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					To live
 breathe
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     politics
       by Brett Williams




Laurie Oakes has probably lost
                                                       Before he had even left the studio,       of insufficient AFP resourcing. He speaks
                                                   Keelty received a phone call from             of the continuing need of the organization,
count of the number of times he has heard          then prime minister John Howard’s             with its 2,900-odd sworn officers, to draw
competing politicians use law and order            chief of staff, Arthur Sinodinos, who         on the manpower of state police forces.
as a political football. The veteran political     allegedly hit the roof. The great concern         “I think we’re still relying on the states
reporter knows, as does the informed               to the PM’s office was that the Keelty         for airport security,” he says. “That
Australian elector, that pollies employ            comment would strike fear into the            draws manpower from the states, which
the age-old tactic to win votes – and that         electorate.                                   is supposed to be backfilled, but I don’t
disgusts him.                                          In the days that followed, the PM and     think it is. And for the Northern Territory
    “When they say: ‘We’ll down more               other government ministers publicly           intervention and all the overseas stuff,
people than you; we’ll lock them away for          contradicted Keelty and, according to         they draw on state police.
longer,’ that makes me sort of sick,” he           Oakes, “trotted out” then defence force           “So it’s cops being put off a bit because
says. “It’s just playing with people’s lives –     chief Peter Cosgrove to do the same.          they (the government) won’t resource the
for votes. And it’s not really justice: it’s all       Keelty wound up under intense             AFP properly. And, now, if you’re going
about prejudice.”                                  pressure to repair the perceived damage.      to have (AFP officers) charging around
    Other aspects of policing worry Oakes          “He basically did retract,” Oakes says.       looking for carbon crimes under the
as well. He told a Police Federation of            “So it was a clear example of the             emissions trading system, that’s another
Australia dinner last month just how               government leaning on the federal             ‘little’ job.”
concerned he had become, and remained,             police commissioner to say something              Perhaps if more cops were to leave
over the 2004 political attack on then AFP         he didn’t believe.                            policing behind for seats in Federal
commissioner Mick Keelty.                              “I know the state police commissioners    Parliament, the AFP might end up better
    It came after Keelty had appeared              followed (what happened), and there’s         resourced, and state police might benefit
on the Nine Network’s now defunct                  a sturdy message there for all of them:       as well. Oakes, 66, has followed ex-
Sunday programme. Interviewer Jana                 don’t say stuff that is totally out of line   cop parliamentarians since the days of
Wendt had asked him whether a terrorist            with what the political masters want.         Whitlam treasurer Bill Hayden, a former
attack, such as the Madrid train bombing           Give the government what it wants, was        Queensland police officer who became
three days earlier, could ever happen in           the message.                                  and still remains his friend.
Australia.                                             “State police commissioners and               The current-day former cops in
    Keelty answered frankly. “If this turns        state police got that message, and I          Parliament are conservatives Peter Dutton
out to be Islamic extremists responsible           think it’s very damaging. It’s important      (Dickson, Qld), Jason Wood (La Trobe, Vic)
for this bombing in Spain,” he said,               that the public’s got trust in a police       and Senator Stephen Parry (Tas). In Oakes’
“it’s more likely to be linked to the              commissioner.”                                judgement, not all have “had a chance to
position that Spain and other allies took              Another police issue which, Oakes         shine yet”.
on ... Iraq.”                                      insists, should “concern us all” is that          “Dutton is very, very good,” he insists.


26      Police Journal December 2009
Laurie Oakes addresses a Police Federation
of Australia dinner in Canberra last month




