Laborism as it is

November 23, 1994

By Stephen Robson

I've never met Graham Richardson, but then again, I have. I did a spell in Young Labor and the ALP, and I came across more than a few Graham Richardsons. They were mainly men, but now it seems there are a few more women who will do whatever it takes in the mad scramble of personal ambition.

Richardson became a maker and breaker — a numbers cruncher, so his anecdotal musings on Labor were always guaranteed prominence.

What makes Graham tick? From reading his autobiography, Whatever It Takes, it's not politics. Looking after number one, more like.

Why did Richardson eventually oppose Hawke as leader of the ALP and decide to back Keating? After the 1990 federal election, Richardson put in a bid to Hawke for the ministry of Transport and Communications. Instead he got Social Security.

There we have it. After this Richardson was a man with a new vision: to plot Hawke's downfall.

The machinations and intrigue as this game was played out read like a second-rate spy thriller.

Richardson evokes the saying, "With friends like Graham, who needs enemies?" Take his "friend" Tom Burns. Burns, the former Queensland deputy premier, was a long-time supporter of Hawke.

Richardson decided the time had come to do a job on Burns, as part of the jockeying for position by Keating. He chose an after-dinner speech organised by the Canberra branch of the ALP. "I said many things about him that I would never have said under any other circumstances. I like Tom Burns ..."

Richardson may be a lot of things, but he is not dumb. Like a lot of Labor's best operators, he can smell a winner and change image better than a chameleon — all in the interests of survival.

The environmental issue was certainly where this was most clearly applied. After the 1987 election, keen to promote a softer image, Richardson lobbied for arts and the environment.

One of the real dangers facing Labor was that the environmental movement would break out of the Labor straitjacket, and develop in an independent direction. Already Green parties were springing up and looking attractive to many in the movement.

Richardson played his role with skill and dexterity, and he succeeded in delivering the support of the peak environmental organisations to Labor in the 1990 election.

So maybe Graham Richardson has done us a timely service with his book. It's a reminder that Laborism is not about fundamental social change or even social justice or protecting the environment. It's about number one.

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