Senior Victorian press gallery journalists are in uproar after they were forced out of their offices in the middle of the election campaign on the orders of Coalition powerbrokers moaning about leaks.

Until this week, the press gallery and the Coalition’s national campaign headquarters shared the same Melbourne building, 35 Spring Street, with the hacks on level 9 and the Libs and Nats on levels 1 and 2. The journalists have called the building home for at least a decade, with the Tories moving in just six weeks ago.

Veteran gallery figures have told Crikey that an original plan to shift from the building, controlled by the state Department of Premier and Cabinet, was brought forward by six weeks when a faceless state government bureaucrat acting on instructions relayed the news.

One told Crikey the diktat to clean out desks by today was “fucking outrageous”: “The idea that the Liberal Party can complain to Denis Napthine and just order Premier and Cabinet to shift us out in the middle of an election campaign when we weren’t even going to have computers connected or we weren’t even going to have the phone lines working is fucking absurd. The principle being, fuck off, if you want a building don’t kick us out just because you want to shove the Libs in there.”

Senior Liberals — including campaign director Brian Loughnane, Tony Nutt and John Griffin — work out of Spring Street and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott calls the office home when he is in Melbourne.

Crikey understands the level 9 digs enabled hacks to keep tabs on Liberal and National MPs coming in and out of the building and that the pollies might’ve felt like they were being spied on. Such is the paranoia inside Coalition HQ that sources told Crikey this morning that the Australian Communications and Media Authority was drafted in to sweep the building for bugs before the move in.

Press gallery president and Australian political editor John Ferguson was hesitant to hold forth but confirmed to Crikey he was not happy with the order from on high: “I’m not saying there’s a political conspiracy but the shift has been monumentally rushed and difficult during an election campaign.”

There are about 20 press gallery members remaining at 35 Spring and the remainder are lugging their equipment up the hill today to the new digs on the corner of Collins and Spring. Gallery veterans told Crikey one of the other bonuses of 35 Spring was that you could look down on the 1 Treasury Place forecourt to see whether a minister was doing a sneaky presser, and that the view was now obscured forever.

In 2011, The Age reported that 35 Spring was likely to be demolished to make way for a 42-storey residential tower. On a promotional page Cbus Property spruiks the planned Bates Smart-designed development as “the new gateway to the city and Melbourne’s ultimate residential address.”

One Fairfax scribe already in the new building said it was fine and that one concession was televisions now worked where previously the Coalition’s hulking bank of plasmas interfered with reception.

Napthine’s media unit did not respond to a query lodged with his office this morning.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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