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

Canberra gaze « Previous | |Next »
August 4, 2009

Turnbull and the Liberals are going to have some trouble putting the OzCar affair behind them and moving on to greener fields of economics and deteriorating budget fundamentals. Hope springs eternal I guess, even though the storm clouds are massing.

Ozgate is still now, and it is lead in the saddle. A very sick Godwin Grech, the Treasury official who testified before a Senate committee that he recalled an email from the PM’s office about John Grant, has admitted writing the fake email. Australian Story, which was filming in Turnbull’s office when the story broke that the fake email had been found at Grech’s house, showed the shock and bewilderment within the office. They had thought the email was real.


Unfortunately for Turnbull Grech said he handed a printout of the email's contents to Mr Turnbull and Senate deputy leader Eric Abetz -- which he later took back -- at a meeting at his wife Lucy Turnbull's office in Sydney's Potts Point on June 12, one week before Grech's evidence before a Senate inquiry. Turnbull must have thought that he'd struck gold-- the means to land a killer blow on Rudd.

Even worse for Turnbull, Grech wrote down a series of questions for the Opposition Leader to ask in parliament concerning Rudd's statements that he had not sought special favours for John Grant, the Ipswich car dealer.

Grech also says he never authorised anyone to publish, report, comment or discuss the contents of the email, which he showed Turnbull and which he discussed in a telephone conversation with a journalist that Turnbull arranged. The Liberals sacrificed him.

Turnbull has been damaged by Ozgate and more fallout can be expected in the future from the up-close-and-personal nature of his involvement with Grech. The favourable presentation of Malcolm in the soft sell of Australian Story has already been swept away by Grech saying that Turnbull was deeply and personally involved in the release of what he believed to be an email that could bring down the Prime Minister.

A betrayed Grech is going to be sacrificed by the Liberals in full damage control mode. Turnbull's defence had been built around Grech's public testimony at the Senate hearing, not previewing the email. They will throw as much doubt as they can on Grech's central defence that he gave them information in the hope that it would assist the passage of the emergency car financing bill.

The Auditor General's Ozgate report clears Rudd and Swan, and points the finger at Godwin Grech. However, it is also heavily critical of Treasury for allowing Grech to be under huge pressure to deliver the dealer finance program by himself. The delays in establishing the program because of a lack of resources helped to create the situation in which Grech was asked to find private finance for dealers and this opened the situation to political referrals from MPs.

Grech writes in his response that Treasury did not reduce his workload adequately - despite the fact that he was hospitalised repeatedly to deal with a small bowel obstruction, kidney disease, osteoporosis and a metabolic bone disease. Other parts of his response indicates that he judges Turnbull used him to attack Labor's crony capitalism until he became toxic, and has now discarded him like a used rag. Betrayal.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:22 AM | | Comments (31)


The judgment of the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann on Australian Story on the treatment of Godwin Grech, the Treasury official who testified before a Senate committee that he recalled an email from the PM’s office about John Grant.

Godwin Grech was someone who has been giving good information to the Liberal Party for a long time, but he was someone that Malcolm Turnbull was willing to sacrifice to ensure that the Prime Minister was badly damaged or destroyed. And that struck me as very, very cold-blooded.

And Grech was a Liberal friend, giving them good information over the years.

it does appear that Godwin Grech has defended himself by dumping on the Liberals. Fair enough, they betrayed him by exposing him. In doing so the Liberals reneged on their obligation to honour Grech's wish that the material not be published and then made public at the Senate inquiry.

I feel sorry for Goodwin Grech, who suffers from poor health. He was working 75-85 hours a week running the OzCar programand expected to deliver the Rudd government's OzCar program almost single-handedly. Grech said he was "desperate" to see the bill pass:

I was under strong pressure from my bosses to land OzCar and was being told that I was taking too long and the whole thing was resembling the hospital with no patients made famous in the Yes Minister series

He was given no extra resources to deliver on the scheme and legislation by his Treasury bosses.

