The Affair

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    Hi by reading this piece It would appear that whilst they were busy ------- they were also busy -----ing Australia with their Mabo Legislation Towie

    Mabo delegates shocked by revelations of the affair
    By Annabel Crabb, Daniel Dasey and Jim O'Rourke
    July 7 2002
    The Sun-Herald

    It was December, 1993, and Parliament House was buzzing - full of lawyers, Aboriginal groups, miners, farmers and, of course, politicians.

    The debate over the Keating government's Mabo legislation was in full swing, and the Senate was sitting - sometimes until early in the morning - in what would become at the time Australia's longest parliamentary debate.

    "There were meetings everywhere; behind bushes, in Keating's office - it was a madhouse," one former Keating minister said.

    According to revelations of recent days, this frenetic period of activity in the Senate also provided the crucible for one of the most remarkable liaisons in Australian politics.

    Gareth Evans, foreign minister and government leader in the Senate, was assigned to negotiate with the Democrats, led by Cheryl Kernot.

    "I hadn't previously known Gareth particularly well, but working together closely on the Mabo legislation and its successful outcomes had forged a strong friendship and mutual intellectual respect," Ms Kernot recalled in her new autobiography.

    Few of those who worked on Mabo recall noticing anything odd about Ms Kernot's friendship with Mr Evans at this time, and it would be a year or two before the serious rumours of a romantic attachment began to circulate.

    "I'm as amazed by the revelations as anybody else," Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell said. "I didn't see anything that made me think they were having a relationship." Former Democrats Senator Sid Spindler, who worked alongside Ms Kernot during the negotiations, was last week not discussing his memories of the period.

    But Nick Bolkus, now a Labor backbencher, dismissed any suggestion that Ms Kernot's developing friendship with Mr Evans altered any of her negotiations with the then Labor government.

    "She caused us enormous difficulty in getting that [Mabo] legislation through," he said last week from Hong Kong. "I think if people are being honest now, they would acknowledge that Cheryl maintained her consistency and strength of position as a leader." The Mabo legislation eventually passed after 51 hours of debate.

    In 1995, Ms Kernot's Democrats used their numbers in the Senate to blow a $300 million hole in Treasurer Ralph Willis's Budget, rejecting a 12 per cent tax on building materials.

    "All I can say is that as someone who was an adviser to her at the time, I saw no evidence that Cheryl wasn't acting at all times in the interests of the Democrats," John Cherry, now a Democrats senator, said.

    In 1995 over a private dinner Mr Evans broached the possibility of Ms Kernot leaving the Democrats for Labor. Ms Kernot decided her moral obligation was to lead her party to the 1996 election, which tipped out the Keating government.

    The Howard Government grabbed power with a heavy agenda of reforms, and Ms Kernot found herself with a new and rigorous series of negotiations to confront.

    To Labor's chagrin, after intense negotiations with workplace relations minister Peter Reith she agreed to the Government's industrial reforms.

    Mr Evans, then deputy leader and shadow treasurer, kept up pressure on her to join Labor, even establishing which Queensland seats were salvageable from the many lost in 1996.

    Mr Cherry believes that the major driver behind Ms Kernot's decision to swap to Labor was Labor senator Mal Colston's move to the cross-benches in August, 1996, which robbed the Democrats of the balance of power.

    In e-mails released last week by Nine Network journalist Laurie Oakes, Mr Evans refers to his feelings for Ms Kernot as a "grand, consuming passion".

    But when, in October 1997, then Labor leader Kim Beazley announced the electrifying news that Ms Kernot was joining the Labor Party, neither he nor John Faulkner, a key player in the defection, had been informed by Mr Evans that their relationship had travelled past "mutual respect". One of the few indications that others may have had knowledge of the affair came from cryptic comments by Ms Kernot's media adviser Cheryl Thurlow at the time of the defection.

    "Her staff know details about Kernot which will never come to light because of their loyalty to her," she said. Ms Thurlow declined to expand on the comments last week.

    Neither Mr Beazley nor Mr Faulkner has been prepared to comment, but senior sources confirm that knowledge of the affair might have changed the course of their thinking.

    Despite a strong lift in Labor's vote, Mr Beazley lost the 1998 election and Ms Kernot scraped into the marginal seat of Dickson.
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