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Daniel Andrews threatens to sue over Age tapes theft allegations

Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has denied any Labor involvement in the theft of a dictaphone, saying allegations his party was involved in a grubby campaign to inflict political damage on the Napthine government are “wrong and defamatory”.

In a blunt statement issued on Friday morning, Mr Andrews said the distribution of the private recording between The Age political editor Farrah Tomazin and former premier Ted Baillieu was a matter for the Liberal Party.

“The distribution of this recording always has been and always will be an internal matter for the Liberal Party. These allegations have been referred to our lawyers.”

It follows explosive revelations in The Age on Friday that senior staff from Mr Andrews’ office and Labor Party chiefs were involved in the theft of a journalist’s dictaphone, which  was handed into lost property at Labor’s state conference in May. 

The tape was listened to by a top Labor official, and is understood to have been copied and scrutinised by other figures in the party’s organisational wing before a recording made its way to a third party and was emailed to hundreds of Liberal MPs and members in June.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy said on Friday that Labor were “being tricky” and only denying the distribution of the conversation by email.


“They are not denying the first part of that claim,” he told ABC radio.

“That it was taken, whether legal advice was then sought on its content, whether copies were then made of it and then passed onto someone else: none of that has been addressed by the Labor Party.”

He likened Labor’s action to finding someone’s wallet and using its contents.

“This is like going to the football .. and if you lose your wallet, someone then picking up that wallet, knowing that  this was yours and using the contents inside it. You’re liable for that.”

He went on to say the saga amounted to the grubbiest incident he had seen in 24 years in politics.

“This scandal, this chaos, that is now gripping the character of Victorian Labor shows that the apple does not fall far from the union tree,’’ Mr Guy said.

The reporting in your newspaper today, and your questioning here, is absolutely questionable.

“This kind of thuggish, bully-boy union behaviour that we are seeing from Victorian Labor gives Victorians a very clear understanding of how Labor would run the state if they were elected in November,” he said.

“This matter goes to the heart of the character of Andrews and the Labor party,’’ he said. “Victorians deserve full answers from Daniel Andrews.’’

Mr Guy said every journalist had the right to conduct their work in a “sensible, honourable and decent way’’.

He said if any Liberal member was found to be involved they would be sacked from the party. 

The minister said the government had received some information on the case but said most of the information he had was from The Age.

He said working out how the tape was acquired first had to be dealt with first before dealing with who distributed the audio to Liberal members. 

Treasurer Michael O'Brien, on radio station 3AW, said that the behaviour reported in The Age is "not just unethical, but criminal."

"This is not just dishonest conduct or unethical conduct," he said. "This is criminal conduct that goes to the highest parts of the Labor Party."

Mr O'Brien called on Mr Andrews to answer questions directly.

"This goes to the integrity of Mr Andrews and the Labor Party. If Mr Andrews is to be any kind of leader at all, he needs to front up today and answer these questions."

Later on Friday morning, Mr Andrews told ABC regional radio that allegations in The Age were wrong, defamatory and with the party’s lawyers for “very good reason”.

“I don't send things to Liberal Party members. That's what occurred here."

He repeatedly denied any Labor involvement in the alleged theft of the Fairfax-owned listening device.

“Absolutely there is no involvement.”

Asked whether staff in his office or senior ALP figures had listened to the private conversation before it was distributed, Mr Andrews said "for good reason, this matter is with our lawyers and I won't be drawn beyond that."

Mr Andrews later said the Labor Party won’t be investigating the veracity of the claims in The Age about members of his own staff and within the ALP.

“Absolutely not,” he told Fairfax Media in Bendigo on Friday after touring a school.

“The claims in your paper today are defamatory, they are wrong, they are inaccurate and they are with our lawyers. And they are with our lawyers with good reason.”

He denied his staff could be involved, saying he was first made aware of the allegations when contacted by The Age on Thursday evening.

“I don’t accept for a moment that any of my staff are implicated in this,” he said.

But Mr Andrews would not directly answer if he was showing true leadership with his actions, or be drawn on whether his response will have an impact on his integrity with voters.

“That is a matter for others to determine. I am very clear about my priorities, my job, my responsibilities. I’m also equally clear that the reporting in your newspaper today, and your questioning here, is absolutely questionable - and for good reason is in the hands of our lawyers.”

He said it was “ridiculous” to describe the tape scandal as his "Watergate moment" - as suggested by Mr Guy.

Andrew Holden, editor-in-chief of The Age, said Mr Andrews’ threats of defamation did not worry him.

"We stand completely by our story, and would be happy to defend it in court," he said. 

"The issue for Mr Andrews is whether he thinks Victorians will accept that staff within his office could behave in this way, and whether that makes them suitable to work in a Premier's office.

“He’s certainly welcome to do that and if it gets to the point where we would need to go to a courtroom to prove truth we’d be more than happy to do that,” Holden said.

The Age knows the identity of one Labor Party official and "at least two members of the Opposition Leader’s staff who were privy to the Ted Baillieu conversation”, he said, but had not named them because doing so would risk revealing a confidential source.

“Certainly from The Age’s perspective we would expect the ALP to institute a thorough investigation into this,” Holden said.

“There’s no question that the tape recorder was in possession of members of the ALP. There’s no question that they are the ones who cut out the Ted Baillieu conversation, and I would expect that Daniel Andrews would want that to be investigated.”

- with Steve Lillebuen, Adam Carey and Richard Willingham