“Would it have been better for me not to have met with Mr Burke had I known what Mr Burke was up to at the time?” Kevin Rudd asked yesterday. “Of course … with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, of course I would not have met with Mr Burke.”

Rudd’s raised hindsight – so let’s invoke Blind Freddy. He wouldn’t have gone near Burkie. Why? Because of the stench.

Brian Burke left office almost 20 years ago under a cloud.

In 1994 he became the first head of any Australian government to go to prison when he went to jail for misusing parliamentary travel expenses.

He was jailed again in 1997 after being convicted of stealing more than $100,000 from the Labor Party to buy stamps for his personal collection, although this conviction was later quashed on appeal.

Why on earth would an ambitious politician from the other end of the country have anything to do with the bloke? Kevin Rudd is a bloody idiot.

Rudd’s host at the time of the meeting, the bloke, Graham Edwards, is stupid, too. He shouldn’t have brokered the introduction (although let’s not forget that Burke’s daughter, Sarah, expressed an interest in standing for the seat on Edwards’ retirement).

The meetings are inexplicable. Burke has always sought out weak and compliant people. Rudd appears to have put himself into this category. Why?

Burke’s bailiwick, Western Australia, is a parochial place. His influence has never reached the other side of the Nullarbor. Somehow he has continued to frighten or impress second string pollies – or wannabes – from WA, but only on the right.

Rudd has got where he has in the face of factional flak from the old right forces in his home state of Queensland centred around the AWU and Bill Ludwig. He should have known better than to sit down with Burke.

Rudd has also been idiotic in the way he has chosen to handle the issue.

Mark Latham may have become the Lord Voldemort of the ALP – He Who Must Not Be Named – but it only takes a couple of seconds of Googling to find a document with his and John Faulkner’s names on it titled Machinery of Government: The Labor Approach. It reads in part:

Free and open access to government is an important democratic principle and lobbying of public office-holders is a legitimate activity. Politicians need to be aware of the views of various sectors of the community and to be exposed to a range of policy ideas. Equally important is the right of public office-holders and the public to know who is attempting to influence government. It is also a matter of public concern that some lobbyists, generally those who are able to devote substantial resources to their task, are in a privileged position to change legislation or influence administration. Since the public is aware of only a small proportion of the lobbying that goes on, there is a reasonable suspicion that a great many more decisions are being shaped behind closed doors and without the interest groups having to face public scrutiny of their claims and arguments.

Accordingly, a Federal Labor Government will legislate for the registration of lobbyists … Labor will also introduce a code of conduct governing the lobbying industry — with a provision for deregistration of lobbyists who breach the code. All of this information will be publicly available on the internet.

It’s still party policy. So why didn’t Rudd just point to his party’s principles?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey