The Passion of the Boilermaker – and the Black & Black Mishap Show – have got our Bill a’ thinking
The Passion of the Boilermaker
I told Hillary yesterday was an auspicious day. Not only was it the
eighth anniversary of the election of the Howard Government, but it was
57 years since Boilermaker Bill McKell, the eminent figure of NSW
Labor, took up his posting as Governor General, after Ben Chifley said
he wanted an Australian G-G ‘without pomp and plumes and social
At the time, Pig Iron Bob Menzies said McKell’s appointment was
“shocking and humiliating” – the very same feelings I had yesterday
afternoon when I heard the Leader of the Watermelon faction of the
Greens, Lee Rhiannon, make her speech in reply on her Developer
Gentle reader, to put it bluntly, Boilermaker Bill was outed! Oh the
shame! Oh, I had been advised that my – our – identity had been the
subject of parlour room games over the past year: not a few
correspondents wrote to satisfy themselves that I was not them, and
several men and women of talent around the City of Sydney were pulled
aside by their patrons, seeking reassurance that they were not sharing
their confidences with the Boilermaker.
But it was all to little avail as Lee Rhiannon had cleverly unmasked the Boilermaker.
Hansard records her moment of triumph:
“Speaking of Crikey brings me to the contribution and the writings of
Hon. Tony Burke, the future member for Watson and soon to be the
beneficiary of a $25,000 bonus payment from the New South Wales
taxpayer. That will wait for another day…
“Rather than amend the bill or even enter the debate constructively, as
the Hon. Don Harwin did, Labor used its only tactic when it comes to
the Greens-mud slinging. Boilermaker Burke tried to equate individual
donations worth a few thousand dollars from party members with massive
corporate donations worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nice try,
boilermaker Bill-sorry, I mean Tony-but the public can tell the
difference. Boilermaker Burke tried to suggest that because the
Australian Greens took a donation from the Ethical Investment Trust we
have a vested interest in developers. What interests would this trust
be trying to push? What developments would it be lobbying us on? It is
ludicrous to suggest that this bears any resemblance to developers
donating hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, or that it bears any
resemblance to developers paying tens of thousands of dollars a head to
sit down to dinner with the planning Minister. But although boilermaker
Burke thinks of himself as an intellectual he has not realised the trap
he is in.”
I swear it was just like Macquarie Street Cluedo: The mystery had been solved by Ms Green in Losers Lounge with a candlestick.
I suspect Lee had it narrowed down because Tony Burke is one of the few
Members of Losers Lounge who has not been the subject of caustic review
in these pages. In fact, of last year’s intake into both Houses, he and
the Liberal’s Catherine Cusack have impressed me the most – just
quietly, I’d go so far as to say that in terms of his colleagues, Burke
ranks up there with the Minister for Justice, John Hatzistergos, as one
of very few thoughtful legislators and Parliamentarians in Losers
Lounge. But that’s by the by.
That certainly shouldn’t be enough to finger The Hon. Tony Burke as
yours truly. Particularly when, as Rick Colless and Peter Breen implied
in their points of order, being outed as Boilermaker Bill is not
necessarily to be regarded as a compliment (or maybe it was being
called an intellectual that wasn’t complimentary):
“The Hon. Rick Colless: Point of order: The honourable member knows
that if she wishes to make such statements about another member of this
House she should do it by substantive motion. I ask her to withdraw the
“The Hon. Peter Breen: To the point of order: If there was a damaging
imputation against another member and that other member is in the
House, he is quite capable of defending himself. Given that he has not
taken any objection to it I suggest that there is no point of order.
“The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Ms Lee Rhiannon’s
reference to another member of this House is not in accordance with the
standing orders. She should refer to members by their proper title. If
she complies with the standing orders she may continue.”
To defend Burke’s honour, (and more to the point, refute Lee) I can
assure her that he is not I, and I not he. For a start, Tony puts the
muscular into what G K Chesterton embodied as “muscular Christianity”.
I rather suspect that he might fault The Passion of the Christ as being
a little too much froth and bubble for his tastes. Despite once having
purchased a copy of the new Catechism from Johno Johnson out of the
boot of his car in the Parliamentary car park, I cannot claim to have
the passion and fervour of The Hon. Tony Burke (nor the invaluable
support of the Shoppies).
So Lee – it’s back to the Cluedo board for you.
Back to Black
By now, many of you will have seen the grainy footage of Peter Black’s
unfortunate night in the Legislative Assembly. Like Andrew Bartlett and
Max Willis before him, he forgot the cardinal rule: evening sittings of
Parliament are not like some version of a gentlemen’s club where you
can wander in after a good dinner and wear off the excesses of the
libations offered freely in the Members’ Dining Room. The cameras are
always going – and they will catch you.
