Friday, June 19, 2009

OzCar...For want of a nail?

From little things big things grow. The question is, will the revelation by Treasury official Godwin Grech that the Prime Minister's office had contacted him about John Grant and the OzCar scheme lead to anything.

The Opposition will say it means Rudd has lied to Parliament - a serious breach. Last Wednesday Turnbull went full bore on Rudd about the matter. I admit I criticised him for it. Here are Rudd's responses:

Mr RUDD—The honourable member refers to a declaration of my pecuniary interests concerning I think an electorate vehicle, and that declaration has been there for some time. On the question of any representations concerning his company or any others, I will have to seek information and provide the honourable member with an answer. I am unaware of that, but should there be any further anything further to add I will do so.

Mr RUDD—I refer the honourable member to my answer to his first question, ... Secondly, I am unaware of any representations being made on behalf of this individual concerning the program to which the minister refers. I said in response to the honourable member’s first question that if there is anything further to add to that then I would provide him with an answer....
My recollection is that this is the only car dealer who has made such a representation to me; that is the occasion that I recall. If representations were subsequently made by my office concerning that particular dealership, it would be consistent with the representations that were made to me at that time. That is the sum total of my knowledge of it. If there were further to add to it, I would provide it to the honourable member rather than simply having the honourable member stand at the dispatch box and make insinuations.
On the question of the special purpose vehicle, let me say in response to some of the insinuations that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition: I have been advised that neither I nor my office have ever spoken with Mr Grant in relation to OzCar; (2) neither I nor my office have ever made any representations on his behalf; and (3) I have not been aware of any representations on his behalf made by anyone in the government, including the referral referred to before by the Treasurer’s office.

So the language is (as you would expect) all couched in "I am advised" terms. So technically if someone from his office has made representations on his (Grant's) behalf, then technically Rudd has not lied to Parliament.

But it is not a good look.

But there is also the problem that Treasury cannot actually find any email from Rudd's office to Treasury on the matter. All they have is Grech's recollection that he thinks he had received one:

My recollection may well be totally false and faulty - but my recollection, big qualification - is that there was a short email from the PMO [Prime Minister's Office] to me which very simply alerted me to the case of John Grant. But I don't have the email."

It appears that Grech told this to journalist Steven Lewis yesterday, which has led to the story. The problem is if there is an email - where is it - I seriously doubt Treasury would destroy any evidence of such a document on its server. So who was the email from? Was there an email or was there actually a phone call and Grech has got it mixed up?

The suggestion by the opposition is that the email came from Rudd's advisor Andrew Charlton. The problem is Charlton today put out a statement referring to a conversation he had with Turnbull Wednesday night at the annual mid-winter media ball, where Turnbull said he was lying about not having contacted Treasury over the matter. In his statement Charlton says the following conversation occurred:

TURNBULL: Andrew, integrity is very important in a man's career. That is why I encourage you, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the pressure, not to lie.

CHARLTON: Thank you for that advice. I don't feel any pressure to lie.

TRUNBULL: This whole Ozcar issue will be very damaging for you. Let me just give you some friendly advice. You should not lie to protect your boss.

CHARLTON: I have not.

TURNBULL: You know and I know there is documentary evidence that you have lied.

CHARLTON: There is not.

Now if there actually is documentary evidence you have to wonder what Charlton is doing. Rudd, for his part, has stated that he stands by his statements in Parliament.

But while lying to parliament is bad - corruption is worse. And that's where this story gets a bit of a problem for the opposition. Because while the Treasurer's office (and perhaps the PMs office) may have asked Treasury to advise Grant on what he could do with OzCar, and while Grech knew Grant was a friend of the PM there isn't any suggestion that Grant has been given preferential treatment, or any access to credit, or any money. So where's the corruption?

Turnbull can call on Rudd to resign all he likes. But he's going to have to actually produce an email that shows Rudd asking for rules to be bent (or indeed broken), or even implying that he or his office would like the rules to be bent or broken.

If all he has is Grech saying he did spend more time dealing with Grant's enquiries than he did others, then the opposition has got very little. If he thinks anyone thinks it's special that a Public Servant might make sure he is very thorough in his dealings and advice with someone he knows is a friend of the PM, then they really need to wake up and smell reality.

There is nothing wrong with that. So long as no preferential treatment is given in terms of bending rules or guidelines (or indeed laws).

Thus far there is absolutely no suggestion that has happened.

Maybe big things from this will grow; but not without a lot of fertiliser (and I expect both sides will be employing that in the coming weeks).

Also - expect a censure motion against Rudd half way during Question Time on Monday. Thus far Rudd hasn't bothered to answer such motions as yet. I think he will this time.

Rudd has denied any email has gone from his office to Treasury on the matter, and has brought in the Auditor General to do a full independent inquiry into the issue. That is a big move by Rudd, and suggests he is very confident nothing improper has occurred.

Usually in such cases it is the opposition calling for the Auditor General to get involved, and the Government saying no need etc etc.

Will be interesting to see how the media reports this.


Todd said...

Well done. Agree with everything above.

Matt C said...

"Because while the Treasurer's office (and perhaps the PMs office) may have asked Treasury to advise Grant on what he could do with OzCar, and while Grech knew Grant was a friend of the PM there isn't any suggestion that Grant has been given preferential treatment, or any access to credit, or any money. So where's the corruption?"

You gotta be kidding. It's ok for the PM's office to request for someone to receive assistance? Think about that for a second. The PM office 'requesting' action by a civil servant. It is completely inappropriate and a serious breach of public service probity.

I don't want a country where even a sniff of corruption is allowed. If we have to literally prove corruption before action is taken, corruption will occur. That's why we have standards, Rudd should be accountable to them.

Grog said...

The problem Matt C is that would mean the PM or Treasurer would not be able to refer anyone's conerns to the public service if they knew that person.

The fact is Ministers referring to the appropriate department the requests of a constituent, or in fact anyone who contacts them, is standard practice.

The "sniff of corruption" is all well and good. But I prefer to hold Ministers and PMs accountable against real corruption.

Rudd is currently accountable to the proper standards - and if there was any pressure to give Grant special favours, then he has breached them. But what is the case here? At worst (and even this isn't proved yet) a member of Rudd's office has emailed the proper Treasury offical to ask that he get in contact with a person who wants some information on OzCar because his finance has dried up. (the whole reason for OzCar being set up).

Here's the text of the alleged email:

Grant hasn't received any money or any credit through OzCar. And nothing in the alleged email suggests anything improper was being asked - the only issue would be if Rudd lied to Parliament (a big issue in itself).

Tomkidd said...

I agree with you Grog - even if the email had been real, I don't see a problem with it.

Last week I sent my state MP an email, asking him to raise an issue with the Minister for Transport about government-provided rail services in my area. So he did. That makes him a good representative (or the representative for a marginally held electorate :). Now I've never given the man a ute (seems like the kind of guy who'd drive an E class Mercedes anyway) but if I had, and he'd declared it etc., should he then have ignored my email?