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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

political heat and bluster « Previous | |Next »
June 22, 2009

As we know the global recession had forced financiers to tighten lending, leaving many car dealers in danger of losing crucial financial support. Hence the yet-to-be-established OzCar finance facility. One fallout from the Rudd Government efforts to establish alternative financing for car dealers when two major financiers threatened to pull out of Australia at the height of the global credit crisis is the so-called OzCar affair or ute-gate.

Ute-gate refers to the Coalition's allegations of a favour for a mate (namely, Ipswich car dealer John Grant, a friend and political donor who lent a 1996 Mazda ute to the PM's electoral office for use as an electoral vehicle) by both the PM and Treasurer. Both are alleged to have helped to arrange finance from Treasury and to have misled Parliament about this, by understating their contact with, and support of, John Grant's attempts to find substitute financing for his business.

Little evidence has been presented to justify the allegations. Firstly, the Coalition does not have the alleged email from from Rudd's economic adviser Andrew Charlton to Treasurer Wayne Swan's office and to Treasury official Godwin Grech. Said email does not appear to exist at this stage, despite the clams of News Ltd journalists. Secondly, the case against Swan is circumstantial, in that the public emails show Grech reporting back to Swan and his office in regular detail about Grant's case, but Grant did not receive any finance for his dealership.

Not withstanding this, the Coalition is calling for the resignation of both Rudd and Swan for having mislead Parliament. At this stage it's still heat and bluster. On the basis of an email Turnbull says he doesn't have he has demanded the resignation of Kevin Rudd. The federal police and Auditor-General have been called in to ascertain the status of the missing email. So it's all sound and fury at this point by both the Coalition and News Corp newspapers.

That leaves the patronage and special treatment case against Swan in the spotlight. The case is thin. Godwin Grech in Treasury said he devoted considerable time and effort because he knew that Grant wasn’t any "normal constituent". Did Swan intervene on behalf of the Prime Minister's friend? Did Swan intervene on behalf of the Prime Minister's friend? If so, was Swan just acting like any MP and directing a constituent to the relevant agency as he claims? Did he lobby for taxpayer funds to be given to a car dealership in difficulty?

So we have the question of whether it is about process or outcomes. Did John Grant get preferential treatment is the question. There are emails showing two other car dealers got handled the same way. So was this preferential treatment just standard political procedure in a liberal democracy?

Once again, it is still mostly heat and bluster. However, heat and political bluster often results in burns and wounds. People get hurt and there blood on the floor. It is still unclear, at this stage, who will get hurt-----Rudd, Swan or Turnbull. Things will start sorting themselves out as information comes to light from the investigations by the Australian Federal Police and the National Audit Office.

Calling this a 'political crisis'--as do some News Ltd journalists--- is playing fast and lose with language. It's only a political crisis in the feverish imaginations of the media arm of the Liberal Party.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:03 AM | | Comments (28)
Comments

Comments

News Ltd opinion writers are the Fox network of Australian media. The Daily Telegraph printed the email in last Saturday’s newspaper, later conceding that it was never actually sighted. The reporter in question, Steve Lewis, claims that it was read to him over the phone by a “primary source”.It was never actually sighted. The Daily Telegraph implied that it was in possession of the electronic or printed version of the email, whilst Lewis implied that the email was a fact.

I thought it would all be forgotten in a few weeks but from the latest news it looks like there might have been some amateurish conspiring within Treasury to fabricate an anti-Rudd story. Hard to see how that can damage Labor and it would be nice to see a journalist or two held to the fire to justify zero fact-checking before they publish their anonymous stories.

Maybe Turnbull will be the biggest loser, if the received wisdom becomes that he was a gullible dupe.

It is standard political practice in Canberra that Government backbenchers and mates of the Government get preferential treatment from bureaucrats, at the request of Ministers.

It is how the political system works in our liberal democracy. Just look at the preferential treatment given to Big Carbon--billions of dollars in handouts---who's public rhetoric is one of doom and gloom for them. Where's the outcry there from the always outraged Murdoch Press?

What we have is the Coalition is going on about one email that does not appear to exist. It's a beatup. The charge that Swan corruptly gave Grant preferential treatment only makes sense if he was doing so at Rudd’s behest.

John Grant was looked after, even though he did not receive any financial assistance either from OzCar or Ford Credit. It's normal political procedure to look after constituents.

