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Western Australia: Brian Burke re-emerges as a power broker in the ALP.

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PETER CAVE: The re-emergence of disgraced former premier Brian Burke as a former power broker is causing a split in the West Australian ALP. As Adrienne Lowth reports, he's kept a low profile since his release from prison after being convicted on fraud charges as part of the fallout from WA Inc.


ADRIENNE LOWTH: With the latest polls showing Labor has a real chance of winning the next state election, a bitter and public factional brawl is the last thing the party needs. The latest preselection dispute centres on the seat of Balidura. The local mayor, John Duratsio, who was unsuccessful at the last election by just 44 votes, has the backing of Labor leader Geoff Gallop and seemed assured of again winning endorsement. But heavyweights in the right faction want lawyer, Daryl Wookie, to stand, and they've turned to Brian Burke in a bid to get their way.


Mr Burke was premier during the WA Inc. years, but fell from grace when he was jailed for fraud. While he still has a loyal following, even some of them appear wary about publicising Mr Burke's influence. One of the Right's power brokers, Senator Mark Bishop, released a statement confirming Brian Burke was called in to try and find a solution to the preselection row that could accommodate everyone, including the two candidates. But later in an interview with ABC television, Senator Bishop denied Brian Burke was playing any role in Labor Party politics.


MARK BISHOP: I'm not aware that Brian Burke is active in the WA Labor Party at all, and I again ask - why are you asking me silly, irrelevant and futile questions? He is not involved in this, has not been involved in this, and you are trying to create a story that does not exist.


ADRIENNE LOWTH: But in an interview with AM , Senator Bishop backtracked again, saying Mr Burke did take part in some discussions, and he's often approached for advice.


MARK BISHOP: What I'm saying is Mr Burke wasn't the author of the proposed solution. He was simply brought in at a fairly late stage to try and mediate an acceptable compromise.


ADRIENNE LOWTH: So Brian Burke didn't come up with that solution, but he was called in try and convince John Duratsio to accept it?


MARK BISHOP: That's my understanding.


ADRIENNE LOWTH: It would seem though that when the right faction has a problem they turn to Brian Burke.


MARK BISHOP: I think a range of unions and individuals in the party seek Brian's advice on a range of issues. They seek it. They go and see him; they talk to him. That applies across the board. It applies in nearly all the unions. It applies in the current leadership group; it applies to the previous leader.


ADRIENNE LOWTH: For Geoff Gallop, his authority as leader is on the line, and he has no choice but to take on Brian Burke and the factional power brokers. He's made it clear though that the style of politics which characterised the 1980s will not be part of a Labor Party he leads.


GEOFF GALLOP: We must focus our efforts on the future and not on the past. The only basis upon which we can build teamwork in the Labor Party is to get the focus on the election, get the focus on the future, and take it off the past. And I believe that Mayor Duratsio is the best candidate, and I think efforts to bring another candidate into that seat is unfortunately creating a chain of events that is destabilising the party.


PETER CAVE: West Australian Labor leader, Geoff Gallop.