The West

Book reveals Burke s ALP handover

Australia's US Ambassador Kim Beazley was asked to quit Federal politics and replace Brian Burke as WA premier, a new book reveals.

The book, by political commentator Peter Kennedy, said the approach was in late 1987 with the full endorsement of the Burke cabinet.

But after considering the offer, Mr Beazley, then Australia's defence minister, turned it down.

"I rang Kim and he was in two minds," Mr Burke told Kennedy. "But his wife wouldn't have it.

"Anyway, Kim thought about it for about 10 days and then said he wouldn't do it.

"I said, 'Kim, this is a job in which you can do things. I don't believe it's as powerless as you think it is.' But after that I left him alone."

Speaking from Washington this week, Mr Beazley confirmed the approach but said he did not reject the offer because of his wife.

"Being premier would be terrific but I was committed to Federal politics, where I remained another 20 years," he said.

His decision left four main candidates to replace Mr Burke - education minister Bob Pearce, minerals and energy minister David Parker, agriculture minister Julian Grill and works minister Peter Dowding.

Kennedy's book says several MPs and staffers recalled Mr Burke developed a shorthand assessment of this group: "One knows too much, one talks too much, one drinks too much and one screws too much." In the end, Kennedy writes, Mr Burke "went for the ladies' man".

So Mr Burke said to Mr Dowding: "Now listen, Peter, (deputy premier) Mal (Bryce) and I have decided to support you for premier. But by nature you are a c… and if you don't improve your people skills, they will dump you within two years."

Mr Dowding lost the leadership to Carmen Lawrence in 1990.

Mr Burke became Australia's ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See but was embroiled in the financial scandal that became WA Inc.

Kennedy's book says Federal Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson eventually convinced Mr Burke to resign his diplomatic posts.

"I had to persuade him to resign from the Irish post," Mr Richardson said. "Hawke wouldn't do it. It wasn't easy. I think he was a genuine party man and I said, 'You are really hurting us', and he resigned.

"He wasn't happy but he did it."

Kennedy says Mr Burke still retains intensely loyal supporters and serious detractors 20 years on.

Keith Wilson, the former Anglican priest who Mr Burke encouraged to enter politics and served as his housing minister, feels alienated by his former friend.

"I don't bear any grudges against anyone in politics except Burke, who I think abused and deluded me," Mr Wilson told Kennedy.

The West Australian

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