NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Brian Burke and Kevin Rudd cross paths again
, March 1, 2008
Joseph Poprzeczny assesses the controversial Rudd-Burke relationship that's dented Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's reputation.Kevin Rudd and Brian Burke have more in common than their just-released e-mails may suggest.
Both were raised Catholics and both were taught by Marist Brothers - Burke at Perth's Marist Subiaco College while Rudd attended Brisbane's Ashgrove Marist College - even though Rudd plays this down now that he's an Anglican.
Both have been Australian diplomats - Rudd serving in Stockholm and Beijing; Burke in Dublin and the Holy See as ambassador. Both sought and gained leadership of the Labor Party - Rudd nationally; Burke as a state leader with federal aspirations.
Both have worked as consultants, the term Burke prefers ahead of lobbyist: Rudd for clients focused upon the China market; Burke for some of Western Australia's top businessmen. And both appreciate well the role of the media as an essential ingredient to realising political and other ambitions.
If nothing else, these similarities indicate their crossing of paths was probably inevitable, even though Rudd hails from Brisbane and Burke from Perth. Although Rudd now downplays their relationship, Burke told me last year it was Rudd, not he, who sought the contact which came to involve e-mailing and three face-to-face meetings in Perth, not Brisbane.
But there's one crucial difference. By 2005, when Rudd contacted Burke through close Burke political ally, Graham Edwards (federal Labor MP for Cowan), Rudd was laying the basis to become federal Labor leader and Burke had already emerged as Perth's premier lobbyist who planned to extend his activities nationally.
This may have made Rudd increasingly apprehensive. Rudd was not interested in becoming a contact for a distant lobbyist who already had good Labor contacts in Canberra. Rudd's primary interest in Burke, via Edwards, rested upon on self-interest and ambition, not upon Burke's likely broader intentions.
Rudd knew Burke could corral several crucial caucus votes whenever a leadership spill against Burke's long-time pal, then Labor leader Kim Beazley, eventuated. Rudd's three visits, ostensibly to see Edwards in Perth, certainly suggest Edwards' vote was in the bag.
But Rudd needed several other Perth-based MPs' votes. It's not surprising now to learn that Rudd sought Burke's advice concerning his ambitions since Burke had the potential to be a determining factor even though not a caucus member. Ongoing contact with Burke could ensure those WA Labor MPs loyal to Burke could be swung into Rudd's camp.
Where the going began getting tough for Rudd was that Burke broadened their relationship to include Rudd in meetings with his Perth business clients and selected Perth journalists.
Rudd probably started having doubts about then, and not necessarily because he was unwilling to be open-hearted towards Burke, but rather because Burke was operating his "consultancy" in an unusually outgoing way.
Although last year's Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) hearings into Burke and his partner Julian Grill's lobbying have done much to depict them as clandestine figures, this isn't an entirely accurate assessment of their modus operandi
since that included close contact with key Perth media personalities.
I say this because I was invited to a Burke-Grill-hosted dinner at Perth's up-market Perugino's Restaurant shortly before Rudd was a guest of honour there. At that dinner the guest of honor was former Australian Workers' Union chief, Bill Shorten, now federal Labor MP for Maribyrnong.
At the table, in addition to Burke and Grill, were Burke's lawyer daughter Sarah, then tipped to replace Edwards as federal MP for Cowan, 10 senior Perth journalists, Labor Senator Mark Bishop, sacked state Labor minister Norm Marlborough, and Perth union leader Kevin Reynolds. The evening was a friendly one with journalists getting the feeling they were certainly part of "the action".
Burke introduced Shorten as a man of great political potential and said the dinner ensured Perth journalists met an up and coming figure. Shorten spoke about the Howard Government's record after which he chatted with journalists on a one-to-one basis.
Many contend Burke decided to host such dinners to ensure appreciative journalists endowed him and Grill with favourable coverage as lobbyists. Canberra-based guests-of-honour would have realised that, as time passed, they would be asked for favours, just as state Labor ministers were being approached by Burke.
The Rudd-Burke story is without a dramatic Canberra finale because, while Rudd was visiting Perth to cultivate Burke, the CCC's undercover agents were bugging all Burke's e-mails and telephone conversations and Grill's apartment.
That sparked last year's dramatic CCC hearings which disclosed Burke's ongoing lobbying contact with state Labor ministers, and this would understandably have led many, including Rudd, to find explanations for their contacts with Burke that differed somewhat from initial motives.- Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based free-lance journalist and historian.