Alex Mitchell’s story yesterday about Kevin Rudd appointing his old mate Roger Wilkins to head up the Attorney Generals department brought back memories of a late night meeting I had with both of these chaps in a bar way back in 1994.

It was a COAG meeting in Hobart when Paul Keating’s national competition policy was in full swing. I was spinning for Jeff Kennett and had been out to dinner with Herald Sun reporter John Ferguson, then political correspondent for The Advertiser.

Rudd was Director-General of Wayne Goss’s Cabinet Office and was relaxing in the bar at The Sheraton around midnight with his NSW counterpart, Roger Wilkins, when the four of us struck up a conversation.

On hearing Ferguson was from Murdoch’s Adelaide daily, Rudd sneered: “South Australia is one big community service obligation for the rest of the country.”

Funnily enough, Rudd’s phenomenal memory let him down when this was put to him on 891 ABC Adelaide in December 2006, shortly after he assumed the leadership, even though John Ferguson corroborated the tale. Maybe we should now ask the other witness, Roger Wilkins. Surely the nation’s top legal bureaucrat couldn’t produce an emphatic denial of sorts like Rudd did.

At one level, Rudd is rejecting Labor Party cronyism with appointments such as Tim Fischer to the Vatican, former Liberal candidate Robert French as chief justice and now career diplomat John Dauth as High Commissioner to London, but when it comes to his own connections there seems to be a different policy with Wilkins the latest example.

For instance, no Labor figure has yet come up with an even vaguely cogent argument as to why Rudd’s best mate, Wayne Goss, should be appointed chairman of Free TV Australia, that notoriously protected oligopoly.

How much is Rudd’s best mate getting paid to protect this oligopoly which, as Austar chief executive John Porter pointed out at his recent AGM, appears likely to continue getting a free ride from Labor even though Kerry Packer is dead and the industry is largely foreign-owned.

When the Federal Government still owns 17% of Telstra, which owns 50% of Foxtel, why protect private equity owners of free TV stations just because Rudd’s best mate is on their payroll?

It’s all very well having a register of lobbyists, but swanning around with the forever colourful Andrew Forrest, befriending that Chinese fixer Ian Tang, the dinner with Brian Burke and not counselling multi-millionaire Wayne Goss to knock back the TV gig shows that the PM’s judgment isn’t always particularly sound.

Let’s hope stacking the AG’s department with another mate doesn’t backfire.

Today’s Mayne Report video gongs Rupert Murdoch for shareholder largesse.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey