Any round-up of Australian Political Fixers would be incomplete without mentioning the legendary men who made fixing an art form. So where are they now and what can they still do?
Bagman, fund-raiser, number cruncher and Labor Party enforcer for almost three decades, Graham Richardson still valiantly lunches on. But The Power Index reckons this right-wing warlord, who now makes a quid as a lobbyist, is no longer a force within the party. "He doesn't have any power," says one ex-Labor premier who knows him well, "but he needs to be seen to have influence so he can keep on taking money from his clients."
"He has no power nowadays," says another Labor insider. "He had some influence while he remained in the back room, but he has pissed people off with all his public comments. He controls no votes and he's no longer listened to."
Richardson's motto (and title of his autobiography) is Whatever it Takes. And in the 1980s and 1990s it didn't take much. "If Richo said 'fart' all would cry, 'Which direction'?" says Barry Cohen, who was a minister in Bob Hawke's government.
Once known as the Senator for Kneecaps, Richardson was the father of factionalism, according to Cohen. In 1983 when Hawke came to power, it was Richo, Robert Ray and Gerry Hand who picked Labor's federal cabinet, allocated the jobs of speaker and president of the Senate, and selected the members of parliamentary committees. The triumvirate also carved up preselections, so it was no wonder everyone did their bidding.
Nowadays, Richo works as a fixer and finder for the private sector, with clients such as James Packer (who recently dumped him from the payroll) and Sydney property developer Ron Medich (who is defending a murder charge). A great networker and negotiator, Richo knows who to go to get things done.
But he's no longer a powerful political fixer, even if he claims credit for the fall of Kevin Rudd, by getting plotter David Feeney and Mark Arbib to talk to each other. The best he can hope for is that people heed his wisdom. And Richo's residual value is that he does generally call it right. Especially when it comes to scandal: his latest pronouncement on the Craig Thomson affair having an "awful smell" was a belter. In 1994, Richo was forced to resign from the Senate in 1994 over allegations that he misused his ministerial position for a friend. At that time, there were also unsubstantiated allegations that he had enjoyed the services of prostitutes supplied by a businessman with criminal connections. Smelly, eh.
Few people have had a tighter grip on the levers of power than Brian Burke, the man in the Panama hat. The former premier of Western Australia was a champion at getting his supporters into office and at swinging decisions his way. And his influence in WA politics was so great—even after his fall from grace—that aspiring prime ministers like Kevin Rudd were prepared to bend a knee to get his blessing.
It is not for nothing that he was known as The Godfather.
Billed in the 1980s as a future PM and the most gifted politician in Australia, Burke set a record in 1994 by becoming the first head of government to go to jail, then followed up three years later by becoming the only one ever to repeat the trick.
His first spell in prison was for fiddling his expenses; his second for spending Labor Party donations on his stamp collection (a conviction that was later quashed). But a far greater crime was his starring role in the appalling mess of WA Inc, in which the whole of state government was corrupted.
Yet, true to character, Burke bounced back from these public humiliations to climb the greasy pole again and make a fortune as a lobbyist, before plummeting back to earth for a third time.
In 2010, the old rogue was convicted of lying to WA's Corruption Crime Commission and fined $25,000 after the CCC's hearings revealed how he leaned on his mates in politics and government to look after his clients.
"WA operates on the old mates system and networking," Brian's friend Bob Maumill told me at the time. "The state works on who you know and who can get things done for you. Australia's the same."
And no one—not even Graham Richardson—could match Burkie when it came to networking or calling in favours.
"He did what he did by dint of his personality," Labor's former Attorney General Jim McGinty told me as he summed up the man's remarkable rise and rise over three decades. "For a fat, short, bald bloke he was remarkably charismatic. He made you feel important, he'd flatter you and stroke your ego. He could get people to do remarkable things for him."
Burke's extraordinary talents were magnified by the ALP pre-selection system in WA, which is centralised and easily manipulated. Candidates for state and council seats are typically selected at big party meetings, and Burke's right-wing faction carried more clout then any other, even after his spells in prison. This was partly because so many people owed him from his days as Premier, and partly because he had the support of key unions like the CFMEU (containing the old BLF), run by his mate Kevin Reynolds. But it was also his charm and magnetism.
