Lawrence 'political grub' Springborg and the rejuvenated LNP dirt unit

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Under Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, the LNP said they were getting rid of their 'dirt unit', but the Billy Gordon affair suggests Lawrence Springborg is playing by the old rules. Alex McKean comments.

Over the years, it has been alleged that each of the major parties have maintained "dirt units", for digging up historical information to use against political opponents.

The allegations surrounding Mr Billy Gordon MP raise the importnant issue of precisely what it is about a "dirt unit" that is unethical. While we may all wish that politics proceeded on a higher plane and was focused on policies and principles, it is suggested that there is nothing necessarily wrong with using information passed to you as a politician to seek to gain a political advantage.

It is, or course, another thing to send your operatives out into the field, seeking out the vulnerable, the disgruntled, the shills and the sharks.

Possibly the most unsavoury aspect of a dirt unit, as can be seen from the instant case of Mr Billy Gordon MP, is that information is gathered by the unit is stored up and only brought to the attention of the public, and the authorities who may have an interest in the information, when it is perceived that the greatest political advantage will be gained.

Such conduct carries with it the perception that the use of the information is underhanded and the connotation that the motives of those leaking the information selectively, at tactical moments, are for political gain rather than redress of genuine grievances.

It is unfortunately also too common that the rights of vulnerable innocents are disregarded in the drive to use the information for the greatest political advantage. In the  present case, the opposition leader, Mr Lawrence Springborg MP, has publicly released documents naming Mr Billy Gordon MP’s children, possibly in breach of Federal privacy legislation.

Suspicions have been raised that the LNP is engaging in a coordinated campaign to smear Mr Gordon MP and destabilise the fledging Labor Government in Queensland, with allegations that a "dirt unit" is involved.

It is clear the LNP has engaged the services of a "dirt unit" in the past.

The former Premier, Campbell Newman, apologised to the Queensland people on behalf of the LNP, in October 2011, in the wake of revelations the LNP dirt unit had dug up information about Labor figures, delivering dossiers – which included details about MPs' sex lives – to then campaign director James McGrath. It was reported the dirt unit had begun operations while John-Paul Langbroek, was leader of the party.

Mr Newman said at the time that he had spoken to the president of the Queensland LNP executive, Bruce McIver and made it very clear that such activities were entirely unacceptable. He added that he had ordered the dossiers be shredded and that policies, procedures and training be put into place to ensure that no candidate or campaign officials were involved in such tactics in the future.

Mr McIver appeared much more relaxed about the revelations, saying that the dossiers would not be shredded, but "inappropriate" personal comments would be removed. It is unclear what "policies, procedures and training" Mr McIver and the LNP executive has put in place, or indeed what other steps have been taken in the wake of the 2011 revelations.

Mr Newman resisted calls at the time to sack the officials involved. Mr McIver remains LNP president to this day; John-Paul Langbroek is the deputy opposition leader and James McGrath now sits as a Queensland LNP senator in the Federal Parliament.

There are some indications the dirt unit either survived the ructions of October 2011, or another was set up in its place.

In July 2013, it was reported that senior LNP figures had compiled a "dirt file" on Broadwater MP, Ms Verity Barton, so concerned were they with the first-term MP’s poor performance. Subsequent leaks of Ms. Barton’s driving offences were made to the press in the lead up to the 31 January election.

The actions of the LNP in relation to the Billy Gordon affair are a further strong indication that a dirt unit is indeed still hard at work, with the consequences now including damage to children who are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

It is time for Mr Springborg MP to declare whether he agrees with the sentiments of the former leader Campbell Newman that such activities will not be tolerated and to demand of Mr McIver that proper steps are taken to prevent a recurrence.

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