Labor staffers in ministerial offices have been asked to dig dirt on Coalition frontbenchers as the Government prepares to go on to a campaign footing, AM has learned.
Ministerial staffers have been asked to dig up details on political opponents' "younger days", social media posts, articles in student newspapers, and past and present litigation.
Labor ministers have also been told to be on a campaign footing from next month amid a period of intensifying political attacks inside and outside Parliament.
There is disquiet within Labor ranks about the request, with one member of the Government telling AM it is aimed at "looking for (*)(*)(*)(*) on Labor's opponents".
The Labor MP described the office of Julia Gillard's director of strategy, Nick Reece, as "a dirt unit," saying such activities should not be associated with the Prime Minister's office.
A few weeks ago, just as Fair Work Australia was finishing its lengthy investigation into the Health Services Union and allegations MP Craig Thomson misused his union credit cards, AM has been told ministerial staffers - one from each office - were called to a meeting.
Labor sources say Mr Reece then distributed a "to-do" list for gathering information on Coalition frontbenchers.
It included their "younger days", maiden speeches, ministerial records, study trips, fundraising, pecuniary interests, associated travel reports, companies they may be involved in, and "potential issues" such as litigation.
It was accompanied by a spreadsheet on where to get the information, including newspaper opinion pieces, company searches, student newspapers and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
It is not known if the Government intended to use it, or how.
Mr Reece referred AM to the Prime Minister's media unit, which has declined to make any comment.
AM understands party insiders were told last night Mr Reece, a former state secretary for the Victorian Labor Party and campaign director, has quit his job to take up an academic post.
He will leave the Prime Minister's office next month.
Know your enemy
This morning Ms Gillard said it would not be surprising if the Government was conducting research on Opposition MPs, but said she had not seen the document.
"I think scrutiny of things like Opposition members buying shares in coal mining companies at the same time that they're running round telling people that coal mining will end in this country - that's a piece of information people are entitled to have," the Prime Minister said.
But that view is not shared by all in the party.
One Labor insider said the "dirt unit" was a job for the Labor Party rather than the Government, while a senior minister, while unaware of it at the time, called it a bad omen for where federal politics is heading.
But another viewed it as unremarkable, pointing out all governments do it, and ministers should know their opponents.
Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the Government is "seriously ethically challenged" and says he is not surprised someone within the Prime Minister's office was tasking ministerial staff with digging dirt.
"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.
The Reece exercise comes on top of a unit run by the caucus communications team operating under the aegis of the Special Minister of State Gary Gray, which trains Labor staffers to monitor Mr Abbott's front bench.
Manager of Government Business Anthony Albanese recently expressed concern about the tenor of Parliament, accusing the Coalition of peddling vicious rumours about Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.
He has also accused the Coalition of relentlessly piling the pressure on the embattled Mr Thomson and Labor's choice of Speaker, Peter Slipper.
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I don`t know what everyone else thinks, but I don`t want my hard earned tax dolars to be spent in this way. Australia, although a wealthy country (presently) needs to spend it`s money wisely. This type of wast, in my opinion, is a selfish and inappropriate way to waste our resources. We should have some say in these matters. With internet access so readily available, there should be an effective and ecconomical way for us to voice our displeasure, and hold government accountable.