Ken,
the email saga is pretty trivial stuff, if the issue is about Rudd accepting a gift (a ute) from a friend and neighbour, car dealer John Grant who also happened to be a petitioner. Or even whether Rudd or Swan helped the donor to access government largesse for his dealership. OzCar, the finance facility, doesn't even exist! All we have is an alleged email supposedly sent from Kevin Rudd’s advisor Andrew Charlton to Treasury’s Godwin Grech as the smoking gun.

If the email exists it's been archived and heavily protected as a matter of course. So it can be found.

The plot thickens. Apparently the AFP is now investigating the role that someone in Turnbull's office - an ex-Treasury official - might have played in fabricating the email.

No doubt this will be interpreted by the diehard conservatives as very bad news for Rudd and Swan.

It certainly is trivial, but it's enough to end at least one person's career. It's now being suggested that the email exists, is a forgery, and originated from someone associated with Turnbull's office.

The substance of the thing, the OzCar bits, misleading parliament and so on, will all be irrelevant if a link to Turnbull is found.

The opposition don't currently look like a terribly comfortable group of people.

Yep, it now looks as if the disputed email on Godwin Grech's computer was a fake--it was created by a person or persons other than the purported author of the email, namely Rudd's economic adviser Andrew Charlton. The email had been found on the Treasury computer system which had been sent to the home account of Mr Grech.

That knocks a hole in the Coalition's attack on Rudd. Moreover, Swan didn't give preferential treatment to John Grant because he was a mate of Rudd's and Rudd's office asked him to.

News Ltd took the bait, hook line and sinker. What Eric Abetz did was read a fake email into the Senate records. He obviously takes what he reads in the Murdoch Press at face value. It didn't occur to him that what he read was a mockup of a fake. This is news as mass deception. Truth has no meaning for News Ltd----they are the Fox News of Australia.

The Coalition has shifted its ground, and it's attack is directed at a "corrupt" Swan who, it is alleged, has given preferential treatment to John Grant and to have bought a used car from the Ipswich dealer. The argument appears to be that because Swan bought a used car from Grant he gives Grant preferential treatment. It's pretty thin.

I watched Parliament for a while on ABC-normal proceedings had been suspended to allow the "utegate" debate. The Coalition from the bits that I saw is bluff and bluster. They are putting on a tough front---but it is not convincing. It appears that someone has taken them for a ride.

Lyn
re your comment---"It certainly is trivial, but it's enough to end at least one person's career". Well it won't be Rudds, will it. Swan looks to have plenty of cover--as they say. That leaves Turnbull in the middle, badly damaged.

He's fighting on. He now says that his case does not rest on the alleged email etc. etc --Swan must come clean.

Turnbull is now left with the challenge of arguing that even though his accusations against Rudd were a demonstrably false load of malicious rubbish based on a forged document that might have come from his office, his accusations against Swan are nevertheless totally fair dinkum and deserving of serious attention.

I wish him luck.

Ken,
The trail of the fake email looks to led to a Treasury computer (not Godwin Grech), so your suggestion that there may be some amateurish conspiring within Treasury to fabricate an anti-Rudd story is still standing.

Yeah I also think that Coalition are struggling to get the mud to stick to Swan. At this stage there is more mud landing on them. Hockey is looking more and more like a fool. They have little choice but to brazen things out to retain their credibility as they slowly withdraw behind the fog of allegations---Swan lied outright to Parliament, he should be sacked etc etc.

the News Ltd media have a lot to answer for. They have been found to be passing off fakes for the real thing. Their desire to cause a political crisis and bring down Rudd + Co by d feeding the Liberal Party meant that they were trafficking in deception.

It is all too much to keep up with if you are too busy to keep up with the news cycle. Probably not a bad thing going from the little bit I've seen. It doesn't fill me with confidence that the Liberal Party has any talent to tackle the challenges ahead the next time they are in power though, so it is all the more incumbent on Rudd & co to do things now, while they are still riding high.

Brent don't worry. You don't need to ---reading headlines will do----"Liberals back peddle";"Liberals on the defensive" etc. Ken Lovell has an interesting post on CEO's as politicians that affirms your judgment.

Ken,
Why didn't Turnbull just concentrate on Swan in the first place? He had a more solid case. Some of the mud would have stuck.Now the momentum the Liberal leader had in his attack is long lost.

The new email evidence about the efforts to find alternative finance for the two dealers does not disprove the allegation that Swan and his office gave Grant special treatment. It does muddy the case against Swan, which is now surrounded by all the Government spin over the fake email fog.