From the linked story in 'The Australian': 'Mr Grech said he made an error of judgment in faking the now notorious email'.

Nothing so serious as an immoral or unethical or unprincipled action - just 'an error of judgement'. Useful insight into prevailing standards of conduct in Canberra.

The Libs' defence seems to be that they let a sick public servant tell them how to run their affairs. Somehow I doubt that will impress political tragics as evidence of competence and as for the general populace, well "Ha that Turnbull's a bit of a goose" may well be the lasting impression from the affair.

Grech still maintains that there had been an original email from Charlton in Kevin Rudd's office, urging help for Ipswich car dealer and Labor donor John Grant. Unable to find the email on his Treasury email system when asked by his Treasury boss, he fabricated the communication based on what he said was his recollection.

Why do that? Why not say he couldn't find it.

'Error of judgment' would have to be one of the great understatements of all time. As Ken suggests, it makes you wonder whether such errors of judgment are fairly routine. Grech seems to think that the exposure of the fake email was the worst part of the Libs behaviour.

Great night of TV on the ABC last night. Abetz should be in more trouble than he is, as far as I can see. Lucy and Daisy Turnbull appear to be running the opposition. If Turnbull is guilty of over reach it's as much Lucy and Daisy's responsibility as it is his. And a media adviser who has to look up 'concocted' in the the dictionary. What a circus.

Costello was in his element on Lateline. It's like he couldn't be bothered hating Turnbull. He seems to find him ridiculous in that Liberal snob way.

All round, some of the most fun politics we've seen in a long while. And quite a contrast with the ALP convention last week.

I wonder how it looks from a general populace point of view. I don't think 'bit of a goose' would quite cover it.

Costello can say what he likes about Turnbull and the Liberal Party on Lateline, now that he has pulled the plug. I'm not sure that anyone is really listening to his pearls of wisdom anymore.

Or that many are hanging out to read the two extra chapters in the paperback edition of his book. He struck me as spicing up his remarks about Turnbull to sell his book.

True Gary,

I'd like a dollar for every time he said, I write about this in my book.

He was so relaxed on Lateline last night there's some speculation over at the Poll Bludger that he was in his cups, perhaps after dinner with Michael Brissendon.

Reports are coming out in bits and pieces, but it looks as though Turnbull is getting beyond toast and into cinders territory.

The AG report clears Rudd and Swan of preferential treatment, but finds Grech giving a Liberal supporting dealer preferential treatment.

Turnbull had seen the email, though he said he hadn't, Grech coached Turnbull on what questions to ask in parliament, Turnbull set up the Grech interview with Steve Lewis. On and on it goes.

I'm no email guru, just know enough to get by....

But I was wondering how hard it is to get a fake email onto a server and have it look like it comes from SOMEONE ELSE. Is that an easy thing to do?

dunno --use different computers? But how do you fake that it came from Charlton's computer in PMO when it was done in a computer in Treasury? I have no idea.

Grech does says that, unable to find the purported Charlton email -- ( did a Treasury IT error delete it from backup tapes?) -- he thought it was a good idea to make a record of the content of the email he believed he had received from the PMO. However, for some reason, the record was made to resemble an email itself.

Making a file note describing his memory of a communication from the PMO would have been perfectly acceptable, even if his memory was faulty. But mocking it up into an email is a whole different ball game.

Did the workload on Grech make him snap? If so, then Grech's faking of the email would leave lots of trails.

The IP would identify which computer it came from, though not who was using that computer at the time, obviously.

It is possible to hack into an email account, but I believe much easier if it's web hosted like Hotmail than buried somewhere behind the kinds of firewalls you'd expect from Treasury.


From a technical perspective, forging the message is really easy but forging the delivery path is quite tough. I can easily change the From address of an email but I can't easily hide the addresses of all the computers that handled it during delivery.

