It seems different arms of the Fairfax Media empire are more circumspect than others when it comes to outing Victorian state government ministers embroiled in notorious Victoria Police corruption sagas.
At midnight last night, this story, penned by investigative reporters Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, appeared claiming sacked police assistant commissioner Noel Ashby had been tipped off by an unnamed Brumby government minister in April 2007 over bugs placed by the Office of Police Integrity on the phone of former police union chief Paul Mullett.
Ashby “should be careful talking to Mr Mullett on the telephone”, the mystery minister allegedly said.
The Ashby document seems to have been created to convince the police union to fund Ashby’s defence of the corruption enquires against him, with Ashby alluding on previous occasions to political interference in the campaign to oust him. The OPI investigation led to the resignation of Ashby, Mullett and former police media director Stephen Linnell.
But who was the minister The Age had deliberately decided not to name, presumably on high-level legal advice?
This morning, Melbourne radio listeners were subjected to a gripping whispering game with rival hosts Neil Mitchell and Jon Faine seemingly baiting each other to out the minister concerned. Faine declined, but Mitchell was less reticent, keeping listeners hanging before blurting out the name of a leading ALP political light, as you can hear here.
Mitchell later said he had contacted the minister involved, who had told him they did not recall this type of conversation, refusing to speak publicly while the matter was in the courts. Mitchell’s legal adviser David Galbally, who had presumably cleared the naming of the minister, said there was a possibility that they were guilty of an offence under section 23 of the Police Integrity Act 2008.
Enough, you would think, for other Fairfax outlets to follow suit. But a subsequent story posted to The Age website, Fairfax decided to hold fire on Mitchell’s claims and instead report on a dry exchange with Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu, who repeated his previous calls for an independent corruption commission into the saga.
Still, the accused minister’s name was now in the ether, prompting Melbourne Sky News bureau chief David Lipson to report that the individual involved was acting outside their portfolio, seemingly ruling out current Police Minister Bob Cameron. Legal advice prevented him from repeating the name on air, Lipson said, echoing the advice provided to Crikey.
But even if Mitchell’s finger pointing turns out to be correct, then Cameron might fail to escape the heat threatening to engulf the state government.
This Herald Sun article, reporting the following Cameron comments to State Parliament in November 2007 makes for interesting reading:
Mr Baillieu later asked Mr Cameron whether the minister’s former chief of staff, or any other member of the minister’s staff, were aware of the details of the warrants.
“I’ll tell you who has access, it is I, it is myself, and an officer from the OPI. I sign it,” Mr Cameron said.
“The only person who sees that is the person who hands it to me and myself. No other person knows the details.”
The next 24 hours, like the last, should prove interesting indeed, not only for the highest levels of the Brumby Government, but also the senior ranks of Fairfax management.