The strain at the top of the Baillieu government’s fledgling media operation is beginning to show, with veteran former Channel Nine political reporter David Broadbent — a former roommate of Jeff Kennett — drafted in to refine the message emanating from Liberal HQ.
Liberal insiders confirmed to Crikey this morning that Broadbent, who had been overseeing the education department’s spin operation after his exit from Nine in 2006, has been seconded to the premier’s realm to conduct an overhaul of the communications across all state government departments.
Broadbent’s recently-updated LinkedIn page cheekily lists his employer as “Arts Victoria” — an agency that sits within Ted Baillieu’s portfolio as arts minister.
The dramatic move follows weeks of unease inside the Libs’ media operation, with the head of strategic communications Josephine Cafagna believed to be chafing with Baillieu right hand man Simon Troeth and veteran message masseuse Paul Price.
The factionally-unaligned Cafagna — who fearlessly hammered Labor for years in the ABC Stateline chair — is referred to “Josephine McCrohan” amongst influence peddlers in an ironic throwback to energetic Bracks-era headkicker Sharon McCrohan.
McCrohan, a respected former Aussie Post editor, was famously on the blower each morning to torture hacks for factual errors and misinterpretations, but Cafagna has taken a back seat role, travelling with the premier wherever possible and sidestepping direct engagement with the rolling news cycle.
“They’re trying to break the news cycle,” said one former Liberal MP. “They want to be judged on what they’ve done in two years’ time rather than filling the papers with crap every day.”
State rounds journos have been miffed at the strategy, with their daily drops to which they’d become wedded under the Brumby era all but evaporating. The Australian has been almost totally bereft of Victorian stories since the impressive Milanda Rout left for Canberra and the Herald Sun and The Age are believed to be also getting fidgety at a lack of interaction.
Accusations continue to fly over the sending of text messages to certain journalists and not others from the 19-strong unit, leaving many scrambling desperately for a hook as their deadlines loom.
In one instance, an award-winning radio reporter had been following a yarn all day and was horrified when senior media figures decided to get back instead to another journo, leaving the scoop stillborn.
The media unit turmoil comes in the wake of a gruelling chief-of-staff appointment process that has only been bedded down in the last few weeks — more than four months after Baillieu claimed victory on election night.
The fastidious factional vetting of potential chiefs and various ministerial advisers by Baillieu CoS Michael Kapel raised serious concerns with Michael O’Brien’s office in limbo over Julian Sheezel’s candidacy until the eventual fingering of ex-Liberal Party deputy director Darren Disney. Community services minister Mary Wooldridge’s team is under a cloud with acting CoS Terry Barnes — the target of a Labor attack in parliament last week — still on tenterhooks. Gordon Rich-Phillips has finally appointed former Alan Stockdale offsider Peter Coatman after an excruciating delay.
Still, the overhang continues to persist, with one adviser contacted this morning noting there was “no chance” they could speak to us as they were ” too busy doing five peoples’ work at the moment because of said staff shortages”.
Industry bodies and stakeholder groups have noticed the difference, the staffer said.
Meanwhile, deep inside the public service Crikey understands Tory hard heads have drawn up hit lists of former Labor staffers or departmental liaison offices scheduled for the chop in the coming months. Many remain ALP members despite their defection from Brumby’s senior ranks, with one Liberal branding the situation “untenable”.