Meanwhile in Victoria the old paradigm rules

  • This article and image first appeared on the ABC’s The Drum.

I have a breaking news story. Make sure you’re sitting down. Here it is: governments spin, twist and contort events to suit their party political ends.

OK, so it mightn’t be a huge revelation.

But what’s interesting is that a senior Labor spin doctor has been forced, under oath, to confirm this is how their murky profession works.

The accidental release of a Victorian government ministerial ‘media plan’ in February caused huge embarrassment for the state’s Labor administration.

Many have since tried, and failed, to access other ‘media plans’, under the state’s freedom of information (FOI) legislation.

The State Government claims the media plans are “political” and unrelated to policy or governance, and therefore shouldn’t have to be released.

But Victoria’s FOI laws have a presumption of release. This means the Government must prove the documents’ political nature, for them to be kept secret.

“They are entirely political,” senior Victorian government media adviser Alison Crosweller told the state’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal this morning.

She went further, explaining that if a minister’s busy day is to be interrupted by a media engagement, “there needs to be a political purpose as to why the Minister should be committing to that event.”

Normally governments spend huge amounts of time and energy arguing that their actions aren’t politically motivated, but driven by the desire for good policy.

It must have felt strange then for Ms Crosweller, a very experienced operative who worked for federal Labor during the Howard government, to now be arguing the opposite.

Ms Crosweller was asked to explain how events listed in the leaked February document – such as the Planning Minister’s attendance at the launch of a street revitalisation project – could be deemed “political”.

“The fact that they are going to do it on a Sunday, the use of the Minister’s time is only best served if there is a political element to it,” she said.

“So it is in Frankston, which is a marginal seat. Alistair Harkness is a marginal MP … so by getting the Minister down to Frankston … serves a political purpose.

“While it might look like an opening, a speech or a conference … there must be a reason the media adviser has suggested the Minister do it.”

After all, she added, “the Minister doesn’t necessarily need to go and launch an $8 million boulevard.”

Get that?

So when you next glimpse a politician or political candidate smiling in the TV news, chances are they’re only acting for political purposes.

And when you hear a minister angrily denying something is being launched in a marginal electorate for political purposes, don’t believe them.

Ms Crosweller made the point even more succinctly in her written statement to the tribunal.

The document indicated that media advisers must act with regard to “the impact of various matters on the Government’s election prospects [and] the election prospects of individual Members of Parliament.”

And let’s not forget these media advisers are funded by the taxpayers, not the ALP.

The State Opposition’s scrutiny of government spokesman, David Davis, thinks Ms Crosweller’s evidence is extraordinary.

“The Government’s actions are simply driven by re-election,” he said.

Victorians want a government which is acting in “the public interest … [and] delivering for the public benefit, rather than its own.”

But the sad facts are these: every government uses spin, and every minister is motivated by politics.

The Victorian Government has just been kind enough to admit it.

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