NSW Labor MP for Kogarah, Cherie Burton, who was silent in State Parliament throughout this year’s tumultuous proceedings, arrived in the Legislative Assembly at the March 1999 election as one of then Premier Bob Carr’s “favorites”.
She had fought in the trenches of Young Labor on behalf of the right-wing faction, rising to become Australian Young Labor President in the early 1990s.
Ms Burton’s entire career has been as a factional player in NSW ALP politics and, in many ways, mirrors the working life of her former colleague, Reba Meagher.
Meagher rose from the same factional swamp to become Cabramatta MP in 1995 and Health Minister in the Iemma government before quitting in September when she was dropped from Nathan Rees’s first Cabinet.
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Ms Burton worked as an organiser for the late Frank Belan’s National Union of Workers for three years before joining the fulltime staff of the NSW Labor Council, now Unions NSW. Her big break came in 1997, when Carr appointed her as a senior adviser in the Premier’s Department.
In her inaugural speech on May 12, 1999, Ms Burton paid tribute to her friends and supporters, a roll-call of all the usual suspects in Labor’s right-wing cabal: John Della Bosca (now Health Minister, who she described as “the best campaigner and political strategist in the country”), Eric Roozendaal (NSW Treasurer), Mark Arbib (now a senator, who she said had “encouraged me, provided advice, and above all has been a close personal friend”), Karl Bitar (now ALP federal secretary), Matthew Thistlethwaite (newly-appointed ALP state secretary and former partner of Reba Meagher) and Bill Saravinovski (current mayor of Rockdale).
The one sour note was her acknowledgement of the support of Adam McCormick, a Rockdale councillor who subsequently went to jail following a corruption inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Ms Burton easily claimed the Kogarah pre-selection with the assistance of the Sussex Street machine and she has been awarded the seat at every election since — 2003 and 2007 — without having to face a rank-and-file pre-selection.
Carr appointed her as his Parliamentary Secretary in April 2003 and also give a hint of future intentions when gave her a dual role as Parliamentary Secretary to his Health Minister Morris Iemma.
When Iemma succeeded Carr in August 2005, he promoted her to Housing Minister and minister assisting Health Minister John Hatzistergos: with a spot in Cabinet, the Kogarah MP looked set for a platinum career in Governor Macquarie Tower.
In the lead-up to the 2003 and 2007 elections, Ms Burton raised a formidable $219,348 in political donations, which helped her to blitz her opponents and hold her seat with a large majority.
According to Greens research and official declarations, her fund-raising for the 2003 campaign included two donations recorded as “Macquarie Bank $750” and “Macquarie Bank: Susan Gray $300”, an individual donation of $1000 from Gail Kelly, then CEO of St George Bank, $1500 from the ALP consultancy Hawker Britton and a stunning $33,500 from the overflowing war chest of Frank Sartor, then Labor candidate in the neighbouring seat of Rockdale.
Her old factional accomplice Joe Tripodi, MP for Fairfield, kicked in $2000.
Before the 2007 election, Macquarie Bank donated $300 at a fund-raiser, the Jewish Labor Forum gave $1000, former ALP general secretary Stephen Loosley $1000, Clubs NSW $2500, Hawker Britton $1000, the Electrical Trades Union $1000 and the NSW Nurses Association, which is a non-affiliated union, gave two donations totalling $2500.
In her return to the NSW Election Funding Authority for the period from April 24, 2007 to June 30, 2008, Ms Burton disclosed that she received another $13,000 from three corporate supporters — Cosmos E.C. Commerce Ltd $10,000, Macquarie Bank $2000 and St George Bank $1000. All the donations were paid in cash.
Her declaration was witnessed by the duly recognised official agent, Brendan Cavanagh, the NSW Labor Party’s executive officer and a failed upper house candidate at the 2007 election.
Tomorrow: Cherie Burton part three: Kogarah voters left in the lurch.