Chapter 16 ......Tactical Error?
One man who did offer to speak was the redoubtable Tom Burns. I refused Tom and I don’t think he ever forgave me for it. Why would anyone turn down the opportunity to have Australia’s foremost critic of the Japanese presence ? The answer was simple.
I did not want the call from the people becoming politicised. This message was from the heart of the people and as much as I would have loved to have Tom on the stage supporting me, I could not risk it.
Two nights prior to the meeting I answered the phone and it was Tom. I don’t recall much of the conversation, but Tom was interested to lend a hand. I don’t suppose it is everyday in the week that a politician approaches an organiser offering his services and has the humiliation of being refused. “Tom this is a cry from the people. There is nothing stage managed about this and if I allow you in, then I will be accused of being a Labor Party stooge or something.”
“Do you think so?"
“With all due respects Tom it will take away our credibility and destroy us from the start.” Tom talked on, not trying to persuade me to change my mind, but more from disappointment, but I remained resolute.
“O.K. mate I just thought I’d offer. If you change your mind, then let me know. “
The following night Tom rang again, in the hope that I would change my mind. When I reiterated what I had told him the night before, he resigned himself to accepting my decision. “You’re for dinkum, “ he said. “You really mean what you say.”
I have often wondered what would have been the result of taking Tom on board that night.
A man who I associate very much with the type of Labor stalwart that my father had grown up with Tom would have been a great friend and ally. I had been well aware of his fight down the years with the Bjelke-Petersen government, and whilst I had not been concerned with things Japanese, I had a fair idea of his fight, to have the sell out stopped. Tom, I admired. The Queensland Labor Party was another matter. Would the Labor Party have seized the political high ground on this call from the people to turn it into a force to attack the then scandal-ridden government with? This was the fear I had. The whole purpose of trying to bring the issue into the public arena would have been ambushed, in the pursuit of political expediency. True it was that Wayne Goss and Wayne Swan, had ridden on the skirts of public concern and postulated at every turn. It was also true that when claims of racism started to fly, that Goss instantly adopted the moral high ground and distanced himself, by pontificating against the ‘extremist element’ as he called them.
I came to the conclusion that while Tom was genuine in his concern, the Party would use the debate to help it win the election. If I had extended the freedom of association to Tom, things might have gone differently. I simply did not trust campaign director Wayne Swan. It was gut feeling stuff. Had Tom Burns been premier, I would not have hesitated. But the Labor Party had long since thrown off the shackles of ‘men of the people, born of the people’, in favour of ‘educated idealists’, still suckling at the breast of party idealism. No longer did the people have an advocate, because their representatives, had not trodden the path of raw life. The new boys only read about it in books. The new boys knew about the semantics of theory politics, but not people politics. The new boys were Rudd, Swan and Goss, proponents of power....people only filled the bill, for expediency. Burns, would have stood up to the issue, Burns would have stood up to Canberra, but the new breed of young Turks, were on the political path to power. In any confrontation, they would ‘cave-in’. The machinery of government would call it, statesmanship.