Labor should be Burke’s backyard
DESPITE the desperate spin that the campaign went quite well, the reality is that federal Labor is in turmoil and disarray.
In fact, the ALP post Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, desperately needs a straight shooter who can reinvigorate fundamental Labor values and move the party away from the highly damaging Greens-Labor alliance.
Neither Bill Shorten – who now seems tainted by his last-minute conversion to the Rudd camp – nor Bob Carr – who is stranded in the Senate – have these requisite qualities. Moreover the ALP populist ex Queensland premier Peter Beattie – who might well have been a possible Labor party reformer – has failed to enter federal parliament via the seat of Forde. And no matter how talented, Rudd’s deputy prime minister, Anthony Albanese, seems to have been rather too close for comfort in once supporting disgraced former NSW state Labor mining minister, Ian Macdonald.
Under these circumstances, I can think of no Labor politician better suited to this crucial healing task of reforming the party than the 43 year old Tony Burke who on Saturday was reelected to the federal seat of Watson – which includes the Sydney suburbs of Strathfield and Canterbury.
Named after Australia’s first Labor prime minister, the Chilean-born Chris Watson – who at the age of 37 held our highest office for four months from April to August 1904 – the seat of Watson has been held by Tony Burke since the federal election of 2004.
Educated at St Patrick’s Catholic College, Strathfield and at Sydney University – where he gained an Arts/Law degree, Burke started work as a key organizer for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association in 1997. Burke remained in this position until March 2003 when he became a member of the NSW Legislative Council.
Even in those days, Burke had a reputation as being a fair-minded yet staunch person who meant what he said and whose word could be trusted. These qualities were significantly accentuated after Burke replaced the ex federal Speaker, Leo McLeay, as the ALP member for Watson in the 2004 federal election.
After previously holding a number of ministries, a symbol of Burke’s even-handedness within the party and without is that, following the June 2013 leadership spill, Kevin Rudd refused to accept his offer to stand down from the ministry. This was despite the fact that Burke was a well-known supporter of Julia Gillard.
As well as continuing to be Minister for the Arts and vice-president of the Executive Council, Burke was given the deeply challenging immigration role.
During the election campaign, Burke was one of the few Labor ministers who was not only clearly highly disciplined and on top of all his portfolios, but who, when dealing with the media, came across as clear, sure and measured.
Moreover, as immigration minister Burke proved himself to be as tough as nails and, in debate, passionate yet impressively undaunted by his then opposition spokesman, the talented Scott Morrison.
Now that Shorten is on the nose and seemingly out of favour with the powerful Australian Workers’ Union and Carr, Beattie and Albanese, for different reasons, are out of the running, it seems to me that the dependable, solid and trustworthy Burke is the most appropriate person to take over the difficult task of being leader of the federal Labor Party. In part this is because he is uncontaminated by Labor’s federal election loss.
So remember that you read it first today that this thoroughly decent person and highly capable politician should soon become the leader of Her Majesty’s federal Opposition.
And, if she wasn’t also from NSW, the politically savvy federal member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, might well make a capable deputy leader of the federal ALP.
Indeed, thinking about it, a Burke/ Plibersek unity ticket just might work. For a year or so at least.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University. His memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’ is now available as an e-book
‘The Daily Telegraph’, September 10, 2013, p.21