PAUL AUSTINJuly 16, 2010
JOHN Brumby and Victorian Labor have been accused of using the courts to silence critics, as the phoney state election campaign turns nasty.
In an angry response to the revelation that a senior Liberal MP has been forced to apologise after being sued for defamation by a key Brumby ally, the state opposition branded the Premier a hypocrite and liar who was ”suing critics to try to silence debate” before November’s poll.
The Age revealed yesterday that Liberal upper house leader David Davis had to issue an unreserved apology as part of a confidential settlement of a defamation action against him by former ALP state secretary Stephen Newnham.
Mr Davis acknowledged that a media release he issued last year, demanding that Mr Brumby sack the then party chief, may have been understood to assert that Mr Newnham had acted ”fraudulently and corruptly” in dealings with a councillor on the now-sacked Brimbank Council.
Mr Brumby yesterday seized on the Davis case – which is believed to have cost the Liberal MP and supporters in the party more than $100,000 in legal costs – as evidence that the opposition under Ted Baillieu’s leadership had a culture of lying about the government.
Asked if he thought the outcome of the case was a cautionary tale for MPs about what they say about others, the Premier replied: ”I think it’s a cautionary tale for Mr Davis and the state opposition – too right I do.
”There’s a lot of things that the Liberal Party say that are just completely untrue, and they say them day after day.”
He said in this instance Mr Davis had been forced through legal processes to apologise to Mr Newnham, ”but there are many claims made by Mr Davis, Mr Baillieu and the opposition that are untrue”.
Asked whether it had been fair and true for Deputy Premier Rob Hulls last week to label Mr Baillieu as lazy and to say the wealthy Liberal leader had never done a hard day’s work in his life, Mr Brumby replied: ”That’s fair political comment.”
Opposition integrity-of-government spokesman Andrew McIntosh hit back hard last night, saying the Premier was ”a hypocrite who leads a government of political thugs”.
”John Brumby and his ministers bully and threaten anyone who opposes them, whilst lying and suing critics to try to silence debate,” Mr McIntosh said.
Yesterday’s flare-up underscores the likelihood the November election campaign will be marked by sharp personal exchanges.
Labor strategists have already launched a class war against Mr Baillieu, highlighting his privileged background and painting him as a ”toff from Toorak” who is out of touch with ”ordinary Victorians”.
Liberal strategists are determined not to take a backwards step.
Mr Baillieu routinely describes Mr Brumby as an arrogant leader of a government that ”bullies those who stand up to them”.
”The Premier lives in the past with his endless excuses, 1950s class-war lies, corruption and incompetence,” he said last month.