Regime change in Canberra has brought about the sidelining and downsizing of political consultancy Crosby/Textor, the true blue Liberal outfit whose joint managing directors, Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, were faithful servants of the now buried Howard era.
Their place has been taken by Hawker Britton, the pro-Labor firm which emerged from the bowels of the Carr Government in the mid-1990s to become the ALP’s consultancy of choice in NSW.
With the election of the Rudd Government, Hawker Britton, which modestly describes itself as “Australia’s premier national and international public affairs firm”, has opened a Canberra office and placed Simon Banks in charge. Banks is an ALP veteran who has served three federal Labor leaders as either chief of staff or deputy chief of staff. His bosses have included Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd and he has been employed in federal Labor’s national office as director of policy.
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While Banks left the Kevin 07 campaign team after the federal election to take the reins of Hawker Britton’s new ACT headquarters, others have gone the other way.
Genial spin doctor Tim Gleeson has joined Rudd’s media staff while Walt Secord has shifted to Canberra to become chief of staff to the Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot. Before joining Hawker Britton both Gleeson and Secord worked in senior media positions with the Carr Government in Governor Macquarie Tower.
Gleeson shared an intimate partnership with Reba Meagher, now the Health Minister, before answering the call to serve the new prime minister in Canberra.
Yet another ex-HB heavyweight, Glenn Byres has become NSW Premier Morris Iemma’s director of communications. In earlier incarnations Byres worked for Carr and between 2003 and 2005 he was press secretary to Mark Latham.
Do you get the picture? Hawker Britton staffers move in and out of Labor administrations with seamless ease, almost treating them as work assignments.
Hawker himself makes no secret of his political partisanship. Electoral records show his firm donated at least $176,648 to the ALP in 2006-07: $116,974 to the NSW party; $30,290 to the Victorian branch; $16,013 to the WA branch and $13,370 to the federal branch.
His generosity to the right-wing ALP machine in Sussex Street — then controlled by general secretary Mark Arbib — was easily the highest donation given by any government relations firm.
Arbib, whose fundraising expertise received special attention in Monday night’s Four Corners program, Dirty Sexy Money, will move to Canberra in two months to take his seat in the Senate. He follows in the footsteps of two former NSW general secretaries — Graham Richardson and Stephen Loosley — while his immediate predecessors, John Della Bosca and Eric Roozendaal — could only manage seats in the NSW upper house, aka the Looney Lounge.
In his election victory speech last November, Rudd paid tribute to “my great friend Mark Arbib”, perhaps in acknowledgement of the crucial votes he delivered to Rudd to defeat Kim Beazley for the leadership in December 2006 and the millions of dollars he directed to the successful Kevin 07 campaign.
Does Rudd owe him a favour or two? We shall see.
Arbib and Hawker have been presented as political messiahs, operators with the Midas touch in winning elections and destroying opponents. However, hard heads in the Canberra political community aren’t convinced. All that they can see is the duo’s calamitous claim to fame — the Iemma Government in NSW — and it isn’t a pretty sight.