Crikey, Item 18: A challenge to the beatification of St Jim Bacon

Hobart freelance journalist Margaretta Pos writes:

The beatification of Jim Bacon since his death from cancer in June 2004 was halted by Tasmanian Attorney General Judy Jackson over the weekend.

Bacon lifted the profile of Tasmania while Premier, promoted tourism, supported the arts, established the international, biennial cultural festival of islands, “Ten Days on the Island” and was a big vote winner. But behind the good looks and easy smile, he was a bit of a thug. Sadly, he died … and morphed into St Jim.

Jackson — who is not seeking re-election in the upcoming state election — lifted the lid from the inside in an interview with Launceston’s Examiner newspaper (Ozymandias), saying she had a difficult relationship with Bacon as had all members of Cabinet with the exception of his successor, Paul Lennon.

In Saturday’s report, the reformist Attorney said Bacon had tried to strip her of her portfolio in 2003 but had been rolled by a Labor Caucus which backed her — a warning, she said, for all Labor leaders. (In one of those ironies in life, Jackson struggled to win her seat in the last state election, winning with the help of Bacon’s surplus preferences).

Jackson said she wasn’t scared of him. Plenty of others were, however, and were afraid to criticise him for fear of the consequences. While her comments weren’t exactly a revelation to those in the know, she has now put the fear of him within Labor ranks on the record as well as his bid to get rid of her.

The Melbourne Scotch College-educated Bacon joined the Builders Labourers Federation and was once married to BLF boss Norm Gallagher’s daughter, the mother of his two sons. The family moved to Hobart in 1981 when he became secretary of the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council, but the couple separated and he later married Honey Bacon.

Jackson, who is on the Left of the Labor spectrum while Bacon was on the Right, has always been outspoken and her detractors delight in saying she is gaffe prone.

Only last week, she was criticised by Tasmania’s Chief Justice Peter Underwood in the Mercury for appointing temporary judges, because of potential political implications and for doing so without consulting him. It was valid criticism, but he certainly let fly, calling her “a loose cannon,” which he later said was an off the record remark to a journalist. Whatever, it was an injudicious remark — if not a gaffe — but typical of the flak that Jackson attracts.

Reaction to her comments on Bacon was predictably muted by her Labor colleagues, with a Government minder saying it was “no secret” she and Bacon didn’t get on and dismissing her comments as “purely personal views.” But hey, it’s not been on the record before.

Outspoken Federal Labor MP Harry Quick, who has long been at logger-heads with the State Labor Government was not short of a comment. “It sounds to me like Judy’s the fat lady singing now,” he told The Sunday Tasmanian. “This is the final warble from an Attorney-General people seem to be having a bit of a go at.”

Curiously, the commendably open Jackson doesn’t talk to public servants except at the most senior level. Either she or her minders see to it that she only talks to the heads of agencies in her department and so fails to hear any views contrary to theirs, no matter how important.