Public First Program


Shane Elson


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March 2007 # 2

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Back to Editorials 2007

Hicks, Burke and Howard

I wonder if David Hicks ever met Brian Burke? It seems, if you believe the hullabaloo, that Mr. Burke is about as toxic as the Taliban! Well, toxic for one liberal minister anyway. 

The hurrah over Mr. Burke began when we found out Kevin Rudd met with him not once, not twice but three times. John Howard came out swinging as did his lapdogs, Poodle Peter and rat-dog Tony “the terrier” Abbott. 

Tony Abbot was so moved over the meeting Rudd had with Burke and the WA Labor establishment that he said Rudd had “supped with the devil”. Poodle Peter said anyone who met with Burke was “morally and politically compromised”. I can almost see Ian Campbell shrinking in his Senate seat as his own party began their job on Rudd. 

You see, Ian Campbell was the liberal who had a meeting with Burke in 2005. Now that his mates had said that anyone who associated with Burke was “morally and politically compromised” because they had “supped with the devil”, Campbell was placed in an invidious situation. Did he come clean with his boss, Howard, or did he keep his trap shut and continue to enjoy the perks of ministerial office? I reckon their conversation went like this: 

Campbell: “Hey John, how’s it hanging?”

Howard: “All is well Ian. Did you see the job we did on Rudd today?”

Campbell: “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Howard: “Ian, you’re shaking. I hope this isn’t going to get emotional. You know I don’t do emotion well.”

Campbell: “John, I know you love me. I know you respect me. I know we get on so well. I want to be part of your team. I want to be part of the love, John.”

Howard: “Well, tell me. I’ll be gentle.”

Campbell (breaking down into huge sobs, his body shaking as he hangs off the Great Leader’s suit jacket): “I’ve let you down, John. I’ve let the team down. I supped with the devil.”

Howard (red faced): “What! You had dinner with that vixen Maxine!”

Campbell: “No. No. Brian Burke.”

Howard: “Mmm. Let me think about this. You can jump or I’ll push you. You choose.”

Campbell (crying uncontrollably): “But John, I love you. I love the car and the office with a view. I love the perks and the extra pay and the long trips and shopping sprees. Please John, I’ll make it up to you. I’ll pull Julia’s hair. I’ll call Kevin a right old bastard. Please, anything John but not the outer. Please. Please.” 

As we all know, the tears, the gnashing of teeth and the wailing went on for a couple of days. However, in the end, Ian fell on his ministerial sword and resigned. By this time his “mate” Peter the Poodle had backtracked and was insisting that anyone who met Brian Burke was not “morally or politically compromised” but had just committed a “minor transgression.” 

So when Emperor John announced Campbell’s replacement we were all meant to breathe a sigh of relief and get on with life. But it seems that Campbell wasn’t the only liberal who hung out with Brian. Senator David Johnston, Campbell’s replacement in the Cabinet, owns shares in a company for whom his mate, Brian Burke, has lobbied on behalf of. Seems like the Burke bloke is omnipresent! Perhaps, like the Phantom, he is just a “ghost who walks”. 

Now, call me naive, call me slow, call me anything but late for dinner but it really seems to me that Brian Burke’s elevation to the Dark Lord has got out of hand. Sure he’s a criminal who was found to be corrupt. Sure he did his time and got out. Sure he likes to hang out in expensive restaurants and live like a king. But hey, what politician doesn’t? 

The whole exercise has the stink of political desperation about it. The coalition government was getting a hammering over the ongoing illegal imprisonment of David Hicks and the Rudd, Gillard team were gaining some brownie points out there in “average Australia” land. So Howard needed a diversion. Standard operating procedure demands it. The classic PR ploy. When all the political news is bad, divert the punter’s attention elsewhere. 

So I ask you, would you rather be a politician of the coalition persuasion or would you rather take your changes with the Taliban? Not much choice really is there! Howard has no political alliance that does not advantage him and anyone who becomes a liability, no matter how small their transgression, will be flicked off like a blowy at a barby. No time for small distractions when your whole political career has been built on double dealing, lies and shallow promises. Howard is the master of the “non core” friendship. Ian Campbell found that out the hard way. 

Now back to David Hicks and the Taliban. For this bloke, life has not been kind. No one denies he was involved with Taliban activities. Not even his parents deny he fell into the wrong company. But what no one has been able to do is pin any wrong doing on him. Despite over five years of imprisonment, torture and degrading treatment, this young Australian, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, has never been shown even a skerrick of decency or support by the Howard government. 

Not only this, he has not yet faced any criminal court and has only, within the last few days been actually charged with anything. For over half the life of the Howard Government Hicks has languished in the gulag that is Guantanamo bay. The reason for this is simple. He is only as valuable as his demonisation is given even the slightest hint of legitimacy and the Howard government is king when it comes to demonisation. 

They say there is no honour among thieves. All Howard sees around him is rivals, detractors, political baggage and liabilities that cannot be easily turned into political capital. So I ask you, who among us has any hope of a fair, decent and just future when a man of such shallow interests is supposedly running the country. The balance of evidence, unlike in the Hicks’ case, seems to indicate that Howard is guilty of many much worse crimes than Hicks has been accused of.  

As to Howard, all his crimes have been committed in collusion with his so called “friends” in the halls of power. The problem is, with unbridled power comes the stench of hypocrisy and tyranny. At a time when some of our basic freedoms have been extinguished and when our chief legal officer, the Attorney General, seems to take his orders from elsewhere and ignores his duty to protect and assist us and if a so called mate like Ian Campbell can be sacrificed for political expediency in order to keep power in the hands of the Howard government, what hope is there for David Hicks and the rest of us.

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