May 26th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd still in front

EDITORIAL: East Timor: end of the Fretilin era?

HOUSING: Soaring house prices give illusion of wealth

LABOR PARTY: Sir Rod Eddington, Labor's business guru

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Vital issues in wheat single-desk decision

OPINION: Family First takes on Howard's workplace laws

DRUGS CONFERENCE: Reality check needed on illicit drugs

SCHOOLS: Choice would be eroded by centralisation

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Shssh - don't mention the war!

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Politics could worsen global health pandemic

QUARANTINE: Drought used as excuse to relax quarantine standards

STRAWS IN THE WIND: No kangaroo meat - thank you very much / Tony Blair - a class act / Vladimir the Cruel / Turkey - between a rock and a hard place

UNITED STATES: US Supreme Court bans partial-birth abortion

WORLD AFFAIRS: Islam: the questions which must be answered

States more accountable than Canberra (letter)

Problems facing Brisbane-to-Melbourne rail-link (letter)

News Weekly informative, timely (letter)

The media and freedom of speech (letter)

CINEMA: A luminous film of great beauty

BOOKS: WHAT'S LEFT? How Liberals Lost Their Way, by Nick Cohen

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Sir Rod Eddington, Labor's business guru

by Joseph Poprzeczny

News Weekly, May 26, 2007
Who is Perth-born businessmen, Sir Rod Eddington? Joseph Poprzeczny investigates.

Only three people know the precise nature of the work that Perth-born Sir Rod Eddington has agreed to undertake for Opposition leader Kevin Rudd as head of Labor's new business advisory group.

They are: Rudd, Eddington and former Labor leader, Kim Beazley.

Beazley, like Eddington, was born in Perth. Both attended the University of WA from where Beazley gained the 1973 Rhodes Scholarship, the year before Eddington won his Rhodes.

Interestingly, their 1972 predecessor was former WA premier, Geoff Gallop, a close Oxford pal and groomsman of Tony Blair's.

Eddington and Beazley were friends at Oxford, where Eddington pursued engineering studies after which he taught at Pembroke College.

On becoming head of Labor's businesses advisory group, Eddington told a Sydney newspaper he did this because there was absolutely no dialogue between the ALP and business. He said his decision to lead the group was because a vacuum existed between Labor and business.

Ruptured relationship

“When I asked why, I pretty much got the same answer from both sides - that the relationship had been ruptured at a [2004] Business Council of Australia dinner when Mark Latham had spoken,” Eddington said.

“Kim [Beazley] asked me if I would spend some time thinking about how that might be put right. He rang me up a bit later and asked if I would do this [the advisory group], and I said I would.”

Rudd, like Beazley, knows that Latham had boomeranged Labor back into the 1940s with respect to the business sector.

That's why Rudd's toppling of Beazley never meant the arrangement with Eddington ended.

Another reason it survived was because Eddington, who worked in Hong Kong as director of Cathay Pacific Airline, knew Rudd while he was a diplomat based in Beijing.

However, Rudd and Eddington have been careful not to disclose details of the latter's duty statement, if indeed one exists.

Eddington may simply be alongside Rudd for show - that is, to present Rudd-led Labor as a credible alternative government that's attracted a British knight with nearly 30 years' experience in the corporate world.

It's likely Eddington has agreed to be used by Rudd as a “sounding board” on business and related issues.

When ALP deputy and industrial relations architect, Julia Gillard, was quizzed about Eddington's role in Labor's plans to re-regulate industrial relations and reinstate union oversight across the workforce, she played down his role.

“I am always happy to talk to Rod Eddington and this [industrial relations] is an issue over-played by the newspapers,” Gillard said.

“We have consulted up hill and down dale on our relation. Kevin speaks to Rod very frequently …”

Eddington therefore had no role in formulating Labor's new industrial relations policy. Rudd had left that entirely to Gillard who, despite claims of consulting “up hill and down dale” worked primarily with union leaders such as ACTU secretary, Greg Combet.

Rudd in all likelihood uses Eddington simply as a sounding board on business and business-related issues on which he knows he'll be quizzed by the media.

When asked if Eddington was consulted on Gillard's industrial relations package, Rudd said: “When it comes to Rod Eddington on the question of final policy, no.

“When it comes to Rod's liaison between us and the business community, that is a much more broad-based function he is performing.”

As well as heading up Cathay Pacific, Eddington has been executive chairman of Ansett Airlines and was chief executive of British Airways.

He was awarded his knighthood, by the British Labour Government of Tony Blair in 2005, for reviving and restructuring British Airways after the September 11 slump in the international aviation sector.

As well as having experience in international aviation, Eddington has held directorships in John Swire and Sons Pty Ltd, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Rio Tinto Ltd and JP Morgan Australia.

Not coincidentally, Rudd made a dash to New York City in April to meet Murdoch.

However, since winding down his corporate work, Eddington has steadily boosted his involvement with state Labor governments.

Last year, he replaced one-time high-profile TV personality, Steve Vizard, as chairman of the Bracks Labor Government's Victorian Major Events Company. That has led to his being appointed to head up that government's review of Melbourne's transport needs.

However, Eddington cannot begin this work until he completes a similar transport study for Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer and Blair heir-apparent, Gordon Brown.

It's therefore probably accurate to say Eddington is seen as being good for Labor and Labor is seen as being good for Eddington.

If Rudd topples the Howard Government, all sorts of new and unexpected options will inevitably open up for him.

- Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based freelance journalist and historical researcher.

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