Spring Street is bracing for new generation of spin doctors following the demise of John Brumby, as a cabal of Liberal bluebloods hit mobiles to curry favour with the Baillieu government and Labor lobbyists cast the net for anyone with conservative credentials.
Former Liberal member for Mordialloc Geoff Leigh, who lost his plum seat to Janice Munt during the 2002 Brackslide, has recently joined the Labor loyalists at InsideOut Strategic, piloted by former ALP Progressive Business chief Phil Staindl. A shining light of the Liberals’ youth wing in the 1970s, Leigh told Crikey his cabinet interactions had been limited to congratulations so far, but that he would be making contact with his former colleagues when the Baillieu ministry is bedded down.
The appointment is widely considered as catch-up for the red-tinged past of the firm’s other principals including Staindl and former candidate for Caulfield and Sherryl Garbutt chief-of-staff Steve Cusworth.
“I know most of the ministry and I think most of them are pretty fair people but that’s not why I did it. Phil’s business is bigger than mine, he had the client base, and I didn’t,” Leigh said, adding that he had worked with Staindl in the past to massage sentiment over the Royal Melbourne Golf Club’s controversial dam proposal.
InsideOut’s clients, according to the official federal lobbyists register, include Philip Morris, SAP Australia and Pacific Hydro.
Over at the Civic Group, ex Crosby-Textor strategist, Victorian Liberal vice-president and perennial parliamentary hopeful Jason Aldworth is bracing for an influx of texts, despite the recent controversy over his firm’s multimillion dollar dealings with Big Tobacco. Aldworth’s Labor Right-aligned colleagues, ex-ALP state secretary Andres Puig and former John Pandazopoulos staffer-turned CPR director Brett Miller, are said to be studiously copying down his Blackberry contacts.
Back at the Photon-owned CPR, the firm exited by Miller, Puig and Robert Ray following a blow up over strategy 12-months ago (CEO Adam Kilgour is also going), veteran former Liberal upper house leader Bill Forwood has been sharpening his political compass, despite the firm’s Melbourne office still reeking of state Labor relics. Crikey understands that Forwood was one of former CPR special counsel Erik Locke’s hirings before the wily one-time ALP state secretary left to work for Alan Griffin (Locke is now his hoeing his row over at Principled Public Relations and Public Affairs, spruiking the interests of a raft of progressive clients).
Another firm that is worth watching under the new paradigm, according to Liberal insiders, is former Liberal Party state president and ex-Liberal Councillor John Ridley’s Clifton Group, which also boasts former Canberra press gallery veteran Ken Davis on its staff. And observers say Barton Deakin’s Peter Collins and Graeme Morris have been digging around, despite that duo’s expertise mostly being north of the Murray.
The race for ministerial positions and influence is also heating up. Players keen to get a slice of the action are thought to include former Jeff Kennett adviser and Malcolm Fraser press secretary Alistair Drysdale, with ex-colleague Steve Murphy’s antennae also believed to be twitching. Murphy’s former partner in spin Ian Smith, who helms Bespoke Approach with Alexander Downer, is somewhere in the picture too.
Smith’s former colleague at Gavin Anderson, Connect East spinner James Tonkin, is believed to be sniffing the breeze as lucrative adviser gigs begin to be dished over the coming weeks. Other Gavin Anderson alumni mentioned in dispatches include former Courier Mail journalist and Kennett-staffer Nick Maher. Speculation is also swirling around the future for Henry Bolte’s great-nephew, former Member for Ripon and Catholic Education director Stephen Elder and Phil Gude chief-of-staff turned-Orica spinner John Fetter. Gude himself is also expected to enter into considerations.
Meanwhile, the fallout for Labor-aligned firms without InsideOut-style contingency measures promises to be savage. One hanger-on in the firing line is thought to be Auspoll, which predicted a comfortable Liberal victory in an exit poll commissioned for Sky News on election night to the dismay of party strategists.
While hundreds of ALP ministerial staff have already been tipped on to the dole queue, November 27’s ripples will begin to be felt in earnest in the lead-up to Christmas. Despite Ted Baillieu seemingly ruling out a purge of top-level public service staff, the new terrain, when it finally emerges, will prove brutal for influence peddlers still wedded to the ALP’s King Street HQ.
“There’s a whole industry of Labor sympathisers and networks that have flourished over the last decade,” one insider said, listing a raft of unfortunate individuals “who would be f-cked by the new arrivals at 1 Treasury Place”.