"Brian can recall everything about people he's met,' Reynolds told me back in 2010; "their names, the names of the kids, where they live, what they're doing." He also knows almost everyone who matters in Perth and where they fit in. He was a champion networker before they invented the word.
Before the CCC closed down Burke's lobbying activities, he was the go-to man for anyone in WA who wanted things done, and was making a fortune in fees. It helped that he had put so many politicians and public servants in their jobs and that many believed he might do the same in future. But people just found him hard to turn down.
"He was very persuasive," his old mate Norm Marlborough confessed to the CCC, "I just couldn't say 'No' to Brian."
A big man in all senses of the word, Robert Ray was hugely powerful in the Labor Party in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments. And he was almost as much of a force after he went to the backbenches in 1996, following the election defeat.
The son of a builder's labourer, Ray joined Young Labor in the late 1960s when Victoria was still ruled by the Socialist Left, and was one of the key organisers who took control of the party in the 1970s for the Right, which has held it ever since.
A former teacher, Ray was widely respected on both sides of politics, and also greatly feared because he had a superb intellect, was never afraid to speak his mind and did not suffer fools, whom he seemed to encounter constantly. A great interrogator of public servants in committee, Ray served as Senator for Victoria for 27 years, from 1981 until he retired in May 2008, two days after he notched up more time in government than opposition.
He's quit politics, but Karl Bitar's powerbroking reputation is too strong to simply ignore. Question is, can he continue to competitively play the game as a (James) Packer employee?
When Bitar landed the gig as Kevin Rudd's campaign manager and ALP national secretary in October 2008, he received a text message from the former mayor of Sydney, Frank Sartor.
"Congratulations on the new job," it said. "Now that you've fucked up NSW, you can go and fuck up the country."
Bitar's beloved focus groups played a key role in persuading Kevin Rudd to dump the emissions trading scheme in February last year. And his internal polling was crucial in persuading the factions to knife the unpopular PM four months later.
Back then, Bitar ran what many in the Labor Party describe as the worst campaign in living memory, which has resulted in Australia having a hung Parliament since last October's election.
"He should resign," the former NSW Premier Morris Iemma — dumped by Bitar and Mark Arbib in 2008 — told the media the day after the poll. "He is not up to his job. Flipping hamburgers is what he should be doing."
Echoing Sartor's comments, Iemma continued: "They (he and Arbib) have wrecked NSW, and now they have driven a stake through the heart of federal Labor."
Five months later, Bitar did indeed resign and went to work for James Packer's Crown Casino. His job there is to kill new laws designed to combat problem gambling, which Labor needs to force through parliament by May next year to retain the support of independent Andrew Wilkie and stay in power.
It seems a strange way to reward the party that has nurtured you. But as Sartor puts it, "Karl doesn't understand public policy at all, but private interests he definitely does understand. So maybe he's found his true calling."
Taking the Packer shilling, of course, is a noble tradition of the Labor Right, pioneered by John Ducker, Graham Richardson and Peter Barron. But from the Packers' point of view, we're not so sure Bitar's a good buy.
"I think he bought a dud," another former Labor premier told The Power Index; "no one in the party talks to him any more."
But one former top Labor official suggests Bitar is close to wealthy Chinese property developers in Sydney, whom he tapped for donations to the ALP and that these links explain why Packer hired him.
Bitar may well thrive in the private sector. He was always a thoroughly modern Labor apparatchik, with his shaved head, smart suit and his ties to the business community, much like Arbib, (they were fondly known as Karl Marks).
But he's not likely to make it into The Power Index Top 10 unless he shines as a lobbyist. Labor won't have him back for a start, and he was hardly a great success. "He was a very ordinary NSW secretary, and a very ordinary national secretary," says one ex-Labor staffer who worked alongside him. "He and Arbib were the worst combination of apolitical machine culture and that general Australian anti-intellectual disdain. For them it was all about polling."
Unfortunately, he hasn't won our vote.