For more than two decades, disgraced former WA premier Brian Burke has run affairs of state from behind the scenes. Even a seven-month stint behind bars did little to dampen his wheeling and dealing.

But is the party finally over? Will the latest revelations of the WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) spell the end of Burke’s mesmerising spell over Labor affairs in the west?

Burke’s critics described him yesterday as “a cancer on Western Australian politics” that might have been cauterised long ago had it not been for the patronage of two powerful friends — Kim Beazley and Stephen Smith. Beazley’s demise as Opposition leader removes a key plank of his influence.

Meanwhile, as The Australian reports today in a good backgrounder on the Burke phenomenon, the CCC has “been meticulously piecing together an epic tale of lies, deception, power, manipulation and flattery that has so far ended the career of one cabinet minister, the gormless Norm Marlborough, and may well see the demise of others, including Burke himself.”

But The Oz doesn’t quite drill down to the detail of an issue few in Perth legal circles are keen to speculate on — the strong possibility that Burke now will face criminal charges over his attempts to influence and bully public officials, including Labor MP Adele Farina. As one observer notes, the CCC has been meticulous in paving the way for a criminal case, and it’s considered highly unlikely that it woudn’t be pursued.

So will that finally be the end of his career? As former Premier and Perth barrister Peter Dowding observes, the last stint in jail didn’t stop him, and “one would’ve thought that he had nothing to offer the Labor Party 20 years ago.”

“He makes thousands of telephone calls,” says Dowding. “He does very little apart from get on the phone and share and embellish information and spend half his time taking people out to lunch. It’s an extraordinary career. When I was Premier in 1988/89 and I refused to fund Bond there were a lot of people who were able to get Brain Burke to organise to have me removed. He did that in conjunction with ALP people.”

“Back in the 1980s when he was meant to be looking after Australia’s interests in Ireland and the Holy See he spent a great deal of time doing the bidding of WA Inc business figures who I’d refused to support and marshalled the numbers against me.”

All of which raises an interesting question. What sort of phone privileges would Burke enjoy if he was sent back to jail?

Peter Fray

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