The turmoil generated in the Victorian Liberal Party by the sacking of hewhostandsfornothing bloggers Simon Morgan and John Osborn is threatening to engulf figures beyond the warring Kroger/Costello and Baillieu/Kennett factions in the Victorian party.

Former Howard chief of staff and incoming Victorian state director Tony Nutt is conducting an investigation into the scandal, overseen by president David Kemp. The target of the blog, Ted Baillieu, is talking about excising the “cancerous elements” of the party.

But the complicating factor, senior Liberal insiders say, is that one of the original sackees, Osborn, has kept more or less every email he has ever received during his time in the party, and has enough ammunition to scare plenty of people – and not just former factional colleagues and rivals in Victoria.

Osborn in effect executed Baillieu supporter Susan Chandler earlier this week by releasing an anti-Semitic email. Chandler was a relatively junior, and expendable, player. Insiders say that, apart from inflicting some damage on the opposing Baillieu faction, that this was intended as a powerful demonstration by Osborn of what he could do.

Casual, poorly-expressed or racist emails, bad jokes or narky comments on reply-all look bad enough when taken out of context months or years later. But it is said that Osborn has plenty of more damaging material, involving not merely factional operatives but Liberal senators and, in one case, a likely candidate for a former federal Minister’s seat.

The fear level is so high that one deeply-worried factional player – identity unknown, but they’re evidently a Federal staffer – has started systematically leaking to an ALP-linked website, and yesterday issued a thinly-veiled threat to David Kemp to call off the dogs lest Kemp’s own involvement in old issues, such as the political execution of Ian McPhee back in the 1980s, be brought to light.

Problem is, Tony Nutt, who is actually conducting the investigation, is not known for his easygoing nature. “He’s ruthless,” said one insider. “And he’ll want this all over in one hit. They don’t want this dragging on into the Gippsland by-election or the preselection for Higgins, if Costello leaves.”

If Nutt lays hands on the material held by Osborn, there could be a real night of the long knives in the Victorian Liberal Party.

This might go some of the way toward restoring a party that currently seems more obsessed with infighting than taking on the real enemy on the other side of politics.

Victoria, like every other state, needs the Liberals to get their act together and start seriously competing with Labor. One look at NSW demonstrates what happens when there is no credible opposition. There is no one except the media to keep incompetent or visionless Labor governments accountable, and the community directly suffers.

It’s time Liberals understood that they’re also serving the community while in Opposition. They have a critical job to do, and it’s not playing blog wars with their factional opponents.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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