Why does the PM need a free ute for his electoral office? Why does a millionaire politician need a free ute from a car salesman? That is political patronage. A little window into the way that our political culture is greased by freebies.

It's thrilling theatre over what boils down to MPs doing what they're supposed to do - wangle whatever they can for their constituents. That parliamentarians have to play down that aspect of their roles is really quite silly.

If the constituent in question had been a school principal trying to get a govt grant, or a car manufacturer, or a major polluting industry, nobody bats an eye.

Still, even if it has all been over something as ridiculous as a ute salesman and an email, it was an attempt to bring down the prime minister and possibly his democratically elected government. No wonder nobody noticed the alcopops bill getting passed.

And the opposition was doing the job it is required to do in a liberal democracy----holding the government to account as best as they can. Notwithstanding the political excess (demanding resignations all around) Turnbull has been able to use what came his way and he tried to make the best use of it. The case against Rudd---misleading Parliament based on conflicting evidence---is no longer there.

There are suggestions floating around that Grech was the source for both the Liberals and News Ltd. This, on top of suggestions he wrote the email himself, adds up to something rather nasty.

Apparently Joe Hockey rang Grech on the weekend. This has a way to go yet, but if dots keep connecting in this way, losing the last election will start to look like tea and small cakes for the opposition.

I guess that the connections between Goodwin Grech and the Coalition are a matter of speculation and innuendo at this point. It is hard to imagine that a well respected public servant would have a hand in constructing fake emails that are leaked to the Liberals. But then again, stranger things have happened.

Hard to imagine for a reasonable person, Gary, but media hysteria has been an important part of all this. Apparently Grech's house has been egged, so connections are being made whether they're reasonable or not.

Last week a reasonable person would have found it hard to imagine Malcolm Turnbull trying to bring down the prime minister with an unverified email. This week, anything goes.

And now, according to Our ABC, Grech is a long-time Liberal informant going back to their days in government. Why the Libs would need spies in the public service when they were in government is an interesting question in itself. However it might explain Joe's solicitude.

Originally I thought this would all be a nine day wonder but now it looks like the Libs' ineptitude could keep us all entertained for weeks.

Fresh from Tony Jones' astounding interview with an unrepentant Joe Hockey; surrogate for others now hiding so shamefacedly in their coward's castles. Joe arrogantly declared his loyalty rests exclusively with his close party mates; right or wrong.
This is, rather than the people who pay his wages, who he purports to greatfully and humbly represent, the Australian public.
So can only confess the stunned, heart-felt admiration as to the utter prescience of Nan's "Ute (Neanderthal) Man" thesis released within these threads within the matter of a fortnight or so ago and backed enthusiastically by Lyn from the inception.
Cannot recall something as pitiful as the current stunt perpetrated, then so easily and emphatically unmasked, or as malicious.
What sane person would now ever even consider voting for psychopaths like these?

Lyn,
you are right. The plot deepens.

Goodwin Grech, a believer in the positive power of the market, is up to his neck in linkages with the Liberals. A trusted source (one of them) in Treasury who provided good information-- a "Treasury mole" who has been involved in leaking material to the Opposition over the past 18 months. No wonder Turnbull trusted the email and did not question its veracity and built his case against Rudd and Swan on the email.

How come Grech sent a fake email to Turnbull? Was Grech set up? Or did he construct the email?

Paul,
I saw the Lateline interview as well Hockey was on the defensive as he was under fire from Tony Jones. Reveal your sources demanded Jones. Spill the beans on the Liberals contacts with Grech. Cone clean now.

I can smell blood on the floor.

Ken,
I'd wondered why the Liberals said such nice things about Grech after his appearance at Senate estimates. Now we know. he was one of them. So the tortured performance in the Senate estimates. Was that real or acting? Are the AFP implying that Goodwin Grech had admitted to concocting the email?

Poor Joe Hockey. Tony Jones was in death squad mode last night.

The Liberals haven't done anything wrong, unless there's some connection with the bad email, but the inferences are pretty terrible.

You've been spying on the government using a plant who's a funny looking bloke with an odd name, under police investigation, and you're withholding information.

It sounds a lot nastier than it actually is.

Mind you, if a Grech had been discovered during Howard's tenure he would have had the medieval treatment by now, pliers, electrodes etc. He wouldn't be requiring a manicure for quite some time.

Lyn,
yes, it is ironic that the Liberals are now rightly defending access to, and contacts with, public servants and keeping their sources secret when they undertook witch hunts whilst in power under Howard.