VICTORIA by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Labor leader in hot water over 'dirty' campaign
, August 16, 2014
This November, the Victorian people will go to the polls in what is likely to be another close election, following the Coalition parties’ narrow victory in 2010.
In 2010, the Coalition won an amazing 13 seats, snatching a very narrow majority of just two in the 88-seat lower house, the Legislative Assembly.
Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews
Quite unexpectedly, the Liberal leader Ted Baillieu became Premier and led a lacklustre government, until he was deposed in March 2013, and replaced by the present Premier, Denis Napthine.
The Labor opposition regrouped after the election, appointed a new leader, Daniel Andrews, shrugged off responsibility for massive government deficits, a wasted $4 billion desalination plant which has proved totally unnecessary, close ties to the scandal-tainted construction union and other issues, and set about attacking the new government.
For the past two years, opinion polls have given Labor a clear lead in the run-up to the election; but Mr Andrews has come under fire over the Labor Party’s involvement in the theft of a voice recorder owned by the Melbourne Age, which contained a rambling and largely incoherent interview between Ted Baillieu and Age journalist Farah Tomazin, and the delivery of copies of the tape recording to a large number of Liberal Party members.
The interview, conducted when Baillieu was premier, included criticism by Mr Baillieu of some of his parliamentary colleagues.
After the tape was leaked in June, The Age, which has strongly supported Labor, published extensive excerpts, including the most damaging accusations of disunity within the Coalition government. It also “joined the dots” of a rather obscure interview, inserting names where Mr Baillieu had merely left dark hints.
For the Liberal Party, the revelations could not have come at a worse time, six months out from an election.
Then things suddenly turned. The Age journalist recalled that she had misplaced the voice recorder at the ALP state conference.
It transpired that it had been handed in to the lost property office at the venue, but was later claimed by a senior member of the state ALP.
The Labor leader, Daniel Andrews, denied any knowledge of the tape, its whereabouts, or its dispatch to members of the Liberal Party, which preceded The Age’s front page coverage and criticism of the Liberal Party.
However, within days, it transpired that senior Labor Party figures, including Mr Andrews’ media officer, as well as the party’s state secretary and assistant secretary, had listened to the voice recording, and that there had been discussions at a high level as to how the interview could be used to damage the Liberal government.
Still Mr Andrews insisted that he knew nothing about it.
Then Labor Party figures admitted that they had destroyed the tape recorder — probably a criminal offence in itself — and claimed they had not kept a copy of the recording. This did not explain how copies were made of the recording, nor how transcripts have since become readily available online.
Mr Andrews then said he would conduct a full investigation of the involvement of his staff and Labor’s head office in the affair, but repeated that he had no knowledge of it. Despite the admission that members of his staff had been involved in listening to the tape, and that ALP officials had destroyed the dictaphone, Mr Andrews flatly denied that it had been stolen, and announced that no member of his staff would be dismissed. He blamed the ALP state office for the fiasco.
Not surprisingly, The Age, which had run the exclusive exposé on the original Baillieu interview, felt used. It demanded a full explanation from Mr Andrews, which has not yet been forthcoming.
Shane Green, associate editor of The Age, commented: “Daniel Andrews says The Age tape scandal is a dirty mess. On this point, he is absolutely correct: a mess for his leadership, and a mess for Labor’s 2014 state election campaign” (The Age, July 28, 2014).
It later emerged that at least one Labor candidate standing for election in November was aware of the content of the Baillieu interview before it was published, raising further doubts as to Mr Andrews’ account of the affair.
The immediate impact of this whole business is that it has damaged relations between Mr Andrews, the ALP and the media, to the point where various media outlets are saying openly that Mr Andrews cannot be trusted.
At the time of writing, it was unclear whether this will impact directly on the state election; but it has exposed a massive credibility gap around the Labor leader, and, more broadly, the ALP.
The affair seems unlikely to go away. Police have been called in to investigate the theft of the voice recorder and of its contents, its destruction, and the dissemination of its contents in a way which damaged the government.
As Victoria’s state parliament resumes, the focus of attention has shifted from Liberal rebel Geoff Shaw, who for months has caused grief for the government, to the credibility of the Labor leader, Daniel Andrews.