Labor leader Daniel Andrews is satisfied with his investigation into leaked recordings of a journalist’s private conversations, despite the inquiry not ascertaining how the audio found its way from Labor into Liberal hands.
The government has ramped up pressure on Mr Andrews and the ALP, accusing the Opposition Leader of running a “protection racket”.
Senior Minister Matthew Guy said Mr Andrews was conducting a "cover up" for Labor staff, raising "more questions than answers" about the Baillieu tape scandal.
"He has treated Victorians with contempt ... and still not answered key questions about this scandal which will continue to dog him up until the election, until he is full and frank with the Victorian people," he said.
On Monday morning Mr Andrews admitted it was wrong for ALP assistant secretary Kosmos Samaras to destroy the lost dictaphone of The Sunday Age state political editor Farrah Tomazin, describing the whole incident as “a dirty mess”.
But Mr Andrews, whose chief of staff listened to the recording, denied any wrong-doing by his staff.
“My office has acted with complete integrity in this, allegations that anyone from my office has done the wrong thing are completely incorrect.”
Mr Samaras on Monday morning said he listened to the recording, which contained private conversations between Tomazin and several politicians including former premier Ted Baillieu.
Mr Samaras' statement came as Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews broke his two-day silence over the affair, telling radio station 3AW he accepted full responsibility for ‘‘getting to the bottom’’ of the distribution of the recording.
‘‘I spent the weekend doing just that,’’ he said.
Mr Samaras said he was ‘‘shocked and angry’’ to hear a private conversation between himself and Tomazin.
‘‘Had it been put to me that I was being recorded I would have ended any such conversation,’’ he said in a statement.
The whole thing is a dirty mess.
As The Age can reveal, the dictaphone was handed in to lost property by security at Labor’s state conference in May, before being taken back to ALP headquarters and listened to by Mr Samaras.
The private conversation between Tomazin and Mr Baillieu was then copied, and listened to by a small group of senior party operatives, including state secretary Noah Carroll and Mr Andrews’ chief of staff, John McLindon.
A decision was made by Mr Samaras not to release it after legal advice was provided by Slater and Gordon lawyer James Higgins.
Despite the advice, and against the wishes of Mr Samaras, the recording was forwarded to a third party, before being emailed to hundreds of Liberal Party members.
Mr Kosmos said he listened through the device and heard ‘‘numerous senior politicians on both sides of politics’’.
The editor-in-chief of The Age, Andrew Holden, said he was disappointed that Mr Samaras was attempting to deflect blame for the scandal to Tomazin.
‘‘We stand completely by her integrity. The simple fact is that Mr Samaras should have returned the recorder as soon as he saw the Fairfax Media sticker on the back. There was no need for him to listen to any of the recordings,’’ Holden said.
‘‘This is also only half a confession from the ALP. They admit they made copies of the Baillieu recording, which means they should be able to determine who passed it on to the Liberal Party. This investigation is far from complete.’’
Mr Andrews said the scandal was ‘‘a dirty mess’’ but the ALP did not accept responsibility for the tape’s distribution.
‘‘Nobody in my office had any involvement whatsoever in the distribution of this material,’’ he said.
Mr Andrews said Mr Samaras would not lose his job.
‘‘He is a good and decent person who made the wrong call and he will not be losing his job over this,’’ he said.
Mr Andrews later told a press conference outside The Age's Collins Street offices that no member of his staff had been spoken to by police as part of the investigation.
The Opposition Leader objected to the term ‘‘stolen’’, saying the recorder had not been claimed after the state Labor conference at Moonee Valley Racecourse in May.
Mr Andrews alleged that the dictaphone could have been accessed while it sat in a box designated for lost property at the racecourse, which was later returned to Labor headquarters in Docklands, and other copies made over that weekend.
He said the dictaphone remained at Labor headquarters for several days before Mr Samaras listened to a recording and heard himself talking to Tomazin. Mr Samaras says he did not know that he was being recorded by the journalist, which he said made him angry.
Mr Samaras said: ‘‘After some consideration, I decided that given the device contained unauthorised private conversations, it was not appropriate to retain, return or disseminate the device. I destroyed it,’’ he said.
‘‘In hindsight this was the wrong thing to do. I should have returned the device and sought an explanation for why I was being recorded. I apologise to Ms Tomazin and The Age for not having returned the device.’’
Mr Samaras said the device was copied ‘‘for the purposes of listening to it’’ at some point prior to being destroyed.
‘‘The question of whether it should be distributed was considered,’’ he said.
‘‘It was determined by myself and others who were consulted [who I understand will make their own statement] that it should not be distributed and was subsequently destroyed along with the device.
‘‘It was a decision I strongly supported as I had personal sympathy for those who had also been recorded without their knowledge. The purpose of my destruction was in part to end any possibility that a recording be disseminated.
‘‘I have no knowledge of how a recording was subsequently disseminated and I sympathise and understand why Mr Baillieu would be distressed by that publication.’’
Mr Andrews said Mr Samaras did ‘‘a very human thing’’ in making the wrong call and holding onto the dictaphone, admitting that ‘‘any reasonable person’’ would have handed it back.
Mr Andrews said the dictaphone, the memory card and all files were destroyed after legal advice later that day.
‘‘The whole thing is a dirty mess,’’ Mr Andrews said.
Mr Andrews also criticised Ms Tomazin and others who recorded conversations without the knowledge of the other party. This is not illegal in Victoria.
State Labor secretary Noah Carroll said Mr Andrews had instructed the party to issue a ‘‘full public clarification on these matters’’.
‘‘The ALP reiterates its long-standing statement that it has not been involved in the theft of any dictaphone nor the distribution of the contents of any dictaphone and categorically rejects any such accusation,’’ Mr Carroll said in his statement.
He said it had kept silent due to the ongoing police investigation.
Melbourne lawyer David Galbally argued that the actions of Labor officials in handling, listening to the dictaphone and copying its contents was ''theft'' as the recording belonged to the person who recorded it.
"Whoever copied that, that is appalling conduct ... It is not theirs to copy; that's theft again,'' he said.
"It is theft, it is no different to the medical records that were found in the AFL case,'' Mr Galbally said.
Mr Galbally was referring to the "theft by finding" of discarded medical records of footballers at an Ivanhoe clinic in 2007. The records were given to a Channel 7 reporter in exchange for money.
Since Friday Mr Andrews has dodged and denied questions about his staff involvement in the theft and distribution of the private conversation.
‘‘Any allegation that opposition staff were in any way involved in the theft or dissemination of this material is wrong and defamatory,’’ Mr Andrews said through a spokesman on Saturday.
With Jane Lee, Richard Willingham