Jun 20, 2007

Ruddock accused of running dirt unit – PM

Transcript of PM – Ruddock accused of running dirt unit

Wednesday, 20 June 2007 18:17:33

Reporter: Peta Donald

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has vehemently denied running a taxpayer funded political dirt unit out of the Commonwealth offices in Sydney.

But in Parliament this afternoon he did make an interesting admission.

Mr Ruddock said he expected his publicly-funded staff to monitor the news, and to tell him about mistakes that the Opposition are making.

Labor says if that information was being passed on to others outside Mr Ruddock’s office then that made it a dirt unit.

The Opposition’s also gone on the attack over confirmation of plans for a pre-election anti-union advertising campaign, paid for by big business, and orchestrated by the Liberal Party’s pollster, Mark Textor.

From Canberra, Peta Donald reports.

PETA DONALD: The latest claims of Government staff being used to collect political dirt on the Opposition surfaced in today’s Bulletin magazine.

It reports there’s a secret taxpayer-funded unit operating out of the Ministerial offices in Sydney of the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. Apparently, six to eight staff are constantly monitoring the media for any Opposition announcement or error.

Politically useful information is reportedly passed on to the highest levels of government, as quickly as possible.

As the Bulletin points out, it’s similar to a much criticised unit run by Labor when it was in Government, the National Media Liaison Service.

Not that that stopped the Opposition going on the attack in Question Time this afternoon. Labor’s Anthony Albanese wanted to know about the 13 staff working for the Attorney-General in Sydney.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: How many of these 13 allocated positions are used to staff your Ministerial office at 70 Philip Street, Sydney? Do all the functions of the staff in your Ministerial office at 70 Philip Street, Sydney, relate to your role as the first law officer of the Commonwealth?

PETA DONALD: An angry Attorney fired back.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: There is no dirt unit in my office in Sydney or anywhere else. And there have been many people who from time to time have been in my office and would know, and have been in a position to see that there are no extra six to eight people in my office simply because there are none.

PETA DONALD: Not a dirt unit, in Mr Ruddock’s opinion, but he went on to detail some of the work his staff members are doing.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I would expect my staff to be cognisant of current issues, to read newspapers, to listen to the radio, to watch the TV news, so that they can tell me what mistakes you’re making, particularly when you read articles like that.

PETA DONALD: So part of the job, it seems, is to tell Mr Ruddock about Labor’s mistakes.

Mr Albanese had another question.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Can the Minister guarantee that these staff in this unit do no disseminate this material to other ministers…

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Order! Order!

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … to other ministers, other Members of Parliament, and to Liberal Party candidates as part of the operation of this secret dirt unit?

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Honourable, the Attorney-General.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Mr Speaker, I don’t think I need to answer any of the question asked because there is no dirt unit.

PETA DONALD: One thing that was confirmed today is that a coalition of business groups have been talking with the Liberal Party’s pollster Mark Textor about a pre-election anti-union advertising campaign. A leaked memo outlines a campaign worth more than $6 million targeting Labor’s plans to wind back WorkChoices.

The Opposition is suspicious that a business advertising campaign, being organised by the Business Council of Australia and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry would have the benefit of Liberal Party polling. And even the benefit of Government-funded polling and research.

Labor’s Bob McMullan:

BOB MCMULLAN: Can the Prime Minister today give me one simple guarantee – that no taxpayer-funded opinion poll research has been made available to any of the organisers of the BCA/ACCAI campaign?

JOHN HOWARD: Mr Speaker, I have not authorised it, I would not authorise it, it would not be appropriate, and I am not aware of anybody else having done it, but I will need to make inquiries to be completely satisfied…

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The deputy leader of the Opposition is warned.

JOHN HOWARD: …so that I am satisfied that I’ve given a completely truthful answer to the House.

PETA DONALD: Mr McMullan had another question for the Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey.

JOE HOCKEY: Mr Speaker, I have not handed any Government research to pollster Textor. I’m advised by my office that they have not handed any information over, and I am advised by my department that they have not handed any information over. All of us are saying we have not handed any information over.

MARK COLVIN: The Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey ending Peta Donald’s report.