Days out from the 1996 election, Treasurer Ralph Willis released a letter purportedly written by Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett suggesting a Howard government would cut grants to the states. It was a forgery, cooked up by some Liberal student type – and it was about the end of the Labor campaign.

Liberal Party federal director Andrew Robb worked with Jeff’s staff to bust the fake back then. Eleven years later, though, Liberal minister Andrew Robb has a dodgy document of his own.

In the wake of the cloud over George Newhouse’s eligibility to stand for Wentworth, the Liberals yesterday released a paper suggesting 13 Labor candidates have office of profit under the crown issues. Except it seems to be based on Googling, not checking with the relevant government entities. Media reports today have fed Robb’s dossier through the shredder.

The exercise wasn’t just designed to discredit the candidates involved. It was also supposed to remind voters nationwide that the Labor lists are filled with hacks and stacks. It is, of course, a noble thing to try to save electors from Belinda Neal, but the Liberal have not just tried a dodgy tactic. They have tried a dodgy tactic that is p-ssing in the wind.

“When a swing’s on, it’s on,” the Fred Daly Memorial Cliché reads. Robb and his colleagues at CHQ seem to have forgotten the lesson from the Lindsay by-election that followed the 1996 poll.

The tribune of the Howard battler, Jackie Kelly, was ruled ineligible by the Court of Disputed Returns. Labor made exactly the same charge about her as the Liberals are now making about Newhouse – that she was a lawyer who failed to uphold the letter of the law.

Not that the punters cared. Ross Free, the former frontbencher defeated in the general election, went down. Kelly increased her majority.

The Liberals have forgotten 1996. Twice.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey