“What’s heroin, Mum?”

So asked nine-year-old Alice of her horrified mother, sparked by a telephone call from her local Labor Party candidate.

The Advocate‘s front-page story this morning is the stuff of nightmares for Labor Party operatives trying desperately to retain power in Tasmania. It’s the sort of story that will leave a bad taste in many voters’ mouths.

Robo-calls — recorded messages dialed to constituents — have become an increasing and increasingly annoying campaign tactic by political parties in Australia. But why Labor thought calling the voters of Tasmania with a message about how the Greens would legalise heroin — entirely false, of course — is anybody’s guess.

Greens Leader Nick McKim called it “filthy, gutter politics”; they’ve “overstepped the mark of common decency”. And Labor state secretary John Dowling’s defense — informing voters about the Greens’ “extreme policies” — won’t convince many:

“Children are equally able to access election material of all political parties via a range of formats.”

But this was a phone call to a child. And more importantly, a front-page shocker three days out from the election campaign.

Bruce Montgomery — a former political correspondent with The Australian now writing for Crikey during the election campaign — reckons it could kill off Labor’s increasingly slim changes of hanging onto government. Montgomery will file for Crikey‘s Daily Mail tomorrow with the reaction and the latest from the campaign trial. You’d be wise to tune in.

Has heroin put Labor’s chances in a coma?