Managing Director, Campaigns and Communications
Born in: Queensland
Friends: Kevin Rudd | Mike Rann | Anna Bligh
Home Town: Sydney
Bruce Hawker would be one of the first beneficiaries of a Kevin Rudd leadership win. As state Labor governments get swept from office across the country, having a mate in the lodge would be a godsend for the pot-bellied powerbroker.
Described by Mike Rann in 2010 as the "greatest political strategist in Australia", Hawker's influence in the Australian Labor Party has waxed and waned over the past three decades. But, like his trademark moustache, it has never disappeared.
Along with his former boss Bob Carr, Hawker has been widely credited for Labor's obsession with the 24-hour news cycle. He's helped win corporate interests a greater say in policy making. And he's been involved in almost every Labor state and federal election campaign for the past 15 years – including the current Queensland campaign.
"He's very persistent in getting a seat at the table," says a Labor insider. "He inserts himself through the leader which often causes friction with party officials. He will be involved in a campaign even if the party machine doesn't want him."
Sitting in the waiting room of Hawker's Sydney office, it's clear you're about to meet someone with clout. The walls are covered with signed posters of Labor leaders past and present, thanking him for his help getting them re-elected. Peter Beattie, Anna Bligh and Morris Iemma are there. So are Julia Gillard ("To Bruce, you are a legend!") and Kevin Rudd ("To Bruce – with my thanks for your friendship and counsel").
In person, he's laid-back, likable, and not prone to self-aggrandisement, though he admits he's influential.
"I get to speak to political leaders all the time," he tells The Power Index nonchalantly, his legs stretched out on an empty chair beside him.
"I don't feel the need to be down on the floor of the parliament delivering a speech or voting on a bill."
But all is not well in the Haus of Hawker. The glory days of 1997-2008, when he campaigned without a state or territory election loss, are becoming a distant memory.
Labor – already out of office in Victoria and WA – was reduced to a rump at last year's NSW election. It will take a miracle, not just a talent for marginal seat campaigning, to stop Queensland going the same way.
In Canberra, Hawker's sway has dwindled since Kevin Rudd's demise. Hawker was working in Rudd's office the day he was rolled, and admits the transition to Julia Gillard was "very challenging" for him.
He campaigned for Gillard during the 2010 election – and helped broker her deal with the rural independents – but hasn't been rewarded with high-level access to her office. He's not close to the PM, has had little to do with her chief of staff Ben Hubbard, and is yet to speak to Gillard's new communications director John McTernan.
This is partly because Gillard's office is dominated by operatives from Victoria, where Hawker's influence has never been strong. Spruiking for Rudd hasn't helped his cause either.
Before Christmas, he penned an article advising Gillard to "do it PNG style" and appoint Rudd as "the other prime minister". Yesterday, he was quoted in The Daily Telegraph saying the numbers were swinging behind Rudd and that continued talk of a challenge was inevitable.
Still, we're not willing, as some are, to write him off as yesterday's man. Hawker's survival instincts are well-honed.
A lawyer by training, Hawker began his political career as an adviser to Frank Walker, one of the founders of the NSW Left faction. It's often forgotten that he started out as a left-winger, angry at the Vietnam War, apartheid South Africa and the Joh Bjelke Petersen regime in Queensland. He gave up his factional plays – and ambitions to enter parliament – when Bob Carr, then leader of the opposition, appointed him his chief of staff in 1988.
"I had all the power I wanted as chief of staff and none of the extra responsibilities of having to represent an electorate and be out at functions every night of the week," he says. "In many ways being a politician is a thankless task. I often wonder, in this day and age, why people put themselves through it."
Two years into Carr's first term, Hawker and Labor media adviser David Britton left to form an unashamedly pro-Labor lobbying firm. Since then, Hawker/Britton has offered its clients unrivalled access to Labor ministers, donated huge sums to the Labor party, and lined its founders' pockets.
The consequences for Labor – first in NSW, then in other states – have been profound.
"Hawker Britton allowed the corporates to be more effective than the unions at influencing the party and the party lost its way," says one former Carr government staffer. "It became a corporate party. The professionalisation of lobbying meant the corporates started driving the agenda from 1998 onwards."
Hawker has now sold out of the lobbying business to focus solely on his true love: political campaigning.
Although he's widely perceived as having little interest in policy development, he says this isn't so. He sits bolt upright in his chair, for example, when the issue of asylum seekers is raised.
"We need to argue the case more aggressively for offshore processing as a more sensible and humane way of processing asylum seekers than waiting for them to turn up on our shore," he argues. "I don't believe, politically or morally, the system we have in place is particularly good."
He's also been an outspoken critic of Andrew Wilkie's dumped poker machine reforms.
Still, no matter how much he may disagree with particular policies, it's impossible to imagine him parting ways with Labor.
"For all its flaws, it's still the best thing going politically," he says.
"Political parties aren't anarchist collectives where you run around doing your own thing ... Everybody, in any political party, has to make compromises all the time, whether it's Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard or me. You can't be entirely pure."