Walt Secord has undergone a spectacular fall from grace. From the lofty heights of being Kevin Rudd’s director of communications he has landed a post-election appointment as chief of staff to the Minister for Ageing Justine Elliott, a former police officer.
Elliott, MP for Richmond in northern NSW, is in the outer ministry and the second most junior minister in Rudd’s 30-member ministerial team. Secord, who served former Premier Bob Carr for 10 years and then joined Hawker Britton in August 2005 as communications director, became the Opposition Leader’s chief spinmeister within a few weeks of Rudd’s capture of the Labor leadership in December 2006.
Secord’s pre-eminent role during the marathon election campaign led to the belief he would start his next career as a government bureaucrat in one of the senior portfolios – defence, foreign affairs or communications.
Four reasons have been given for Team Rudd’s decision to marginalise the Canadian-born political heavyweight:
He has been partly blamed for not allocating a full-time minder to Peter Garrett during the campaign which resulted in the former rock star making naïve, off-the-record comments to the vertically challenged blowhard from 2UE, Steve Price. Immediately after this fiasco, veteran Labor operative Simon Balderstone was attached permanently to Garrett to avoid any further gaffes.
- He has been partly blamed for the fiasco surrounding the candidacy of George Newhouse for the seat of Wentworth held by Malcolm Turnbull. Questions were raised about whether Newhouse, a lawyer and close friend of Secord, ever correctly filed papers allowing him to stand as Labor’s candidate.
- He has been partly blamed for Robert McClelland’s untimely reference to Labor’s opposition to the death penalty on the eve of commemoration ceremonies for the Bali bombings. Early in 2006, Secord, a member of the NSW Labor Party’s International Affairs Committee, successfully organised a campaign for the ALP to undertake “pro-active diplomacy” to seek the abolition of capital punishment, particularly in Asian countries. He had the complete support of his ally George Newhouse, the Mayor of Waverley. When McClelland generously agreed to attend a public meeting at Bondi to support Newhouse during the election campaign, he also agreed to offer vocal support to the Secord-Newhouse push on capital punishment. The subsequent media furore – and the pointed public rebuke from Rudd – probably cost him the defence or foreign affairs portfolios.
- After taking soundings in the National Press Gallery, Team Rudd came to the conclusion that the sometimes abrasive and over-bearing Secord would best serve the incoming government by starting in an obscure position away from the affairs of state and the media.
This is a big comedown for The Man Mountain. He expected more than working for the Minister for Ageing in the bureaucratic backwaters of Canberra. We haven’t heard the last of him.