By JR on Sunday, June 12, 2011
A SHADOWY unit within the Gillard Government is instructing Labor advisers on how to compile secret dossiers on political rivals. An instruction manual obtained by The Sunday Telegraph also reminds advisers to remember that "every flower must grow through dirt".
According to the leaked documents, the taxpayer-funded unit is training Labor staffers to monitor Tony Abbott's front bench, including their financial interests.
But the unit warns Labor operatives to hide their surveillance activities by saving intelligence on private email accounts and mobile USB storage devices to avoid it being detected on Government computers.
It warns staff against keeping the "shadow folder" on the "shared drive" because ministerial computers were subject to Freedom of Information laws and could be uncovered by the Opposition. "Notebooks disencouraged", the document says.
The document - titled Shadow Watch - details how to "track" and "neutralise" their opponents and how best to "share intell".
The bizarre how-to guide for political players was defended yesterday by Special Minister of State Gary Gray as providing "legitimate" scrutiny of Tony Abbott's shadow front bench.
The unit, which operates behind frosted glass offices in Parliament House, has urged staffers to conduct what is described as "shadowy endeavours" by collecting information on Coalition MPs. It is run by the Caucus Communications Team with an annual budget of over $600,000 and provides advice to more than 40 staffers known as Caucus Liaison Officers on ministers and MPs' staff, including in the PM's office.
The documents quote Harry Potter novelist J. K. Rowling, urging "Constant vigilance!" on shadow ministers. It urges staffers to spend their time setting up Google alerts, signing up to rivals' Twitter and Facebook and trawling through their financial records in the pecuniary interests register. "One can bury a lot of one's own troubles by digging in the dirt," the document states.
It also contains images of Malcolm Tucker, a fictional government spin doctor based on Tony Blair's communications director Alastair Campbell who brutally enforced government discipline with abuse, threats and smears.
Asked whether these documents suggested the Caucus Communications Team was acting at odds with a previous pledge not to conduct media monitoring and research on the opposition, Mr Gray's spokeswoman replied: "No." "Ministers are expected to track the activities and commitments of their Opposition counterpart. This is proper and appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of Opposition shadow ministers," she said.
In the last year of the Coalition government the then Government Members Secretariat had 15 staff with an annual salary and parliamentary staff allowance entitlements cost of over $1.4 million. This compares to the CCT annual salary and parliamentary staff allowance entitlements cost of about $620,000.
But several staffers dismissed the activities of the unit as the product of people who had spent "too much time watching (cult US political drama) The West Wing".