The impending departure of Ron Walker and Sam Fiszman from their respective political fundraising gigs will leave big holes in the bank accounts of both parties. But just what did they get up to over the years.
After almost 10 years thumping on doors for the Liberal Party, Ron Walker has vowed to quit as honorary Treasurer after the next Federal election.
Damon Johnston from the Herald Sun got the story exclusively from New York two weeks back and came up with a figure that Big Ron had bagged about $175 million for the Libs over the years.
Interestingly, that’s about the same amount that his personal wealth has rocketed by. You see, Ron’s 16.5 per cent stake in Hudson Conway was trading at just $2.75 before the Kennett government awarded his consortium a monopoly licence to run the biggest casino in the world on a prime piece of Crown land in the middle of town.
The two metre redhead traded his stake into PBL shares and sold them for the equivalent of about $10 a HudCon share in 1999-2000.
Then there is the suggestion that Ron collected a $100 million fee for brokering the partial sale of Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula 1 empire. As the representative of Victorian taxpayers in negotiations with Bernie, Ron committed us suckers to pay the highest secretive $US licence fee to Bernie each year, just for the right to lose many tens of millions staging the event and pissing off the locals.
The Libs are already looking terribly under-resourced in Queensland and NSW to fight any sort of decent federalcampaign, so the departure of Ron from the scene will be big loss for the Libs but a good thing for Australia’s system of Parliamentary democacy because Ron’s fundraising tactics were a touch brazen and somewhat conflicted.
But Labor have also suffered a big blow. Let’s cross to the Sydney Morning Herald to take up the story.
Labor heavyweight admits killing
A prominent Labor Party fundraiser and leading Jewish businessman has confessed to killing an anti-Semitic passenger on the ship that brought him to Australia to begin a new life.
Tourism New South Wales chairman Sam Fiszman made the confession at a Labor Party dinner in his honor at which guests including Labor leader Kim Beazley and former prime minister Bob Hawke showered him with praise.
Mr Fiszman has carried the secret of the killing for 52 years “because I do not think talking about it would benefit anybody”.
But once the secret was out, Mr Fiszman, 74, agreed to tell what really happened on the ill-fated SS Derna in 1948 as it sailed towards Australia packed with 500 migrants fleeing war-ravaged Europe.
Mr Fiszman’s wife, Esther, the youngest survivor from Auschwitz, was ill and confined to the ship’s hospital and he was allocated bunks with two Estonians who were “pretty rude and anti-Semitic to other Jews on the ship”.
At the time Mr Fiszman admits he was a 21-year-old “hothead” filled with anger and unfulfilled desire for revenge against the Germans who had killed his family.
“We were in the dining-room and there was a little Jewish fellow who had survived the concentration camp who reached for the marmalade, not politely. The Estonian threw it in his face.
“The fellow wiped the marmalade from his face and said nothing, so I walked over and grabbed the Estonian and told him I would fight him. He said there were too many witnesses here so we organised to meet on the top deck at midnight and have fisticuffs.
“He threw the first punch and connected. I was pretty good at hand-to-hand combat, which I learnt in the Polish underground and Russian army, and was very good at jujitsu.
“I got a hold and there was a scuffle and I purposely fell so that I could lever him with my feet. When you practise jujitsu and you are on your back with your feet on his stomach you can throw him a long way. He went over the rail. I couldn’t tell you whether he fell in the water or the deck below.
“I don’t know whether I did or didn’t kill him, but deep in my heart I hope I did.
“There was a second fellow who was with him, and whether he wanted to grab him and help him or whether he wanted to grab me, I couldn’t tell.
“But this ship was a rotten thing, it had no stabilisers on it, and he fell over as well. I hope that I got rid of them because I have never seen them again.”
Tellingly, both men’s belongings remained unclaimed.
When the ship docked at Fremantle just over a week later, immigration officials told Mr Fiszman that he could not land because of reports of a man going overboard and a petition signed by other passengers that he had spread communist propaganda.
He was saved by NSW Labor politician Syd Einfeld, who was alerted to Mr Fiszman’s plight and pulled strings to get him and his family released. It began Mr Fiszman’s lifelong passion for the Labor Party. With just 3 pounds in his pocket, Mr Fiszman took on several jobs including the door-to-door carpet selling that eventually helped him launch the carpet empire his 37-year-old son Robert runs today.
Throughout, he continued to work for the ALP, and his contribution was acknowledged at the recent dinner at the Sydney Convention Centre.
Former prime minister Bob Hawke said: “More than anybody else I know, Sam embodies the great Australian tradition of mateship.
“His research and fundraising, his wise counsel, have been without equal. If we in the Australian Labor Party had 100 Sams we would never be out of office.”
But it was the videotaped address from NSW Premier Bob Carr that led to Mr Fiszman’s startling confession.
“Bob Carr used to ask me: `Did you really knock that fellow off?’ and I always used to say the statute of limitations has not expired,” said Mr Fiszman.
“That was a furphy because there is no statute of limitations for murder, but when Bob sent a video to the dinner I joked: `What a shame Bob is not here because I would tell him I really did knock that bloke off’.”
Now let’s cross to this excellent story that Lisa Allen wrote late last year for the Weekend Financial Review.
