PM defends right to scrutinise MPs

EXPOSING Coalition MPs for buying shares in coalmines while they were warning the carbon tax would kill the coal industry showed that digging into the opposition’s affairs was warranted, Julia Gillard said.

The Prime Minister defended her government yesterday against revelations that a so-called ”dirt unit” was operating in her office.

The ABC reported that Ms Gillard’s director of strategy, Nick Reece, recently convened a meeting of ministerial staffers and distributed a spread sheet and a ”to-do” list on collating information about Coalition frontbenchers.

It spoke of digging up details from their ”younger days”, and scrutinising social media, articles in student newspapers, study trip reports, conducting company searches and looking for instances of past and present litigation.

”Dirt units” are commonplace in politics but it is unusual for one to be linked directly to the prime minister’s office. The fact that these instructions were put in writing has raised fresh doubts about Ms Gillard’s office, which has been the subject of much internal criticism.

The revelation coincided with the announcement that Mr Reece will leave the Prime Minister’s office and take up a fellowship at the University of Melbourne’s school of social and political sciences.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said the revelation showed the government was ”seriously ethically challenged”. ”I think it is typical of this government that a dirt unit should be operating not somewhere in the bowels of Labor Party headquarters but in the office of the Prime Minister herself,” he said.

Ms Gillard said she had not seen the documents distributed by Mr Reece but she defended the right to scrutinise political opponents.

”The Opposition Leader has said [the carbon tax] will be the end of the coal industry – over, done and dusted – no one will mine coal in this country,” she said. ”And yet opposition members have been buying shares in coal mining companies. Now, I thing people are entitled to know that, just so they can weigh the worth of those doom and gloom claims.”

Mr Abbott repeated his pledge to abolish the carbon tax.

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