WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Brian Burke's shadow government
, March 31, 2007
Were Western Australia's former Labor premier Brian Burke and his associates merely lobbyists, as the mainstream media would have us believe? Or has Brian Burke really been heading a clandestine shadow government, whose influence has spread well beyond WA's borders? Joseph Poprzeczny, who has been present at WA's Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry, reports.Although Western Australia's dramatic Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) hearings are ongoing, enough has been revealed to draw conclusions about the activities of former WA premier, Brian Burke, ex-Labor minister and business partner, Julian Grill, and onetime WA Liberal senator, Noel Crichton-Browne.
To begin with, they weren't acting as lobbyists, as persistently claimed in the mainstream media.
Lobbyists are hired by businesses and others to persuade politicians - federal, state or local councillors - and/or public servants of the worthiness of proposals after which those governments act accordingly.
Such activities are part and parcel of the normal consultation processes and development of policy initiatives.
Although generally conducted in private, lobbying isn't necessarily secretive.Clandestine
What the Burke trio undertook for a growing number of wealthy clients was clandestine so that their efforts more closely resembled those undertaken by fixers.
That's why, when an as-yet-unidentified informant alerted the CCC of their activities, that agency took up the case.
If they were merely lobbyists, the CCC could not have justified launching expensive undercover investigations that lasted several months.
WA has at least 10 active lobbyists - with most being former MPs - and none is known to have attracted CCC attention.
Western Australia's CCC is the country's most powerful independent accountability agency since it can monitor telephone and other conversations; intercept mail, facsimiles and e-mails; secretly film suspects; seize documents and other relevant information; and conduct open hearings.
Each in the trio had his telephone tapped over an extended period with Grill's apartment being secretly bugged.
Burke has also had documents and personal computers seized.
Six of the trio's business clients have been served search warrants by the Australian Federal Police, and the Australian Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities & Investment Commission are monitoring evidence emerging from the inquiry.
According to one media report, the AFP's "raids may have been at gunpoint".
Because so many of their clients sought fix-it outcomes, it is more accurate to view Burke as heading a shadow government - one that most Western Australians, including Labor and opposition MPs, never realised existed since its activities were clandestine.
Its modus operandi
focused on secretly contacting key figures on both the Labor and Liberal sides of politics, at the upper echelons of the public service, or certain ministerial chiefs-of-staff without their ministers' knowledge.
The trio gained favourable outcomes for clients without most senior members of government knowing how and why particular decisions were made since formal channels were either sidestepped or circumvented.
Despite all this, each of the trio was seen by journalists as lobbyists or even as "lobbyists of last resort", but never as fixers.
The fact that paying clients had opted to sidestep both government and opposition MPs suggests they believed that, by doing so, they stood a better chance of getting what they sought.
Probably the closest precedent to what was undertaken by Burke, Grill and Crichton-Browne are the activities of the legendary Louisiana Governor, Huey Long, who, on leaving that state's governorship in 1932 maintained effective control over Louisiana.
Burke resigned as WA premier in 1988 to become Australian ambassador to Eire and the Holy See. He held these dual diplomatic posts until 1991 when he had to return to Perth to face the WA Inc Royal Commission which led to his jailing in 1994 and 1997.
But shortly after Labor regained power in February 2001, with Dr Geoff Gallop's defeat of Richard Court, Burke and Grill steadily emerged as fixers.
Although Gallop later banned his ministers from dealing with Burke and Grill - no ban was ever placed on Crichton-Browne - this never thwarted the pair's activities because certain ministers, politicians, public servants and ministerial staffers maintained ongoing clandestine contact.
The CCC disclosed that one minister, Norm Marlborough, even had his wife obtain a secret mobile phone so he and Burke could maintain daily contact.
Another, John Bowler, regularly visited Grill's apartment, which explains why the CCC bugged Grill's residence.
Bowler, who, like Burke, has been expelled from the ALP, has since defended his handing over of confidential government documents to Grill, saying, "If everyone had to leave the Labor Party who had leaked a document, you wouldn't have a party."
