Unlike Kevin Rudd, who says he can’t remember being invited to dine with Brian Burke, I can recall each of my three invitations.
The first, in 1987, was just before he left behind his multitude of WA Inc deals and headed to Dublin and Rome as Australian ambassador to Eire and the Holy See.
The venue was the swanky cabinet dining room at the top of the Captain Stirling Centre overlooking the Swan River. Present were Brian, his soon-to-be successor, Peter Dowding, and two government spin doctors.
I was with Perth’s Sunday Times editor David Webb, and two senior Times journos, Steve Fox and Rob Bennett. This meant Dowding, a lawyer, was the only one without a media background, which was appropriate since the lunch was to introduce him to the media.
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The occasion had an air of historic elation. Brian was ending his seemingly successful premiership to launch another career and the chit-chat was about his Irish ancestry – something he’d always been proud of – his ambassadorial residence, which, if I recall correctly, overlooks the Irish Sea, and diplomatic hopes and dreams.
Our next dinner table encounter was in 2005 at the now-famous Perugino’s, at the same big table where Kevin Rudd memorably sat.
Again those present were predominantly journalists. Brian and business partner Julian Grill had invited a dozen journos to meet AWU chief and ALP luminary, Bill Shorten.
Unlike the previous nosh, when all stayed in the chairs allocated, we were encouraged to move about and chat with Brian, Bill, Senator Mark Bishop, and soon-to-become and subsequently be sacked, minister, Norm Marlborough. After the soup Brian introduced Bill who also said a few words, as Kevin Rudd was to do at that table.
Anyone who left not believing the Shorten name wouldn’t be heard across the land was too focused on the tucker and vino, not that speech.
My third culinary encounter with Brian was a foursome at Fraser’s Restaurant, either at the very same table where he, Julian and recently stood down senior public servant, Gary Stokes, were filmed by CCC undercover agents, or one very close by.
The fourth person present was one of their clients, an Australian IT industry heavyweight who had worked with the Defence Department but was now in private business. His beef was the number of IT jobs going to overseas heavyweights.
Much is made of Brian’s and Julian’s proclivity for secrecy, something I never encountered at that Fraser’s lunch. Emails and other correspondence between them and the IT man and others were freely passed about, including to me.
Although both lobbyists have emerged as sinister figures, that certainly wasn’t how one would have interpreted their behaviour that day.