The coverage of the Victorian Liberal Party’s blog war has, naturally enough, concentrated on the targeting of Ted Baillieu.

However, senior Liberal insiders say Baillieu is merely collateral damage in what is a clear, and probably very successful, attempt to damage outgoing Liberal state director Julian Sheezel as part of the jockeying over pre-selection for Peter Costello’s seat of Higgins – if and when it falls vacant.

The discovery of the authors of the website – Liberal staffers Simon Morgan (who is said to have had minimal involvement with the blog) and John Osborn – and their sacking occurred last month. However, the information was only leaked to The Sunday Age ’s Josh Gordon for last weekend’s edition. The identity of the leaker is the subject of considerable speculation within the Liberal Party and on political blogs.

Party insiders say the purpose of the leak was to damage Sheezel, who is running for Higgins preselection as a representative of the Costello/Mitch Fifield/Tony Smith forces within the party. His strongest likely opponent, former Liberal state vice-president and now CPR consultant Jason Aldworth, has the support of his former JT Campbell boss, Michael Kroger, Senator-elect Helen Kroger and Michael Ronaldson.

The Kroger and Costello forces are normally closely aligned, and recently comprehensively defeated supporters of Baillieu (linked to the Kennet side of the party) at the Victorian State Council elections. However, the Kroger-Costello group is hopelessly split over who should succeed Costello in Higgins.

Insiders are adamant that supporters of Aldworth are behind the leak, intended to show up Sheezel’s lack of support for the Parliamentary leadership. Sheezel also has some form on the blogging front, having run an anti-Steve Bracks blog without apparently informing Baillieu during the 2006 election campaign. Phil Coorey today summed up Sheezel’s chances in Higgins now as “terminal”.

The fact that Baillieu has been damaged in the cross-fire – what sort of leader gets white-anted by his own organisation? – is simply a nice little addition. “It’s a perfect storm for the Aldworth forces,” one insider said. Aldworth supporter and staffer for Michael Ronaldson, Tony Barry, was seen dining with The Age ’s Gordon and Jewel Topsfield last week, but as press secretary for Michael Ronaldson, that’s part of his job, and Crikey has no evidence to suggest that he is the link. Barry declined to comment.

Two things are extraordinary about these revelations. One is the bizarre lack of nous of Liberal Party members who either lack the basic internet savvy or couldn’t care less that running a page on Blogspot that could be simply traced. These guys lacked even the good sense to run it from home.

And second is the apparent focus not even on factional opponents, but intra-factional opponents. Never mind John Brumby. This is why the highest office in the country this mob control is the mayor’s gig in Brisbane.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off