beazley discovered in his bid to defeat Mark Latham.

That December 2003 clash, one that Mr Rudd considered entering, was 47 votes to 45 Mr Latham’s way.

With Mr Latham losing the 2004 election so badly, Mr Beazley was recalled by Labor for a third crack at the Howard-led Liberals.

Only blind Freddie – and Mr Rudd can never be so categorised – would not have realised that another leadership contest would soon be in the wings.

Not surprisingly, some time during 2004 or very early 2005, the ambitious Mr Rudd started priming his leadership agenda; and what better way to ensure success than by locking in a long-time Beazley factional ally from his home state to help out?

What, however, of Mr Burke?

Well before 2004, he and business partner, Julian Grill, were in full flight as WA’s premier lobbyists.

Linking with an outsider like Mr Rudd, also on Labor’s right, made sense, particularly if one wished at some time in the future – especially when a national Labor government reigned supreme in Canberra – to broaden one’s lobbying work beyond WA.

To understand the Rudd-Burke association, one need not highlight their various other uncanny similarities.

All that’s needed is to appreciate that both had good old fashioned self-interest in common.

One thing that can be said in Mr Burke’s favour is that he’s remained silent on all this.

Mr Rudd, on the other hand, has offered explanations as well as excuses for the association, ones that are carefully and constantly remoulded and refined whenever the issue resurfaces.


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