WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Joe PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Taped calls incriminate ex-premier, minister
, November 25, 2006
The dramatic disclosure, at a WA corruption inquiry, of clandestine phone calls between disgraced former premier Brian Burke and a serving WA government minister has shaken Alan Carpenter's Labor Government. However, News Weekly's Joe Poprzeczny, who was present at the inquiry, warns that this may be only the tip of the iceberg.Disgraced former Western Australian Premier Brian Burke has resigned from the Labor Party following Labor Premier Alan Carpenter announcing the party was too small for both of them - either Burke was expelled or he, Carpenter, would resign as premier.
Within three hours of Carpenter issuing the unprecedented ultimatum, Burke opted to resign from the party that he, his father Thomas, and brother Terry, had variously represented in state or federal parliament.
Burke's departure was followed by the resignation from the WA Parliament of sacked Small Business Minister, Norm Marlborough, who, a day earlier, had been exposed during a Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) hearing as having lied about his ongoing clandestine contacts with Burke.
This dramatic series of events began unfolding the day before the running of the Melbourne Cup, with Burke's appearance before the CCC.
The CCC is investigating Burke's role in directing funds to candidates contesting a south of Perth coastal and rural shire election to get a go-ahead for a $330 million holiday resort at Smith's Beach.
Burke, with Julian Grill - one of Burke's ministers during the 1980s - and disgraced former Liberal Senator Noel Crichton-Browne, were employed as a "lobbyists of last resort" team for developers of the planned resort.
By the time of the running of the Melbourne Cup, all three had appeared before the CCC and most observers were coming to believe that the CCC lacked the "silver bullet" needed to prosecute or investigate them further.
The normally talkative Burke, when giving evidence, kept most answers to a simple "yes" or "no", a guarded approach also adopted by Grill and Crichton-Browne.
But 48 hours later Burke's position was completely overturned.
CCC agents raided his home where they seized computers and private business papers, and he was facing the prospect of being charged for perjury.
What little remained of his reputation in the wake of the 1990s WA Inc. Royal Commission, which saw him sentenced twice to prison terms, was now in utter tatters.
For the CCC the turnaround came in just 90 minutes - between 10:00am and 11:30am on November 8, the day after the Melbourne Cup was run - during questioning of Burke's most loyal Labor parliamentary and cabinet mate, Norm Marlborough.
Marlborough stepped into the witness box at 10:00am and underwent what can only be described as the most torrid ordeal of his life by having to listen to five taped telephone conversations he'd had with Burke since being sworn in as minister on February 3.
Both Labor Party machine men were convinced their conversations could not have been tapped.
The reason for their brash confidence was that they'd each purchased a mobile phone, the existence and numbers of which were known only to them.
But the CCC's hi-tech surveillance unit learned of the existence of their secret communication channel and began monitoring all conversations from the day Marlborough became a minister.
The CCC revealed that Marlborough's telephone was used 355 times over nine months, with 209 of the calls between him and Burke.
Five calls were played to Marlborough during his last hour of interrogation, after which he left the witness stand a shattered man.
Marlborough was asked by the counsel assisting if Burke had ever asked him to take an interest in any of Burke's business clients while minister.
"Not that I'm aware of," Marlborough replied. "He has contacted me on one occasion but not directly to me."Counsel assisting
: "When you say 'directly', you mean that he hasn't spoken to you?"Marlborough
: "He hasn't spoken to me."Counsel assisting
: "... personally about any of his clients?"Marlborough
: "No, he hasn't. What he had done is contact my ministerial office on one occasion."Counsel assisting
: "All right. So - and that was the only time since February 3?"Marlborough
: "That I can recall."
The inquiry then heard CCC records revealing that Marlborough had called Burke 10 times on February 5; seven on February 6; and eight on February 7, using a secret telephone he'd registered in his wife, Roz's, name.
On February 4, the conversation went as follows:Burke
: "And you don't tell anyone else the number. Don't ..."Marlborough
: "If you're pushed for time or anything, don't say, 'I've got this phone, ring me on this number.' Just don't tell 'em the number."Marlborough
: "Mm, hm."Burke
: "You don't need anyone else to know you've got the phone, mate."Marlborough
: "Promise me?"Marlborough
: "Absolutely, done deal."Burke
: "It's in your own interest, Norm."Marlborough
: "You just keep the number and I'll ring you when I need to get you and you can ignore it or turn it off, whatever you like. But the main thing is, you don't tell anyone else the number. You don't necessarily, if they see you with two phones, just say 'ah, I've just got this, this is Roz's'."Taped transcripts
Taped and written transcripts of the five conversations were immediately released to the media.
One media outlet carried the sound of the conversations on its website with the following alert: "Audio: Listen to the recordings (Warning: extreme language)."
Another media outlet did likewise: "Listen to the CCC recordings. Warning: some language may offend."
The CCC hearing was told the Burke-Marlborough conversations were "frequent, lengthy and intense".
Carpenter sacked Marlborough during a telephone conversation they had soon after Marlborough concluded giving evidence.
"When I became Premier, I made the point that it was time for us to move on from the hangovers of the 1980s, and I gave everybody the chance to do just that," Carpenter said.
"The evidence to the CCC today has led me to the conclusion that Norm Marlborough has not honoured his unequivocal commitment to me, made when he became a minister, that he would be able keep his responsibilities as a minister separate from his personal relationship with Brian Burke.
"I believe the evidence heard today makes it clear that this relationship has compromised Norm and makes his continuation as a minister untenable."
But Liberal Opposition leader Paul Omodei said that's not enough.
Not only should Burke be expelled from the Labor Party, he said, but all of Carpenter's ministers should be quizzed to determine if they had been in contact with Burke.
The opposition is particularly keen to know if any minister had leaked confidential cabinet information to Burke to help boost his and Grill's lobbying work.
The reason for this is that informed sources claim that further material the CCC has on tapes, from the remaining 204 clandestine Burke-Marlborough telephone conversations, may disclose this.
The CCC reconvenes on December 4 when several witnesses, including public servants, are set to be recalled.
The CCC has advised all witnesses that, if they have not been truthful in earlier evidence, they will be treated leniently if they volunteer correcting evidence.
Failure to do so is likely to result in harsher treatment.
It is most unlikely the CCC's surveillance unit has monitored only Marlborough's and Burke's telephones.
"We know there are several Labor ministers with strong links to Brian Burke," Omodei said.
"How many of them were on the 'bat phone' to Brian Burke?
"Was Brian Burke giving any other ministers instructions? Were ministers giving Brian Burke access to confidential cabinet details?
"How many other ministers have betrayed the trust of the Western Australian people?
"Alan Carpenter should be demanding answers to these questions from his cabinet colleagues.
"If he does not - he could once again find himself embarrassed by the CCC."
The Smith's Beach inquiry is particularly embarrassing to Carpenter because he lifted a ban imposed by his predecessor Geoff Gallop on all Labor ministers having contact with Burke.
According to one report published soon after Gallop resigned as premier and left parliament: "Political sources said the struggle with Burke's continuing presence in the halls of power was a factor in the depression that led the factionally-unaligned Gallop to resign." (Weekend Australian
, May 27–28, 2006).
This, as much as anything else, prompted Carpenter to act not only swiftly but also with ruthless resolve - a course that has so far seen one minister sacked and Burke resigning from the party with which his family has been associated since World War II.