One of the first things you do when investigating email fraud is look at which computers were involved. If you can see that the location of the computer(s) used to send the email doesn't match up with the supposed sender's machine(s), you can be fairly comfortable there's a problem.

Turnbull is being circled for sure. The ALP can smell blood. The early Liberal defence ---ie., that Turnbull didn't know that the email was faked--is rather lame because it doesn't touch the core issue--Turnbull's lack of humanity in his relationship with a fragile Goodwin Grech. That raises all the character stuff the Liberals are so fond of running with re leadership as well as dirty hands.

However, I'm not persuaded that Turnbull is dead meat hanging in the breeze. He's wounded, but like James Bond he can fight on against the Labor spin machine and attack dogs.

That the faked email was picked up so quickly by the AFP must have meant that the location of the computer(s) used to send the email in Treasury didn't match up with the supposed sender's machine(s)--Charltons in PMO.

Before everyone gets too carried away for the role of Godwin Grech, take a good look at the man himself and his artful performance at Senate hearings. He gave the impression of having information dragged from him but from what we know of his role in the matter he was at the forefront of it all. His comments in today's news has all the hallmarks of laying the foundation for a compensation claim against the Treasury (and us taxpayers). The timelines don't match and there is blurring between statements advanced. A much more devious person than would appear - good match for Malcolm Turnbull. By the way, does anyone know where Steve Lewis the journalist has disappeared to? What is his evidence as to timing etc?

"I'm not persuaded that Turnbull is dead meat hanging in the breeze."

I've changed my mind on that during the day too. Rudd's response to media questions was dismissive. Turnbull's problems are more likely to be internal party problems than public political theatre ones. Rudd recognises that the public doesn't respond well to the drama stuff and Turnbull doesn't recognise his own party is more of a challenge for him than Rudd.

It would be good to have some decent opposition, but it doesn't look like that's happening anytime soon.

re your comment about Godwin Grech:

take a good look at the man himself and his artful performance at Senate hearings. He gave the impression of having information dragged from him but from what we know of his role in the matter he was at the forefront of it all.

That's how I read the Senate performance too the first time round with Senator Eric Abetz being the ever so artful questioner. Grech was doing his best to play it straight (avoid lying) without dumping the Government in it, and only doing so reluctantly and under great pressure. I suspected that Abetz knew more than he was letting on because the nature of the questions asked implied some kind of fore-knowledge.

I saw that Senate footage again last night. In the light of Grech being the author of the faked email Grech's painful performance looked more like a man realizing that he was on the way to rack and ruin. The discomfit came from his awareness that the Liberals had dumped him in it, by exposing him to the full flare of the spotlight in order to King hit Rudd and Swan.The deal had been that the Liberals would not go public with the (faked) email.

Of course, Grech's performance can be interpreted in a number of ways depending on our perspectives and knowledge of the events.

Turnbull's defence is that it is all Godwin Grech's fault--he orchestrated the whole campaign! And the Liberals just fell into line behind the pied piper enchanted with the tune being played!

Malcolm his Grech's bunny---can you believe it. What's happened to all the Opposition dissembling on this?

I don't believe there was ever an original email, frankly.

Large bureaucracies (both public and private sector) host email (including everyone's account details, in and out emails, etc) on a fairly secure server which is regularly backed up. If the original email ever existed, it would have been found on at least one backup tape.

Ooh, Gary, that's the first time I've seen anyone say they were suspicious of Grech from the start. Suspicious of Abetz I can understand, but I'm with Emily - he turns out to be a much more devious person than expected.

Turnbull is now waving around emails to show Grech was the culprit all along. It's all so kids' mystery thriller, where the weird looking, cardigan wearing guy from the bowels of the gargantuan but anonymous public service turns out to be the baddie. I was so hoping it would turn out to be Abetz. Damn.

"By the way, does anyone know where Steve Lewis the journalist has disappeared to? What is his evidence as to timing etc?"

