Brian Burke

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For the hockey executive, see Brian Burke (ice hockey). For the American politician, see Brian Burke (Wisconsin politician).
Brian Burke
23rd Premier of Western Australia
In office
25 February 1983 – 25 February 1988
Preceded by Ray O'Connor
Succeeded by Peter Dowding
Constituency Balcatta
Personal details
Born (1947-02-25) 25 February 1947 (age 68)
Perth, Western Australia
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Profession Journalist, politician, lobbyist,

Brian Thomas Burke (born in Perth, 25 February 1947) was Labor premier of Western Australia from 25 February 1983 until his resignation on 25 February 1988. He was imprisoned for seven months in 1994, after being convicted of "false pretence" regarding travel expenses.[1]

In the following decades, Burke continued to maintain his Labor party contacts and parliamentary influence, using them to further his career as a pro-business lobbyist. He worked both sides of politics in partnership with disgraced former ministerial colleague Julian Grill and assisted by former senator Noel Crichton-Browne.[2]

On 19 June 2013 Burke was charged with insider trading relating to the ASX-listed telecommunications company AMCOM[3]

Political career[edit]

The son of federal Labor parliamentarian Tom Burke, Brian Burke started his career as a journalist, initially at The West Australian newspaper and later in radio and television. He entered politics in 1973, winning the Legislative Assembly seat of Balcatta at a by-election.[4] His elder brother Terry held the seat of Perth from 1968-1987.

In 1981, Brian Burke defeated Ron Davies to become opposition leader.[5] At the February 1983 state election, he became the state's 23rd premier (and its third youngest after John Scaddan and Newton Moore), ending almost nine years of conservative coalition government which had commenced under Sir Charles Court, and was completed by Ray O'Connor (1982–1983). On 25 February 1983, Burke's 36th birthday, the governor commissioned the Burke ministry.

The Burke government abolished capital punishment in Western Australia in 1984.[6]

His premiership was characterised by very close associations with businessmen such as Laurie Connell and Alan Bond and arranging joint government and business deals. As a result of the 1987 stock market crash, major corporate collapses including that of Connell's merchant bank Rothwells unwound some of those deals which, in turn, caused major losses to the state. The corporate deals and the attempted government-sponsored rescue of Rothwells under subsequent premier Peter Dowding were widely styled in media and civil society as "WA Inc".

Burke resigned as premier and as member for Balga on 25 February 1988, on the fifth anniversary of his becoming premier and his own 41st birthday. A packed public gallery attended his resignation speech and both he and his deputy Mal Bryce, who resigned on the same day, were given a rare standing ovation in the House.[7] Burke was able to play the part of kingmaker, convincing party colleagues to support the Dowding-Parker ticket for the leadership. Burke then accepted an appointment as Australia's ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See.

As a result of the allegations, the WA Inc royal commission was established in 1991, and led to Burke being charged with various offences, for which he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. He served seven months in jail in 1994 for travel expense rorts before being released on parole. In March 1997 he was sentenced to three years' jail for stealing $122,585 in campaign donations. He served six months before the convictions were quashed on appeal. In 1995 he was stripped of his 1988 honour as a Companion of the Order of Australia.[8]

Burke has since been active as a consultant and lobbyist for Western Australian business interests. His continued involvement in state Labor branch politics has been a subject of controversy since before Labor returned to power in 2001. As premier, Geoff Gallop banned cabinet ministers from contact with Burke, but this was lifted by his successor Alan Carpenter when he took office in February 2006.

On 9 November 2006, Burke resigned from the Labor Party after public criticism from Alan Carpenter, in part due to evidence provided to the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC).[9] Norm Marlborough, the Minister for Small Business and the South-West in the Carpenter Ministry, was forced to resign from the ministry and from the parliament on 10 November 2006 after the Corruption and Crime Commission revealed he had kept a "secret mobile phone" to stay in touch with Burke.

This triggered a by-election for Marlborough's seat of Peel, although Labor retained the seat.[10][11] Burke subsequently stood trial on five charges of telling lies to the CCC inquiry and on 1 April 2010 was found guilty of deliberately giving false testimony[12] and fined $25,000. An attempted appeal to the High Court against the conviction failed.[13] Soon after, Burke was found not guilty of a separate charge of disclosing official secrets.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cohen, David (28 February 2007). "The strife of Brian". Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved 26 July 2007. 
  2. ^ e.g., Weber, David "Fels sacked after moving a motion from disgraced former senator" ABC PM radio transcript
  3. ^ "Former WA premier Brian Burke and stockbroker to stand trial on insider trading charges", ABC News, 19 June 2013. Accessed 6 February 2015
  4. ^ Hetherington R. "Prelude to the election" in G. S. Reid (ed.), The Western Australian Elections 1974, University of Western Australia Department of Politics, Nedlands 1976
  5. ^ "History of the ALP (WA Branch)". Retrieved 2006-12-20. 
  6. ^ Acts Amendment (Abolition of Capital Punishment) Act 1984 (Western Australia)
  7. ^ Phillips, Harry (1991). "The Modern Parliament: 1965–1989". In Black, David (ed.). The House on the Hill: A History of the Parliament of Western Australia 1832–1990. Perth, Western Australia: Parliament of Western Australia. p. 231. ISBN 0-7309-3983-9. 
  8. ^ Mickelburough, Peter "Social leaders stripped of honours after falling from grace", Herald Sun, 6 June 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2014
  9. ^ ""Former WA premier to quit ALP"". The Australian. 9 November 2006. Retrieved 20 December 2006. 
  10. ^ Weber, David "Burke attacks the Corruption Commission" ABC AM radio transcript 5 December 2006
  11. ^ Colvin, Mark "WA corruption commission investigates ex-premier Burke" ABC PM radio transcript 20 February 2007
  12. ^ "Brian Burke fined for lying to watchdog". ABC News. 1 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  13. ^ AAP "Brian Burke fails in High Court appeal bid", The Australian, 16 November 2012
  14. ^ Le May R. (AAP) "Burke fires shot at CCC after acquittal", The West Australian, 3 December 2012


  • Quentin Beresford (2008). The Godfather: The Life of Brian Burke. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74175-556-5. 
  • Moon J, Fletcher C (1988). "New Government and Policy Change in Western Australia 1983-1988: Did Mr Burke Make a Difference?". Australian Journal of Political Science (Routledge) 23. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of Western Australia
Preceded by
Ray O'Connor
Premier of Western Australia
Succeeded by
Peter Dowding
Preceded by
Ron Davies
Opposition Leader
Succeeded by
Ray O'Connor
Preceded by
Ron Davies
Leader of the Labor Party
Succeeded by
Peter Dowding
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Francis Milne
Australian Ambassador to Ireland and
Australian Ambassador to the Holy See

1988 – 1991
Succeeded by
Terence McCarthy