                                               Born in Newcastle, New South
“I hope he survives somehow. I think                                                              as well as The Bulletin magazine until its
the Liberal Party needs him. But Steve                                                            2008 demise.
Parry is good, as is Jason. They’ll go         Wales, Oakes emerged from Lithgow High                 Among his other writing achievements
places, I think.                               School as dux in 1961. He then attended            are five books, including a biography he
    “The political parties have worked         The University of Sydney, from which he            wrote on former prime minister Gough
out that you want candidates who are           graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree           Whitlam.
connected with the community, and              in 1964.                                               But legendary about Oakes are his
the police are. Both parties realize the           As a 21-year-old just out of university,       connections and capacity to scoop his
value of that.                                 he took a job as a police reporter with the        competitors. In 1980, he secured a copy
    “Police are basically serving the          Sydney Daily Mirror. But after a year, its         of the entire federal budget ahead of
community, which is what politics is           editor sent him to Parliament House to act         budget night.
supposed to be about. And people do            as state political roundsman.                          AFP officer Colin Winchester, who
trust police, I think. The police listen;          “Which astonished me,” he remembers,           would fall victim to an assassin’s bullet
they deal with people’s problems all the       “but I loved it. And I’ve loved it ever since.     nine years later, investigated the leak.
time; they look after people. It’s a great     It’s the characters: politicians are really        Oakes, of course, revealed nothing.
profession.                                    interesting people – some nice, some not,              In 1997, Oakes broke the travel rorts
    “Another advantage of police in politics   and some quite weird. But they’re all very         story, which brought down three ministers
is that they’re trained to be suspicious.      interesting.                                       and other politicians and staffers.
It’s better to be suspicious than trusting         “And I like the intrigue as well; I like the       Still, most know him as the shrewd TV
in politics.”                                  sleuthing aspect, trying to find out what           interviewer. He loves that role, particularly
    And when it has come to the political      they’re up to. I enjoy that.”                      when his interviewees’ characters emerge.
stoush in parliament, or the media, Oakes          At the age of 25, Oakes became the             !Gough was always fun,” he says. “Hawke
has seen ex-cops perform ably. He rates        Canberra bureau chief for Melbourne’s              was fun, and Keating, whether you were
some of them as “really good” political        The Sun News-Pictorial. And, while he              fighting with him or not, was always fun.
brawlers, as he remembers Bill Hayden as       fulfilled that role, he also contributed                “Gough had a mischievous sense of
a “sensitive bloke” but “very tough”.          political commentaries to the Willesee at          humour; Keating was a larrikin and came
    Of course, Oakes’ own reputation is that   Seven programme.                                   out with wonderful forms of language
of the hard-nosed political reporter, who          Later came his own political journal,          when he had a go at somebody; and
makes the most media-savvy politicians         The Laurie Oakes Report, a five-year stint          Hawkey was Hawkey – just a great
squirm in live television interviews, now on   with Channel 10 and, then, a move to the           character.
the Weekend Today programme.                   Nine Network.                                          “And Howard, although not that
    The Walkley Award-winner also files             He has also, over his 45-year career,          colourful, was such a great politician.
reports for Nine News and writes for           written for The Age (Melbourne) and The            It was a pleasure just to watch how he
Sydney’s Saturday Daily Telegraph.             Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) newspapers,                                     Continued on page 47

                                                                                                         Police Journal December 2009   27
Continued from page 27
operated in the interview, and how he got    calls. But you’d let him go to where he’d      roundsman, and has come to know those
across what he wanted to get across.”        calm down and you’d get him talking, and       who work close to prime ministers – in
    But to grill senior politicians is to    you’d learn something.                         Australia and overseas.
endure the accompanying tensions. Oakes          “So I actually quite liked the phone           “They’re really good people, with
remembers how Paul Keating once “sin-        calls because, once you got through the        wonderful senses of humour,” he says.
binned” him for six months, during which     stream of obscenities and got him talking,         About 12 months after Oakes got hold
the then PM would not grant him any          they were good.”                               of the leaked Howard budget in 1980, he
interviews.                                      Oakes has enjoyed friendships with         received “a nasty threat” which identified
    He also remembers a live studio          some politicians over the years, but not all   his children. He sought police help, and
interview with John Howard, early in his     of them have survived, and that saddens        received it from Colin Winchester.
prime ministership. The conversation         him. “Some have bitten the dust because            “He took this note,” Oakes explains,
had become so tense that during a            of what I’ve had to write or what people       “held it up to the light, looked at it, and
commercial break, which separated the        thought I’d done,” he explains.                said: ‘Doesn’t look like John Howard’s
interview into two segments, Howard and          “Some politicians said that I’d sort of    handwriting.’ He was a good bloke.”
Oakes did not exchange a single word.        helped them to climb the greasy pole,              Oakes suspects he will retire in a year
    Says Oakes: “Jim Waley, who was then     (but) they obviously weren’t friends at        or two, but he hardly wants to walk the
the Sunday anchor, got so uncomfortable      all. (Politics) is that kind of game, where    golf course or sit on a jetty with a fishing
that eventually he said: ‘Oh, very good      everyone is using everybody else. It’s very    rod. Exactly what he will do he is yet to
weather we’ve been having, Mr Howard,’       hard to have true friends.”                    decide.
to try to cut the tension.                       But Oakes has great regard for others,         “When you’ve lived and breathed
    “And I’ve had people abuse me. Keating   particularly police officers. He remembers      politics for 45 years,” he says, “it’s hard to
used to ring up (making) abusive phone       them from his days as a young police           start breathing something else.”             PJ


                                                                                                    Police Journal December 2009    47

				
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