Good question.

Godwin Grech fooled the whole nation with his disarming way, even conning the hard-nosed Senator Eric Abetz? My my. How come Grech is in a psychiatric ward in Canberra suffering from deep depression? Shouldn't Grech be the joker who played everyone hook, line and sinker and has the big laugh at taking them all for a ride along the yellow brick road?

The gLibs had a "chk chk boom" chick in Treasury. Outstanding! Someone with the courage to call things as they see them, even when they don't.

So... dya reckon Grech had the technology smarts to fake Charlton's name in the "FROM" field of the message? Nice trick, that.

yep---Malcolm's response is to defend and deflect. A lawyer's defence to exonerate himself. Turnbull twists the knife into Godwin Grech in a bid to salvage his leadership.

A partisan Grech does seem to have fancied himself as a player in this. This is a far cry from the old independent bureaucracy offering frank and fearless advice.

David Irving (no relation)---I'm inclined to agree with you that Grech's claim that "I had received an email from Andrew Charlton … regarding John Grant on or about February 19, 2009’’ has no basis.

He claims he deleted it and it became impossible to recover because ‘‘for some unexplained reason’’ Treasury’s computer backup system failed about the time he recalled receiving the email. So he rewrote the email to create ‘‘a record of exchange’’.

As things stand all we have is this "‘record of exchange’’ reconstructed as the original email---a fiction. Talk about the virtual reality ---it confirms Baudrillard's claims that modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that the human experience is of a simulation of reality rather than reality itself.

The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are signs of culture and media that create the perceived reality; Baudrillard believed that society has become so reliant on simulacra that it has lost contact with the real world on which the simulacra are based.

The mainstream commentators paint Godwin Grech as a strange, disturbing figure as distinct from a partisan, senior bureaucrat aligned with the Liberal party and who saw himself as one of them.

Partisan senior bureaucrat's became the normal during the decade of Liberal Rule in Canberra. So it is poetic justice that the Liberals have been tripped up by their own creation.

I wonder how the other Liberal senior bureaucrats are feeling at the moment?

be wary of helping Malcolm Turnbull.

what is to be gained by being an active, deep Liberal Party throat in the federal bureaucracy post Grech other than sacrifice?

Turnbull 's defence of his use of Grech's material is based on lies, about when he used the material (rather than the Liberals) and his relationship to Grech, clever legal distinctions (he admits to having an “abbreviated note” of the contents of the email, while still insisting that he did not have a copy), and smokescreens (he says that he was accused of forging the email) to cover up his role in the dissemination and use of the email.

At no stage has he shown any inclination to protect his sources.

Gary in fairness, the politicisation of the public service began before Howard took office. It was rife in both the Hawke/Keating and Wran Governments. Liberals like Howard and Greiner just built on an existing trend.

It was probably inevitable. The old conventions depended on nothing more substantial than a bipartisan commitment to a particular set of political values and principles. Human beings have a poor record of maintaining commitments to abstract values once they cause substantial practical inconvenience. That is especially the case here when one can point to the self-proclaimed Leader of the Free World as an alternative model, with its civil service that has been highly politicised since its inception.

I take your point that:

the politicisation of the public service began before Howard took office. It was rife in both the Hawke/Keating and Wran Governments. Liberals like Howard and Greiner just built on an existing trend.

You are right. We are seeing some of the consequences now in the fall out in the relationship between the Liberals and Grech.

It's my understanding that Menzies and Rudd are the only two leaders who kept the public service staff they inherited. So you have to figure that partisanship is standard practice among the public service and governments alike.

As Ken points out, you can't realistically expect anything else but partisanship, given that human nature is what it is. And there is some merit in the argument that whistleblowers are generally a good thing, even though Grech stepped way over that line. But there has to be a happy medium somewhere. Maybe the public service could forfeit voting rights or something. If the Exclusive Brethren are excused on religious grounds....