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Western Australia: report on evidence at the WA Inc Royal Commission concerning the funding of Brian Burke's election campaigns and the possible links with the Labor Party in the eastern States

PAUL MURPHY: Backers(?) promised to WA Inc and donations to political parties have always had the potential to embarrass politicians and their supporters - this week's evidence at the Royal Commission in Perth has underlined that. But the principal question posed by Laurie Connell's as yet uncontested evidence is how much money raised in Western Australia and deposited in the Leader's account maintained by Brian Burke came east, and where did it go? Fran Kelly looks at this and also at one of the best fund-raisers in Brian Burke which Labor has ever had.

FRAN KELLY: In the years 1986 and '87, Brian Burke was emerging as a key player in the national leadership of the ALP, and by implication a key player in the ALP Right, nationally. In 1986 he was voted onto the national executive of the party and was convener of the National Economic Policy Committee. At this time the style of his work in Canberra, alongside his much publicised success in wooing big business and big money in the west, resulted in him being spoken of by many as the most likely successor to Bob Hawke.

In 1985, two years into Burke's reign as Premier in Western Australia, a polling company called Insight West was born. At first they worked almost entirely for the Labor Party in the west, and many allege that Insight West also did private polling for Brian Burke. Some go further and say Burke bankrolled the company. Insight West was very close to the Western Australian ALP and was soon involved in the polling and marketing work of the Federal Labor Party, too. The particular link to Insight West, federally, is Gary Grey, who's a party official currently working in New South Wales on the upcoming election.

Another big supporter of Insight West is the former New South Wales State Secretary, Stephen Loosley, a key figure in the ALP Right. In preparation for the 1988 New South Wales State election, Loosley dropped the traditional Labor pollsters, ANOP, and used Insight West instead. Insight West are currently doing all the polling for the upcoming New South Wales election, and have permanent facilities at the Labor Council building in Sussex Street where the ALP headquarters are located.

But there are those who claim that Insight West has been employed in union election campaigns, too, particularly by Right Wing candidates. This has prompted many to suggest the involvement of the Right Wing party machine in these campaigns. Burke himself relied heavily on being able to convince independent unions in his State to vote with the Right. Without their support, he wouldn't have had the numbers on the State Executive or at the State Conference. The Independent Labor politician, Ian Alexander, outlines Burke's reliance on the unions.

IAN ALEXANDER: In Western Australia the Transport Workers Union were in the important position of having the balance of power on the State Executive. Now, the State Executive historically have been dominated by the Left Wing, which was generally hostile to a Right-Wing Premier - Opposition Leader and then Premier. The Premier was successful in persuading the Transport Workers Union, as part of a group called the Third Floor Alliance of Unions, TWU being the main one, to vote with the Premier or the Right Wing of the party more often than not, and hence to keep quiet any opposition or any difficulty at the State Executive.

FRAN KELLY: A director of Insight West has confirmed that his company, now called Insight Research, has done work for unions, including telephone polling. He wouldn't confirm which unions but in my research Insight West has been linked to the Transport Workers Union, the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union, the Federated Clerks Union and the Australian Workers Union - all Right-Wing unions. So the question is: if a company in Western Australia with very close links to Brian Burke is doing polling for the Right-Wing unions, is it also possible that the Right Wing machine of the party is paying for that work; and, if so, could that money be coming from Brian Burke's Leader's account? Is money from Western Australia being used by unions in New South Wales? There is some evidence to back up that link. Here's the former Finance Minister in the Hawke Government, Senator Peter Walsh.

PETER WALSH: Money from the Western Australian Leader's account was transferred to New South Wales for purposes of an intra-State union election.

FRAN KELLY: With which union?

PETER WALSH: I'm not sure. I'm not going to make ... I'm not sure whether that is being made public and I'm not going make it public.

FRAN KELLY: The question then becomes: which unions, and who's providing the funds? An election campaign for the Transport Workers Union in New South Wales two years ago also makes the link between unions and the west, and between unions and the New South Wales ALP. The Right Wing ticket of the current State Secretary, John McLean, was accused of running a dirty campaign by the losing reform group led by Ted Edwards. Edwards claimed interference by the New South Wales branch of the ALP and has documentation to prove it, including a fax from the ALP office in Sussex Street instructing branch members to ring TWU members listed and urging them to vote for McLean; also an invoice citing the ALP as the client for a number of radio ads supporting McLean.

The New South Wales State Secretary at the time, Stephen Loosley, denied any involvement in the TWU campaign. Ted Edwards also alleges Insight West's involvement in the McLean campaign. Extensive telephoning on behalf of the McLean faction went on during the campaign, with members claiming to have been rung as many as four times. Ted Edwards claims the calls were made by Insight West.

TED EDWARDS: Information we've received so far has come from some pollster group that was working through Western Australia. They was assured that any cost related to the phone calls would be funded by the ALP.

FRAN KELLY: How do you know that? Who told you that?

TED EDWARDS: Members from Western Australia that had been over there, or our members had gone to Western Australia and spoke to persons in that State.

FRAN KELLY: Do you remember the name of the group, the polling group?

TED EDWARDS: The polling group that was named was Insight West, and they claim that any money related to the elections would be funded by the ALP and they would have no risks as to what costs would be involved.

FRAN KELLY: For a long time the Liberal Party has been saying that it's not just parties who should confess where the money's coming from, it should be unions too. And now Bob Hogg, who's Labor's National Secretary, is also calling for disclosure rules to apply not just to political parties but also to unions and even the NRMA. So where does this difficult and perhaps explosive question of political donations stand now?

The Royal Commission into WA Inc has heard evidence of donations going from Brian Burke's Leader's fund to the ALP federally, and to some of their State branches, including New South Wales and South Australia. Bob Hogg has confirmed the donations to the Federal fund as $950,000. The New South Wales State Secretary, John Della Bosca, was vague when asked by ABC radio whether any donations had come to their coffers from the west, but it's understood that at least $300,000 have made their way to the party from that direction.

PAUL MURPHY: And Fran Kelly put that report together.