Farewell to Sam the Labor Bag Man
Who could be important enough within the NSW Labor Party to attract all of its luminaries, past and present, to a special tribute dinner attended by the cream of the business community? Sam Fiszman.
Haven’t heard of him? Fiszman sells carpets. But for the ALP, his talent isn’t indoor furnishings. Since the 1970s, Fiszman has been one of the main fund-raisers for NSW Labor.
And on Monday, the party held a tribute dinner for him – helpfully, it doubled as a fund-raiser – attended by hundreds of Sydney corporates including lawyers from Minter Ellison, property players such as Lang Walker, senior Meriton Apartments executives, and Brendan Crotty, managing director of the $670 million Singapore-controlled Australand Holdings.
Sports stars including the former footballer Benny Elias and cricketer Greg Matthews mingled with Penrith Leagues Club executives, and with political figures such as ALP heavy Graham Richardson and the former NSW premier Neville “take no prisoners” Wran.
NSW Government ministers including the Special Minister of State, John Della Bosca, and the outgoing Olympics Minister, Michael Knight, thronged to the event. The Premier, Bob Carr, was also there, albeit via a special video presentation. (A whistle-stop tour in China this week prevented Carr from attending).
But it was three former Labor prime ministers, Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam – who seated himself at Australand’s table – and Paul Keating, who were the star attractions.
A lunch for 10 people aboard a luxury motor boat on Sydney Harbour, and attended by the three former PMs and the federal Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, was the star prize, auctioned by Sydney radio’s former king of league, Ray Hadley. It sold for $15,000.
Another buyer paid $18,000 for a single spot on the Pro-Am Holden team partnering Greg Norman at Sydney’s exclusive Lakes Golf Course in February.
According to the auction’s organiser, Max Markson, the Norman spot was a bargain. “In the past, I have seen them go for $50,000,” Markson said on Friday.
Two Olympic torches, one from Melbourne 1956 the other from Sydney 2000, fetched $29,000 as guests tucked into smoked salmon carpaccio with salmon caviar dressing. An Alfa Romeo Spider donated by car dealer Neville Crichton’s Ateco group sold for $49,500 plus GST.
Sporting memorabilia auctioned included a photo signed by the captains of the Australian cricket team, and a boxing glove signed by several boxers including Mohammed Ali. Markson’s firm Markson Sparks won’t divulge who bought the prizes, but more than $200,000 was raised on the night for two of Fiszman’s pet charities, the Victor Chang Foundation and Jewish Care. Other funds were raised for the Labor Party’s coffers.
Of course, Fiszman made a speech. He told the 650 diners, many of whom paid $1,000 a head for the evening, a yarn about his boat trip when he emigrated from Europe to Australia. He got into a fight on the boat to Fremantle, he said, in which he threw his opponent overboard – but quipped that the statute of limitations had since expired.
Demonstrating his political power, Fiszman also related the story of how he got the NSW Government to change health policy via the intervention of the then Labor PM, Bob Hawke. This is how one guest remembers the story: “Sam said he had a heart operation at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital and when he was recovering the doctor told Fiszman how the hospital was about to lose its cardiac unit to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital because it had a better laboratory.
“Fiszman said he had never asked any favours of Bob Hawke, but asked him for the one favour. Apparently, Bob put some pressure on the health minister. The cardiac unit stayed at St Vincent’s, and now it is the most successful in the world.”
Fiszman was not the only speaker to open up that night at Darling Harbour Convention Centre in Sydney. Hawke delivered a couple of broadsides at one of the few Laborites not attending the dinner, the man he had to beat to win the prime ministership, Bill Hayden. Hawke told the guests that Hayden had progressed inexorably to the “far Right of Australian politics”.
One woman was noticed by her absence – Hawke’s wife, Blanche d’Alpuget. She is apparently still recovering after becoming ill on a trip to China with Hawke.
Richardson, unlike some Labor politicians, showed he can laugh at himself. Melbourne stand-up comic Rachel Berger, whom Richardson introduced, told him: “I’ve read your book Graham, Whatever It Takes. And I remembered thinking, it sure would take more than dinner and a movie!”
Fiszman, 74, said he hoped to live to see the day Beazley was elected prime minister. He could not be reached for further comment.
So there you have it. Some Labor Party watchers reckon Sam would have raised more than $100 million for Labor over the years. He was particularly effective at milking wealthy members of the Jewish business community such as Frank Lowy, Harry Triggerbuffoon and the late Sir Peter Abeles.
Syd Einfeld’s son, justice Marcus Einfeld, stood up on national television on the centenary of Federation and thanked Australia for its generosity to Holocaust survivors. He told listeners that Australia took more Jewish survivors per head than any other country apart from Israel.
From the Labor Party’s point of view, Syd’s saving of Sam Fiszman was probably the most important thing he did as it brought more than $100 million in the door and – as Hawkie said – was vital in keeping the ALP in government.
Campaign finance stories are sadly under-reported in Australia. Both sides have had very effective bagmen over the years but we the public know too little about who has been paying and what favours have been granted in response.
Canada, Germany, France, England, Japan, the US and Israel are just some of the countries that have had big campaign finance scandals over recent decades. Australia has not and one would suspect it is more about poor journalism than the lack of any dodgy behaviour. But this is only speculation as we have no hard evidence to hand.