Has one man ever caused more resignations in Australia than Brian Burke? The body count was already rising rapidly but Peter Costello’s declaration that “anyone who deals with Mr Brian Burke is politically and morally compromised” has expanded the potential victims list.

We’ve already seen Senator Ian Campbell and four Ministers in the Carpenter government lose their jobs, but what about the business sector?

Australand, the $2 billion property developer controlled by the Singapore Government, slipped out this announcement on 1 March about the resignation of its Perth boss Chris Lewis:

Chris Lewis, the General Manager of Australand’s very successful Perth Residential Business Unit, tendered his resignation to the company’s Board on 28 February 2007, to pursue his own business interests. Chris started with Australand as the Marketing Manager of its Perth medium density housing operations in April 1998 and has been General Manager since November 2002.

The company was severely embarrassed three days earlier when The 7.30 Report  played this taped exchange between Lewis and Burke:

CHRIS LEWIS: Do you know anybody in the CCC?

BRIAN BURKE: Err, yes, yeah, but um… I know quite a few people in the CCC… but it’s a very hard area.

We all know that local government planning decisions are often vital for developers and the stakes were high for Australand as it pursued a $700 million marina project in the city of Cockburn.

Local Labor major Stephen Lee effectively had his campaign funded by Australand and it was Burke who devised the dodgy structure. As The West Australian reported on 19 February:

In an email he sent to Mr Lee and Australand’s general manager in WA, Chris Lewis, Mr Burke wrote: “As far as PCN (a pro-development group) is concerned, I believe it should confirm absolutely that it provides a legal and legitimate “veil” for people wishing to contribute through it.”

The Australand AGM next month could be interesting. How will the Singapore government representatives explain all this grubby dealing? So far, we only know this courtesy of The Australian:

Australand managing director Brendan Crotty said contact with Mr Burke’s firm had been terminated. He could not go into details because of the proceedings, but said Mr Burke had originally been hired by a West Australian manager two years ago and then ended from the middle of 2005 to 2006. Contact was then reactivated and Mr Crotty said he was investigating how that had happened.

Crotty is about to retire so let’s hope this won’t soil what has otherwise been a successful tenure.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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