In the wash-up, John Brogden was quite right about one thing. It should
never have been allowed to get to this stage for Peter Black. Since his
election in 1999, Blackie has been portrayed and tolerated as an
amiable buffoon – whose antics are often good for a chuckle. But there
was an edge to the humour.
His maiden speech indicated where he intended to lay his hat:
“Finally, the seat of Murray-Darling is completely Liberal Party free.
We have none of the cocaine-sniffing north shore yuppies we heard about
last week…I have a vision for the future of what I might contribute
to this place. There is a theory in the Murray-Darling that the
National Party members all have six fingers and only one set of
grandparents between the lot of them.”
At Christmas that year, he faxed through to the Parliamentary Greens
his recipe for “Blackies poached bear”, which called for one koala. And
when he called for kangaroo to grace the plates of Europeans too scared
to eat beef, he suggested that a knife and fork be added to the flying
kangaroo on the Qantas tail.
But his name quickly became a by-word around Parliament House for
excessive consumption of alcohol. The former leader of the Nationals,
George Souris, gave back as good as he got from Blackie, saying that
there wasn’t a counter in any bar in the vast electorate of
Murray-Darling (which is the size of Victoria) where Blackie hadn’t
rested his head. Earlier this year it was reported that Souris had
congratulated the Star City Casino for refusing Blackie entry after a
five hour harbour cruise with local government delegates.
Enter “Blackie” into a search of Hansard on the Parliament House website, and the first hit you get is “Alcohol Abuse”:
“The Hon. KAYE GRIFFIN: Will the Special Minister of State inform the
House about initiatives to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse
following the New South Wales Alcohol Summit?
“The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Honourable members will acknowledge that
there is great community concern about and interest in programs and
initiatives that can prevent excessive alcohol consumption. The New
South Wales summit on alcohol abuse galvanised the community-
“The Hon. Michael Gallacher: Black spots.
“The Hon. Duncan Gay: Blackie spots.
“The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: No, at the press party last night we were all very sober.
“The Hon. Michael Gallacher: He is still there though!”
The second hit is a debate on wine legislation, when David Oldfield was speaking:
“Personally, I buy wine from most regions and I have been fortunate to
build up a relatively substantial collection of fine Australian
vintages that go back over 20 years.
“The Hon. Duncan Gay: Like Blackie, but he doesn’t keep any.
“The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: I understand that he does not keep it very
long. I believe he keeps it in a glass and it does not get much chance
to age. It is delivered by barrel directly to his home.”
And so on – you get the picture. Before Blackie became a scandal, he was the punchline.
It’s easy to get high and mighty on these sorts of issues, but in a
environment like Parliament House, which maintains the hours – and
sometimes the customs – of a nineteenth century Gentlemen’s club,
inebriation can and does sometimes becomes more. A few years ago when
the ICAC reported on an investigation into allegations of a cover up
regarding an alleged sexual assault in the Parliament, it found no
corrupt or illegal conduct but noted:
“The differing recollections of the witnesses may be accounted for, in
part at least, by the fact that it is apparent from the evidence all
the principal participants had been drinking on the night. While each
tended to have a different opinion about each other’s relative
sobriety, the possibility cannot be excluded that their consumption of
alcohol affected their recollection of some of the less important
aspects of the evening.”
While the affected persons were cleared, the picture of an alcohol
fuelled series of parties in Parliamentary offices remained the
unfortunate and abiding image of that night.
You hang around the Parliament long enough, and you find alcohol meets
just about every need: celebration, commiseration, confidences traded,
a deal sealed, a deal broken, see you through a marathon sitting, see
you to sleep, exhilaration, depression. Many swim in it – a few sink in
Canberra had its wake up call with Andrew Bartlett; Macquarie Street
has had a few: Max Willis, the ICAC investigation, and now Blackie. And
these are just the incidents you’ve seen. But what’s the bet that
nothing will be learnt and nothing will change.
He who must be Obeid
I was shocked this week to see Richard Amery, the former Agriculture
and Corrective Services Minister, ask a question in Question Time this
week. Amery was unceremoniously dumped from Carr’s Ministry after last
year’s re-election, along with Kim Yeadon and Eddie “Heat” Obeid. Carr
said he wanted new blood, and he was given it in spades – and some of
it ended up all over the walls.
As factional warlords, Amery and Obeid cared little for Carr’s effort
at regeneration, and have kept low profiles since. I thought it must
have been Amery’s first Parliamentary contribution since that time –
but no, in the year since his demotion he’s made two speeches, asked
two questions and offered a tribute in a condolence motion.
But Eddie Obeid knows how to sulk big time. Not one word in Parliament
since last year’s election – not a single, solitary contribution to
anything. The last words he deigned to utter in Parliament were said on
5 December 2002. He turns up, gets his name crossed off in the Minutes
of the Legislative Council, and collects his pay. Eddie’s going to show
Carr what was lost by shunting him to the backbench. So silent contempt
for Carr – and the public of New South Wales.