Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Bowels of Despair for Turnbull

Today the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) handed down its report into the OzCar Affair.

Short version - Rudd and Swan given complete exoneration; Godwin Grech has a few questions to answer; Turnbull, completely duped.

Prior to the report coming out Grech gave an interview to The Australian (from a psychiatric ward!) in which he revealed he had faked the email at the centre of the affair, and that he had shown the email to Turnbull and Senator Abetz prior to the Senate hearings into the matter.

First let's look at the Report. Here are the key parts:

Treasury’s response to the various representations varied markedly, from not responding to the representation to providing extensive, ongoing assistance to aid the dealer secure ongoing wholesale floorplan finance. The variability in Treasury’s response did not reflect any instruction on the part of the Prime Minister or his Office, the Treasurer or his Office, or senior Treasury management that some representations were to receive more favourable treatment than others.

(my emphasis).

With respect to John Grant, the mate of Kevin Rudd who was targeted by the opposition, the ANAO found:

Concerning the issue of whether preferential treatment was given to Mr Grant’s case, the Treasurer spoke briefly with Mr Grant, at the request of the Member for Oxley. Treasury was aware that the dealer was acquainted with the Prime Minister, but there is no evidence that the Prime Minister was aware of the representation, or that the Treasurer or his Office applied any pressure on Treasury to give this dealer more or better assistance than others.

The ANAO looked at the 11 dealers who made representations to the Treasurer's Office. Here's what they found:
  • five of the representations received very little or no direct assistance from Treasury;

  • in another six instances, Treasury provided directly or indirectly a moderate level of assistance (one instance related to the second representation on behalf of the particular dealer, after Treasury did not respond to the initial representation). Principally, this involved providing information on the operation of the SPV and/or referring the dealer to possible alternative financiers. The representations in this category included Dealer 6, Ipswich Central Motors/John Grant Motors; and

  • one dealer (Dealer 7) was provided with significantly more assistance than any other dealer, over a longer period of time. Mr Grech, on behalf of Dealer 7, sought to negotiate new wholesale floorplan finance with a number of different financiers, and persisted when initial attempts were unsuccessful (which was different to its approach to a number of other dealers). He also assisted the dealer with advice on options for rearranging the dealer’s finances to assist it obtain ongoing finance. Email correspondence originating from Mr Grech indicated that the Representations to the Department of the Treasury in Relation to Motor Dealer Financing Assistance preferential treatment given to this representation was motivated by, amongst other things, the personal circumstances of the dealer principal and Mr Grech’s understanding that the dealer principal was a supporter of, and donor to, the Liberal Party of Australia, with other records made by Mr Grech stating that ‘I am Lib’. Senior Treasury management were not made aware of the full extent of assistance provided to this dealer and there is no evidence that senior Treasury management were aware of the motivations indicated above.

Yep, the only dealer who got preferential treatment was a dealer who was known to Grech as a Liberal Party donor. Not quite the finding the Liberal Party would have been hoping for.

The report also, I am pretty sure, breaks the ANAO record for the most number of times the phrase "bowel obstruction" is used in one of its reports - it appears Grech is in pretty poor health and a lot of it has to do with his bowels, poor guy. The problems for Malcolm Turnbull are a lot less intestinal, but the end result is still him sitting in the poo.

Turnbull came out this afternoon after the report was released and dumped everything on Grech - claimed he'd been duped (which no doubt he had been), avoided questions about why he trusted Grech - ie refused to say that he had received information from Grech in the past (which it seems pretty clear he had), and when it came to examining his own actions in the matter, he said he wished he hadn't ever met Godwin Grech - ie, don't blame me, I did nothing wrong.

It was a remarkable press conference - Turnbull with all his usual bluff and bluster tried his level best to sound like he was the victim; that Godwin Grech had manipulated him; that he had no reason to doubt Grech, and that he had done nothing wrong or improper.

He kept up with his line that he only based his calls for Rudd and Swan to resign on the basis of Grech's "sworn testimony" before the Senate hearing (forgetting for the moment that such evidence is not actually under oath). This is patently bullshit. Grech (as Annabel Crabbe pointed out in the press conference) was nervous and unsure in this testimony, and put many caveats on the email. Turnbull said he just assumed that was because Grech was under pressure.

Basically Turnbull is trying to make us believe that he didn't believe Grech's email and statements until Grech said them before the Senate committee, but that he also did believe them the whole time and was duped, but that he only acted on what Grech said before the Senate committee and that he believed what he said even though he wasn't very convincing not because he had spoken with Grech before hand but because he just thought Grech was under pressure.

Yeah.... right.

The whole thing stinks. But the thing that stinks the most is this statement from Senator Abetz during the Senate committee hearing back on 19 June (I've taken out the interjections):

Senator ABETZ—A person, a journalist in fact, has suggested to me—That there may have been a communication from the Prime Minister’s office.—Allow me. It was along these lines and I want to know whether it is familiar to Mr Grech: ‘The Prime Minister has asked if the car dealer financing vehicle is available to assist a Queensland dealership, John Grant Motors, who seems to have trouble getting finance. If you could follow up on this as soon as possible, that would be very useful.’ This is what has been suggested to me by somebody, and there is of course the suggestion in today’s media that such a document exists.

This is patently false. Turnbull and Abetx have now admitted that Grech met with them in Turnbull's wife Lucy's office in Sydney on 12 June (7 days before the Senate hearing), and at that meeting Grech showed them a copy of the email (he also gave them a list of questions they should ask at the hearing and during Question Time).

Given that Abetz, Turnbull and the entire Liberal Party were after Swan and Rudd to resign because they lied to Parliament, the fact that Abetz lied during a Senate hearing is of particular import I would think. The ALP and the Greens tried in June to get a hearing into the conduct of the committee, it was voted down by the Liberal and National parties, and Senator Fielding. There should be absolutely no reason for such a hearing being voted down again, and if it is, Fielding (and the Liberal and National Parties) really should be held in contempt by every voter.

OK, the upshot of all of this? Turnbull will stay as leader. There is no one else, and he doesn't need to resign because he hasn't misled Parliament, he's just been incredibly gullible and shown to be lacking in judgement (or at least lacking in the amount of judgement required to be PM). And no one else wants the job anyway. No one volunteers to be Captain of the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.

The Liberals will now spend the next 18 months hoping that they can get enough MPs into lifeboats, and that not too many Ministers in marginal seats will go down with the ship. Turnbull himself will have to live with the ignominy of being leader by default, and after the election will be asked to resign and fully support either Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott as leader.

Then he'll probably leave politics, and his place in Australian politics will be in the "losers corridor"in Old Parliament House, where the photos of all the leaders of the opposition who never became PM are placed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gee not much awaits the Libs GJ if Hockey and the Monk are waiting in the wings post election crush.