Okay – until Friday this was a non-story: the media were talking about themselves in a minor state politics scandal. Here is the timeline:
■ MAY 17: A dictaphone is misplaced by Sunday Age reporter Farrah Tomazin during the ALP state conference at Moonee Valley racecourse. It ends up in a lost property box and is later discovered by Labor officials.
■ JUNE 6: After getting legal advice, senior ALP figures decide not to release the tape.
■ JUNE 24: The recording, which contains audio of former Premier Ted Baillieu slamming some of his colleagues, is sent to hundreds of Liberal Party members. Labor leader Daniel Andrews and deputy James Merlino deny Labor had anything to do with the contents of the tape being made public.
■ JULY 25: Following revelations that Victoria Police had studied CCTV footage from the ALP state conference, Mr Andrews says: “This is 100 per cent an internal Liberal Party matter. The distribution of that material was conducted by the Liberal Party to the Liberal Party, and it’s them that should answer to that, not anyone else.”
■ JULY 26: The Herald Sun reveals John McLindon, chief of staff to Mr Andrews, heard the recordings in early June.
■ JULY 27: Mr Baillieu breaks his silence on the scandal and calls for Mr Andrews to come clean about his office’s involvement in the affair.
So a journalists dictaphone get lost/forgotten/misplaced at an ALP conference, gets sent to the lost and found, and then some embarrassing off-the-record comments get a public airing.
On Friday The Age had a front page story accusing the ALP of having leaked the contents of the dictaphone. Okay, you might ask, is this worthy of being a front page story? I was still not interested in the story.
But then the state ALP leader – very likely to the be the next Victorian Premier – went into overdrive.
Mr Andrews said allegations made against his staff were “wrong and defamatory”.
“The distribution of this recording always has been and always will be an internal matter for the Liberal Party,” he said.
“These allegations have been referred to our lawyers.”
This morning it suddenly got very bad for Andrews – what was an embarrassment for the Liberals is now a scandal for the ALP.
From The Age:
As The Age can reveal, the dictaphone was handed in to lost property by security at Labor’s state conference in May, before being taken back to ALP headquarters and listened to by Mr Samaras.
The private conversation between Tomazin and Mr Baillieu was then copied, and listened to by a small group of senior party operatives, including state secretary Noah Carroll and Mr Andrews’ chief of staff, John McLindon.
A decision was made by Mr Samaras not to release it after legal advice was provided by Slater and Gordon lawyer James Higgins.
Despite the advice, and against the wishes of Mr Samaras, the recording was forwarded to a third party, before being emailed to hundreds of Liberal Party members.
Raises interesting questions: You come into possession of lost property – having been handed into the lost property booth at a conference – the dictaphone is clearly marked as to ownership, so you decide to listen to the dictaphone messages, and not actually just simply return it? Senior party officials riffle through lost property boxes after conferences?
It gets worse:
Mr Samaras said: ‘‘After some consideration, I decided that given the device contained unauthorized private conversations, it was not appropriate to retain, return or disseminate the device. I destroyed it,’’ he said.
‘‘In hindsight this was the wrong thing to do. I should have returned the device and sought an explanation for why I was being recorded. I apologize to Ms Tomazin and The Age for not having returned the device.’’
Mr Samaras said the device was copied ‘‘for the purposes of listening to it’’ at some point prior to being destroyed.
Because it was the device that was wrong, not the actual contents that were copied, the device was destroyed.
As James Campbell of the Herald Sun explains:
Mr Andrews must now know that no one now believes this is 100 per cent Liberal Party affair. He must also know that unless he acts decisively and comes clean on who knew what and when in Labor, it will end up damaging his chances of becoming premier later this year.
The Victorian State Liberal government have been quite useless and were well on their way to being a one-term government – they still might be. Yet this business with the dictaphone reflects very poorly on Daniel Andrews team – if not him – the propensity to play silly buggers and not actually get on with their jobs suggests they won’t be any better than the current mob.