First we had Mark Latham alleging that the Federal Liberal Party was misusing taxpayer resources by assembling dirt files on him and other Labor MPs. Now the tables have turned and the Victorian Libs are making hay out of the stolen diary of Bracks staffer Tom Cargill by claiming the Bracks Government has been unfairly digging the dirt on the family of new leader Ted Baillieu.

Baillieu finally came out publicly yesterday on the highest rating TV news night of the week to speak of his disappointment about Labor’s tactics. The Age put the story on the front page today, summarising the allegation thus:

Mr Baillieu yesterday said he was “disappointed but perhaps not surprised” to learn that a key strategist in Premier Steve Bracks’ private office had planned to conduct company searches of his wife Robyn and their three children, Martha, 16, Eleanor, 12, and Robert, 8.

Now come on. Company searches are public information. It’s no different from looking someone up in the phone book or on the electoral roll. Besides, doing such searches is entirely reasonable in the context of the way Ted Baillieu’s great mate, Jeff Kennett, handled his share portfolio and the fact that Baillieu is the richest man in the Victorian Parliament with declared equity holdings worth $3.8 million.

My whole whistleblowing job on Four Corners about Kennett in 1997 was over the fact that he used his position to gain large allocations of shares in hot floats and then placed them in his wife’s name to avoid disclosing them to Parliament. The Kennett children were also used as a dumping ground for various sensitive Kennett family shareholdings. Given this history, why the hell isn’t Labor entitled to go searching? If there is nothing untoward, nothing will be found.

If Labor wants to turn this back on the Liberals it should also latch onto the following: when working for Kennett in 1993, I read a dossier put together by Louise Asher, Ted Baillieu’s current deputy, on the current Labor Treasurer John Brumby, who had only recently joined the Legislative Council after losing his seat in the 1993 federal election.

The Kennett staffer who took more interest in dirt digging than anyone else, Rebecca Cooper, was impressed with Asher’s work as she did various title searches, estimated that he bought his first home without taking out a mortgage and made numerous observations about his wife, children and family background.

None of this was ever made public, which is the key point – you can only judge political attacks by what the politicians actually say or deliberately place into the media. Kennett’s office probing into Brumby’s personal financial and family affairs through rising backbencher Louise Asher was no big deal, just as doing company searches on the Baillieu family is neither here nor there until some sort of allegation is made.

Peter Fray

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