Forces aligned to the divided ALP Right repeatedly backgrounded senior journalists with recycled smears against dumped ALP Hotham candidate Geoff Lake for six weeks before the claims were splashed in mass circulation News Corporation tabloids on Saturday.

The weekend’s Herald Sun story, headed “REVEALED … Rudd’s Bully Boy“, by Sam Maiden, and a Daily Telegraph mash-up by Maiden and Simon Benson (who went to school with Bill Shorten and state MP Luke Donnellan) was covered by News Limited over a decade earlier.

They concerned an ill-tempered comment directed by Lake at former Liberal councillor Kathy Magee in the heat of a Monash Council meeting on June 18, 2002, when Lake was 22. The allegation formed part of a shit sheet hawked to senior journalists from The Age, the Herald Sun and The Australian since Lake signalled his intention to run for Hotham preselection in early July. After the story eventually ran, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd intervened to disendorse Lake, who declined to comment this morning.

ALP fingers are pointed squarely this morning at former Monash councillor and Transport Workers Union spear-carrier Felicity Smith and husband and former Public Office Selection Committee member Howard Smith. Crikey reported on July 19 a letter authored by Felicity Smith attacking Lake for his “questionable” track record working with women.

Smith confirmed to Crikey this morning that she had “spoken to News Limited” in the last week. When asked what the topic was, she stated simply “Geoff Lake”: “Yes I spoke to Sam Maiden … and if you put something in Crikey you might want to emphasise more than one incident he has perpetrated on people over a long period of time.”

Howard Smith famously ratted against the Right and voted against National Union of Workers rising star Matt Carrick during a public office selection committee vote for Bruce in 2007. After the local Hotham preselection vote, a letter of complaint claimed Smith, the deputy returning officer, “walked past me and about 20 other voters and canvassers working for the two candidates, he loudly and angrily glared at me and said ‘f-ck off you'”.

But in perhaps the ultimate factional irony, staunch networker, the highly regarded consultant Clare O’Neil, an ex-Dandenong mayor and former partner of retired former Bracks government minister and the NUW-backed Tim Holding, will almost certainly succeed Lake when Labor’s national executive meets today to select a candidate.

O’Neil has nominated alongside Smith associate and fellow factional heavyweight Rosemary Barker (who was trounced in both the grassroots and panel preselection votes) and the unbacked Jim Magee (no relation). Smith has been pursuing the allegations against Lake since the duo served on council 11 years ago. On July 23, 2002, News’ Leader newspaper stable splashed with the claims under the headline “War of words complaint against the mayor”. The story reported Magee said the insult was heard by Smith and “a few” members of the public.

On December 4, 2002 The Waverley Gazette and the News owned Oakleigh Springvale Dandenong Times reported Lake’s official apology. He first delivered an apology in a phone call to Magee less than one hour after the incident.

The allegations were raised during a particularly acrimonious period on the council, with Liberal councillor Peter Vlahos butting heads against the ALP majority and calling repeatedly for Lake to “resign” over his criticisms of the South Eastern Regional Waste Management Group. Lake had accused fellow councillor and former mayor Tom Morrissey of overseeing taxpayer-funded junkets — The Age and local News Limited media extensively reported on the spat at the time. Magee was considered a staunch Vlahos loyalist.

The other allegation hinted at by Barrie Cassidy on yesterday’s Insiders program and alluded to by News relating to an equal opportunity complaint by Jeanne Solity was extensively covered in an Age feature in 2005. The activities of rival councillors in Melbourne’s south-east has been a regular feature of local politics in the last 15 years. It is likely any councillor taken at random would have been engaged, at one time or another, in similar stoushes.

The NUW has demanded the ALP conduct an extensive inquiry into the saga once the election is complete.

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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