Crichton-Browne, a Liberal Party powerbroker since the 1970s, was called in whenever Liberal MPs or local government councillors with known Liberal Party connections were needed.
In once case, he drafted a parliamentary motion for a Liberal MP.
The trio was well placed to extend activities into Canberra in coming years since Burke had already laid the basis of a similar national shadow government via inter-state connections.
Two that have been identified are Australian Workers' Union chief and about-to-be Labor member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten, and Labor's new leader, Kevin Rudd.
With Rudd as Prime Minister and Shorten as a senior minister, Burke would have been well-placed to extend his shadow government efforts nationally.Burke's friends
Burke's links with Shorten dated from the latter's Monash University student days, while one of Burke's closest federal Labor parliamentary pals, Cowan MHR, Graham Edwards, hosted three Rudd visits to Perth during 2005, with Burke meeting Rudd each time.
By late 2006 the trio were pushing forward projects valued at around $1.5 billion.
Over a billion of this included two coastal proposals - the $330 million Smiths Beach apartment and resort complex, south of the tourist town of Busselton; and the $700 million Port Coogee Marina complex, south of Fremantle.
Each saw behind-the-scenes moves involving local councillors and the bankrolling of council election campaigns.
The CCC's hearings have also disclosed that Burke was putting in place a plan, dubbed the "Dream Team", which envisaged endorsing up to 15 trusted individuals in safe state Labor seats.
Such incumbents would thereafter be reliable and helpful parliamentary and cabinet contacts in future Labor governments for the remainder of Burke's shadow government fixing years.
A "Dream Team" would have been relatively easily positioned by Burke as he has been WA Labor's right-wing factional leader since entering Parliament in 1973.
Moreover, as premier from 1983 to 1988 - the state's halcyon WA Inc years - he had close contacts with Perth's wealthiest businessmen, including one-time beer and media baron, Alan Bond; financier and race-course identity, Laurie Connell; coal-mining baron, Rick Stowe; and prominent Perth retailer, Kevin Parry.
These links were formalised with the creation of a funding entity called the John Curtin Foundation.
The late Robert Holmes à Court - who made a bid during the early 1980s to acquire control of BHP - had ongoing contact with Burke via Grill, but was probably not a John Curtin Foundation benefactor.
Burke's latest moves included formalising his latest business links by holding special get-together dinners at Perth's up-market Perugino's Restaurant, where Bill Shorten and Kevin Rudd were received as guests of honour.
Former Labor premier, Carmen Lawrence, has hinted that she appreciated Burke's Huey Long-style activities, although she failed to elaborate when quizzed on them early last year.
"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," she said.
"But I think there's a bigger problem in Australia and in some ways the position of Mr Burke illustrates it."
The man who boosted the CCC's powers at about the time the trio launched operations, Attorney-General Jim McGinty, a long-time Burke factional rival, describes that partnership more colourfully.
"Brian Burke's reputation, his own government's reputation he has destroyed; the governments of Peter Dowding and Carmen Lawrence, Brian Burke single-handedly destroyed; he did his best to destroy Geoff Gallop, and now he is doing his best to destroy Alan Carpenter as the premier of this state," said McGinty.
"It's even spread nationally and [is] now having a detrimental effect on Kevin Rudd's leadership of the national party.
"These people, Brian Burke in particular, are like cannibals: they kill and devour their own friends and supporters, I cannot begin to understand why they do that to their own."
Former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, sees things somewhat differently.
"The fact is Burke is smarter than two-thirds of the WA Labor Party rolled together."
Perhaps this explains why Burke could run a shadow government with so many in Carpenter's government and the media being unaware of it.
The picture that emerges from the latest round of CCC hearings is that Burke had a personal political machine that was independent of political parties and was extremely efficient and highly disciplined.
Clearly, only a public agency such as the CCC - with its powers to tap, bug, spy and compulsorily interrogate Burke, his partners and their clients - had the wherewithal to expose him and his compatriots.- Joseph Poprzeczny.