Leading Melbourne QC Julian Burnside has thrown his weight behind endangered ALP housing minister Dick Wynne just weeks after calling Labor a “disgrace” and branding Wynne’s factional colleague Bronwyn Pike a hypocrite.

In an eleventh-hour intervention designed to save Wynne’s skin in the knife-edge state seat of Richmond, Burnside has penned a personal letter to the electorate’s 55,000 residents urging a vote for Labor as polling day looms.


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In the direct mailout, costing Labor about $20,000 and printed on a top-grade paper sourced from Burnside’s prestigious Aikin Chambers, the QC highlights Wynne’s “consistent advocacy for human rights and social justice”.

“Throughout his time in the Victorian Parliament, Richard has consistently stood up for those in need. His record as an advocate within Government for a compassionate and just approach to policy — whether it relates to refugees, the homeless or those suffering from mental illness — is one I strongly support.”

Burnside, who is not a member of a political party, is effusive in his support for the former Melbourne Lord Mayor and Brian Howe adviser, who has held the inner city seat since 1999, but is under siege from the Greens on a slender margin of 3.6%. He also supported Wynne in strikingly similar language at the previous state election in 2006.

The intervention comes despite the barrister calling the Labor Party a “disgrace” on November 1 for its attack on the Greens’ Melbourne candidate Brian Walters over his representation of alleged Nazi war criminal Konrad Kalejs in the early 2000s. At the time, the bespectacled QC accused ALP state secretary Nick Reece and Wynne’s Socialist Left accomplice Bronwyn Pike of “ignorance” and “hypocrisy”.

“It is a shame to see the Labor campaign stoop so low as to mount a personal attack which, as they well know, has no foundation at all,” Burnside thundered in quotes provided to The Age.

And at the recent federal election, Burnside lent his support to Greens Senate candidate Richard DiNatale, mingling happily with Wynne’s opponent in Richmond, Kathleen Maltzahn, at a packed campaign launch at Fad Bar in Melbourne’s CBD. Before a crowd baying for Labor blood, Burnside explained that a vote for the Greens would help restore the “decency of the country”.

But in the Wynne letter, Burnside pre-emptively defuses any allegations of flip-flopping, admitting that while his stance could be considered “naive”, “the qualities of the individual candidate are a very important consideration when voting.”

He says the MP has delivered “important initiatives aimed at closing the gap in living standards between indigenous and non-indigenous people” and has assisted with humanitarian initiatives in East Timor.

Burnside’s endorsement is likely to please former federal Member for Melbourne Lindsay Tanner, who told a forum recently that tipping out progressive Labor members like Wynne in favour of the Greens could lead to “right wing outcomes”.

The missive could spell trouble for the Greens’ Maltzahn, with the party already on the back foot following the Liberals’ bombshell decision on Sunday to preference her last. The S-x Party has also relegated the Greens to the bottom of its how-to-vote cards, however popular socialist candidate Steve Jolly, who had intended to place Wynne above the Greens, was rolled by his party on November 10 and will now place Maltzahn second.

Maltzahn urged a closer analysis of Burnside’s letter when contacted by Crikey:

“If the ALP have $20,000 to send out a letter it’s their decision. But I would welcome a debate on my human rights record. I have written a book about human trafficking which was highly commended, and through my work I have had the law changed. I would love to have a proper debate about the ALP and I would welcome that, and I wish I could have had a chat with Julian before he wrote the letter.”

“Let’s talk about child protection and talk about human rights…and let’s talk about the ethical issues about the ALP accepting money from big business for their campaigns,” Maltzahn added.

But Wynne refused to get into a slanging match: “This is not a contest about whose human rights record is better, Julian Burnside has made a decision to support my candidacy and I’m honoured,” he said.

The minister told Crikey that he had forged a friendship with Burnside over a number of years working with local asylum seeker resource centre, the Fitzroy Learning Network.

Steve Jolly said Burnside’s backing was unlikely to have much of an impact. “Dick Wynne is doomed, and I’m much closer to the ground than most people,” the can-do Yarra councillor said, adding that local intelligence was suggesting the Liberal and ALP vote had collapsed.

A Roy Morgan poll released last night had the Greens storming to victory in Richmond on 61% of the 2-party preferred vote, however psephological experts have slammed the minuscule sample size as inadequate.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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