The West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission continues to provide a rare public glimpse of the real world of politics where the votes that really count are those in pre-selection ballots and the most important aspect of elections where the general public votes is raising the money to pay for them.
The common thread to most of the daily revelations about the influence of former Premier Brian Burke on his Labor party friends and acquaintances is the wonderful way he could deliver internal Labor Party votes and raise campaign fund dollars.
They were the levers that persuaded ordinary MPs to deliver the favours that benefited the Burke clients and distorted the way most of us would like to think government is conducted.
A million dollar success fee suggests that Messrs Burke and Grill were clearly masters of the lobbying art but it should be said that there is nothing unique about their technique. Graham Richardson parlayed his years as NSW Labor Party secretary, and then numbers man in Federal Parliament for the right, into a lucrative consultancy with Kerry Packer largely because of the help or hindrance he could be to the political career of those who remained in Parliament.
The access that Ron Walker, and John Elliott before him, has to Liberal Party leaders is not because of the political insights delivered but rather the dollars so capably collected. And a wink and a nod by such bagmen can surely influence a group of preselectors chosen from a state office panel.
Getting the numbers – be they pre-selection votes or election dollars – is what the political game is all about irrespective of the party involved and there is a rich variety of players.
There was a wonderful example of another kind of influence peddler aired on ABC Adelaide radio yesterday morning when Matthew Abraham and David Bevan interviewed Senator Linda Kirk about her prospects of getting pre-selected so she can continue to be a Labor Party Senator after the 30th of June next year.
Now Senator Kirk might not have become a household name during her four years in Canberra but she is a well educated young woman with a pleasant manner who could be expected to progress steadily through the ranks in the years ahead. Provided she is returned to Canberra as a Senator to give her the chance of doing so. That is in doubt because she has fallen foul of the dominant numbers man in the South Australian Labor Party.
Kirk, you see, owed her original pre-selection to the support of Don Farrell, the National President and State Secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the SDA, who controls the numbers for the right wing faction of the party. She outlined her gratitude to Mr Farrell in her maiden speech back in February 2002 when she thanked him “and his wife, Nimfa, who are … here in the gallery today, for their faith in me, their support for my preselection and for their friendship over many years.”
She told the Senate how, while at university, she had worked part time as a checkout operator at a department store, joined the SDA, become an active member and won several of its education scholarships which assisted her to complete undergraduate studies at university.
Nimfa Farrell actually joined the new Senator’s staff and worked for a while before, as Senator Kirk told Abraham and Bevan, there were a few personal differences that resulted in that employment ending. As to what those personal differences were, she gave two examples – her conscience votes on approving the use of the abortion aid drug RU486 and expanding the provisions allowing stem cell research.
Those votes brought her into disfavour with the union which has a strong Catholic influence. Senator Kirk referred to a threat made by SDA Federal Secretary Joe de Bruyn, published in the Melbourne Age, that she would not get support in the preselection ballot.
Presumably Senator Kirk has gone public about all this because she is desperately looking for an alternative source of support. She will need to find it because king makers, whether their name is Burke or Farrell, must be seen as able to deliver on their threats as well as their promises.