My mission was to find out how the Liberal Party organises its media machine during an election, but I thought I was talking to a brevet major when media liaison officer Jim Bonner explained, “I don’t know whether we’ll be making any comment about who’s who at CHQ.”
He was referring to the Liberal Party’s “Central Headquarters,” due to open later this week in the Melbourne CBD and from where the Government’s campaign for re-election will be based.
According to Bonner, between 50 and 100 people will be brought in to CHQ to work on the campaign. Many, like himself, are co-opted from the ranks of Ministerial staff. Bonner normally works in South Australia for Senator Nick Minchin.
Bonner reckons his role is to be “the media contact for Brian”, a reference to the Federal Liberal Party Director Brian Loughnane. Until CHQ is up and running, the Federal Secretariat is in charge, organizing events such as the daily telephone hookups between state directors. But its power is referred to CHQ early in the election campaign – a period when Loughnane becomes Federal Campaign Director.
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Loughnane makes comment on serious party matters, but as Bonner says, “he has a national campaign to run”, so others, such as his deputy Linda Reynolds, may be called on to make comment.
When a backbencher in the boondocks encounters a difficult media issue, they pick up the phone to their respective state director, who, “for the purposes of the campaign become state campaign director.” The state directors have the job of running things in their state after the parameters have been set by the national campaign.
Issues can then be escalated up the line of command to Loughnane or Reynolds. Speeches by MPs can be vetted by the state director and Bonner says material regularly comes to CHQ to be checked as well.
So who knocks up the press releases? According to Bonner there’ll be a “number of people” who can do that. He says they’ll be people with plenty of other jobs to do because to work at CHQ “you need to be more multi-skilled than that.”
Ted Horton and Mark Pearson will be occasional visitors at CHQ as the pair are responsible for advertising. Researchers, Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, will be popping in, as will the PM for an official launch of the office.
There’s an air of we’ve done it all before about Bonner, who is on his third campaign. “The media normally covers CHQ when the Prime Minister visits”, he said, as if it’s all set in stone and the media will happily comply with the conventions, which of course they will.
Travelling with the PM throughout the campaign will be media advisers, Tony O’Leary, David Luff or Ben Mitchell. Peter Costello will be accompanied by David Gazard. Other Ministers have their own media staff. The Ministerial staffers also have phone hookups to discuss who says what and when?
“We naturally talk to each other when we need to,” said Bonner. How often is that? “No, no, no, that’s all I’d say about that.” He replied.