One wan Liberal remarked the position was offered to Cafagna only because Petro Georgiouâ€™s preferred choice â€“ John Pilger â€“ was busy in London helping spring master-hacker and America-hater Julian Assange from prison.
The appointment itself drew probably unwanted attention to the fact the new government would be employing spin-doctors at all having pledged to end the era of spin they say prevailed in the previous government.
LEFTY CRITIC TURNED TORY SPINNER
The presenter of the Friday night programme Stateline has bagged Labor repeatedly from a left or ultra-left-wing perspective in the years she fronted and scripted the little-watched programme whose stories would often get picked up by her husband Paul Austin, the Ageâ€™s chief state politics reporter Paul Austin the following Monday morning.
The themes â€“ or obsessions â€“ of the dynamic duo were things like government spin, accountability, planning processes, political fundraising, usually imagined â€œcorruptionâ€ in Labor local councils and other matters that are frequently the subject of intense inner-city dinner-party conversation around town.
All of it the stuff of niggling nightmares for any government spinner.
THAT WAS THEN THIS IS NOW
Nothing wrong with serving up to your tiny audience exactly what they want but Stateline really was a remarkably indulgent programme, rarely exploring real issues that actually shifted votes or genuinely impacted on life in Victoria.
The decision by Premier Ted Baillieu to appoint her as the Premierâ€™s private office head of strategic communications is extraordinary in that context, given the stridently left-wing or puritan views as expressed on the programme every Friday night for several years. While it presented as news, a lot of opinion was emitted too. A lot of narky, whiny, bleating lefty opinion slagging high-density development, hating the Grand Prix, finding corruption in every ho-hum local council, it really was a dreadful show, so dreadful we rarely watched it but would frequently hear summaries of the latest unpleasantness.
Suggestions that Ms Cafagna is deep-down a conservative Catholic woman from those who know her donâ€™t really sit very well with the show she fronted for years. Even in this house of occasional over-statement, it is hard to over-state how preachy lefty Stateline has been.
RADICAL DECISION CRITICISED
It will be interesting to see just how sustainable the appointment turns out to be, sheâ€™s certainly vulnerable to criticism.
The first wave of it, the question of how sheâ€™d deal with her hubby Paul Austin, has been dealt with following an edict from his boss Paul Ramadge that Austin would be immediately removed from his post as chief state political reporter at The Age and moved into an unspecified â€œsenior roleâ€. Many at The Age think that means heâ€™s leaving, taking what is reputed to be a very big redundancy and shuffling off into the lefty sunset. He wonâ€™t be forced out, while he doesnâ€™t spend much time in the Aged newsroom, he seems to enjoy a good reputation around there. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Given Austinâ€™s close â€“ albeit weird â€“ late-night phone call relationship with the unexpected Premier Ted Baillieu, his move away from state political reporting is a blow for The Age and sets the stage for a little battle royal between David â€œRodneyâ€ Rood and Royce Millar who would both fancy themselves as Austin successors. Some think feisty little comrade Farrah Tomazin might muscle back into the state gallery giving The Ageâ€™s coverage an even leftier edge.
Most Liberals we spoke with on the issue today were aghast. Some believe the hand of Petro Georgiou was involved in the decision, an ominous prospect for those who fear Baillieu faction foes are being centrally vetoed from consideration in the hiring of ministerial staff. No Liberal was claiming the idea though today as their own.
While itâ€™s not unusual for PMâ€™s or Premiers to meddle a little in ministerial staff choices, itâ€™s considered to be unprecedented to have all staff centrally chosen by the Premierâ€™s office and then allocated out to ministers. Itâ€™s caused great delay in the process, with many empty ministerial offices apparently, compelling proof perhaps that the ministerial staff were not quite half as vital to the running of the state as they once thought. In any event, the Libs say they intend to hire many fewer staff than Brumbyâ€™s large crew.
But this appointment is strange. Josephine Cafagna is no doubt a role model to some young female journalists whom she mentored and offered polite encouragement. That might help her manage relationships with them but many of the more red-meat feasting men at tabloid oriented outlets, the Herald Sun, the television news and others are expected to regard Cafagna as a weird choice, according to industry insiders. Can she win them over?
Does it speak to the strategic direction of the government, some Liberals wondered today. Other questions lurked. Were Josephine Cafagna and her hubby Paul Austin the only senior journos in Baillieuâ€™s circle of trust? Was it a payoff for a disgracefully biased effort in the John Lenders-Kim Wells â€œdebateâ€? Will Cafagna have the requisite combination of charm, menace, news-sense and common-touch required to position the government in the best possible light for the next four years?
Sheâ€™s certainly not the obvious choice. Labor people â€“ mistakenly assuming all ABC people to be sistas in leftism â€“ felt initially betrayed today but then were puzzled at the Liberals direction, with winning over inner-city ABC Stateline viewers not really being seen as much of a priority for the new government. Assuming the ex 3AW reporter has no popular news-sense though is probably not quite right, although she has been out of that zone for a long time and might be seen as a little pious and preachy for many now in the craft.
Her new job pays well, around the $200,000 per annum mark, it is believed, representing a vast pay-rise for the ABC reporter. Because itâ€™s Christmas, weâ€™ll wish her luck. Sheâ€™ll need it.