Burke’s web hits business as cunning PM pulls the wings off St Kevin

05 Mar

I will cross-post this here and on Journalspace today. The headline combines a story from The Australian with one from the Sydney Morning Herald.

I am not at all surprised by the first story, as unfortunately Burke and his style and methods have characterised Australian politics for years. If this whole saga sickens people on that culture of mateship and power it will have done some good, but it is no use the Howard side of politics pretending their people have never been part of it.

SENIOR business figures, including close supporters of John Howard, have been dragged into the Brian Burke scandal after Health Minister Tony Abbott questioned the ethics of hiring the disgraced lobbyist.

…Mr Abbott yesterday scolded corporate Australia for helping rehabilitate the disgraced former premier. Mr Burke’s corporate clients have included Macquarie Bank and Fortescue Metals whose chief executive, Andrew Forrest, is a close friend of Mr Howard and who attended the 2005 dinner with Mr Rudd that has embroiled the Opposition Leader in the biggest furore of his leadership.

Asked on the Ten Network whether business had been morally compromised by employing Mr Burke, Mr Abbott replied: “I think that certainly they have questions to answer because of the modus operandi that this gentleman has consistently been using.”

Treasurer Peter Costello said last week “anyone” who dealt with Mr Burke was “politically and morally” compromised as the Government launched a concerted offensive against Mr Rudd over his 2005 meetings with Mr Burke…

Mr Howard’s office last night refused to elaborate on whether West Australian Liberal Geoff Prosser had paid for lobbying services by Mr Burke.

Mr Prosser, the former small business minister forced to resign in 1997 for improper business dealings, was spotted lunching with Mr Burke’s partner Julian Grill last month. Mr Prosser did not return phone calls yesterday.

Mr Rudd said he had admitted a mistake and had not lied about the meetings with Mr Burke.

“If Mr Howard is fair dinkum about having this election – his honesty and my honesty, his character and my character – then bring it on and let the people decide,” Mr Rudd said yesterday.

“But Mr Howard is not fair dinkum about this, he’s not fair dinkum about it because what he wants simply is to have a political excuse to run a six-month negative smear campaign.

“We’ve seen this from the Liberal Party in the past and we’ll see it again.” …

The CCC has also heard evidence that Mr Burke and Mr Grill paid disgraced ex-Liberal senator Noel Crichton-Browne $2000 a month to lobby Liberal MPs.

Last year, Mr Crichton-Browne attended the wedding of Victorian federal Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, as did Mr Abbott and Arts Minister George Brandis. Mr Abbott said he had not spoken to Mr Crichton-Browne at the wedding, or at all in the past five years. Ms Mirabella could not be contacted last night.

Former Labor leader Kim Beazley last night spoke out in support of Mr Rudd, saying he had not been bothered by his successor’s four trips to Perth in 2005. “I took the view that all my frontbenchers should be out there selling the party,” Mr Beazley told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

And the Herald:

JOHN HOWARD has succeeded in the politics of muckraking. He has lodged in the public mind a new germ of doubt about Kevin Rudd’s judgement.

The Prime Minister has managed to keep alive for four days the story about Kevin Rudd’s relationship with the disgraced former premier of Western Australia Brian Burke.

Is Rudd guilty of any crime or misconduct? On the evidence so far, he is not. Is he guilty of an error of political misjudgement? On his own admission, yes he is.

But that is not the point. The point is that we have spent four days asking the questions…

The excess of the charge against Rudd is demonstrated by the unfairness of the treatment of Campbell, whom Howard has forced out of cabinet. Campbell had, in Howard’s own words, done nothing more than meet Burke “in the normal course of his portfolio”. Yet he was sacked the moment it was revealed he had met Burke, however innocently.

This is not because Campbell misbehaved, but because Howard had set a falsely and impossibly draconian standard for Rudd.

So the silliness of Howard’s overcooked accusation against Rudd was exposed.

And sure, the Prime Minister opened himself to the charge of bastardising the principles of ministerial duty. As we have seen, ministers in the Howard Government can preside over just about any act of administrative incompetence, such as the wrongful deportation of Australian citizens, and keep their jobs. They can commit just about any act of policy failure, such as endangering the pacification of Afghanistan by prematurely withdrawing forces against the express wishes of Afghanistan, and keep their jobs.

Ministers can make deeply flawed decisions on the gravest matters of state, such as joining the invasion of a sovereign state based on a false premise, and keep their jobs. And they can preside over major episodes of structural corruption in government-controlled instrumentalities, as the AWB was when it set up its program of bribes for Saddam, and keep their jobs.

It has given rise to the question: is there any outrage serious enough to warrant the sack from the Howard ministry? On Saturday we saw that the answer is yes – the only unpardonable crime for a minister is to slow a prime minister trying to smear his opponent.

Howard has jettisoned any principle that a minister should protect the national interest and has nakedly committed himself to the rule that a minister only has a duty to serve the Prime Minister’s political interest.

Howard has been criticised for such tendencies, and more, in the past. But he will brave criticism because what drives him is not the question of his own image but a ruthless determination to degrade Rudd’s – to make sure a clean-skinned St Kevin suffers early damage.

And it has worked. By the election, most voters will have a more sceptical view of Rudd than they did when he took the leadership in December. Most won’t be sure how they came to that view, or remember many specifics, but it has started now.

You know something? The more Howard and his people play these games the more I despise them. The “decency” Howard affects is genuine at one level — he would certainly think so — but one of Howard’s major problems, in my opinion, is that he is split between the absolutely ruthless (determined?) political manipulator on the one hand and the domestic Howard on the other. The second may well be a good bloke. The first is a total shit.

Other problems include a narrowness of vision that Paul Keating correctly defined many years ago. But enough of that. My sympathies are entirely with Con Kominos of Rosebery:

Does it not seem odd John Howard so readily sacks a junior minister for meeting Brian Burke but no minister was made accountable for the transgressions of AWB, and lies over children overboard and weapons of mass destruction? This Government’s attempts to embarrass Kevin Rudd over a mistake he readily admits is more reason why it should be tossed out by the voters it has consistently lied to the past 11 years. Call the election now. — Letter to the Herald 5 March.

And isn’t it ironic after various government ministers citing the work of Major Mori, the defence lawyer for David Hicks, as evidence of the honesty and robustness of the processes happening in Guantanamo and Washington that we now read Hicks lawyer faces removal from case?

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One response to “Burke’s web hits business as cunning PM pulls the wings off St Kevin

  1. Daniel

    March 5, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Howard’s Machiavellian machinations regarding Rudd are absolutely despicable and take Howard’s gross hypocrisy and duplicity to even lower levels, assuming that is possible.

    Hopefully the smear campaign will backfire and Howard will be thrown out on his ear, hearing aid and all!

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