OzCar Runs Over Some Very Careless Boys and Girls
Malcolm Turnbull and Eric Abetz have been trucking in a forged email from the computer of Treasury Official Godwin Grech, using it, before thay realised it was a forgery, as a basis of corruption charges against Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, original questions coming on June 4, 2009
Furthermore, it is known that Godwin Grech has been leaking information to the Liberals for 18 months, specifically to Malcolm Turnbull and Eric Abetz. It seems certain that Joe Hockey has also been the recipient of these leaks. Given the above it is almost inconceivable that the remainder of the Liberal Party royalty and recent ex-royalty (e.g Nick Minchin, Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Peter Costello) were not aware that Grech was leaking to their leadership group. As such all are tainted by the scandal.
Swan’s Goose Not Cooked…Yet
In this post, however, I want to focus on the (so far) luckiest man in the whole OzCar/Utegate Affair, Treasurer Wayne Swan.
A range of commentators from George Megalogenis, regarded as non-partisan (on Insiders 21st June), Gary Rundle of Crikey (of the left), Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald (on the right) and others (‘Red’ Kerry O’Brien of the ABC; David Crowe, Aust. Fin. Review below) have noted that Swan was mighty economical with the facts in Parliament when he described assistance rendered by Treasury to John Grant as no different to any other person. It is only the minority among the commentariat (e.g Laura Tingle, Australian Financial Review on 24-Jun) who agree with Swan in regard to Grant’s assistance and that therefore Swan has absolutely no case to answer in regard to misleading Parliament.
Swan’s actual answer in Parliament to a question from Turnbull on June 4 was:
It is the case that Mr Grant made representations to my office, and he was referred on to the SPV, just like everybody else.
(see p.69 of transcript)
Why Utegate Doesn’t Matter
Many agree with John Warhurst, Professor Of Political Science at ANU, who says that Grant clearly got top-shelf assistance from Treasury, that this assistance was better than that afforded to others because of Grant’s relationship with Swan/Rudd, but that the affair is trivial and, notably, Grant did not end up with anything he was not entitled to, that this trivial kind of ‘help-for-mates’ has been part and parcel of politics forever and that therefore it does not merit public concern. In this camp is Kerry-Anne Walsh, SMH/Insiders 28-Jun
Why Utegate Does Matter
In my opinion, help-for-mates, regardless of financial outcome, is an abuse of position and therefore Swan deserves a Parliamentary censure. Grant only got his magic carpet ride through the Ozacar application process because he has donated goods and money to Rudd. Help of any kind from Parliamentarians should not be for sale.
That Man Grech
Utegate exploded with the testimony of Godwin Grech, Treasury Official in charge of OzCar at the Senate Economics Legislation Commitee (Reference: Car Dealership Financing Guarantee Appropriation Bill 2009) hearing on 19th July 2009.
Grech testified that he may have seen an email from Andrew Charlton, a member of Rudd’s staff in which he says that Rudd personally requested assistance be provided to John Grant, a Motor Dealer from Ipswich, in accessing the Ozcar financing scheme. That email, now known to be forged, is here. Turnbull said, greatly to his error, that the email proved that Rudd had misled Parliament and that Rudd should resign.
At the same Senate Estimate Commitee hearing, Grech tabled a sheaf of email correspondence between Treasury Officials and Swan’s office on his dealings with Grant and gave detailed testimony on the emails and his actions in relation to Grant. Contrary to the purported email from Charlton, the emails tabled by Grech are not disputed as factual.
The referral of Grant’s request for assistance to Grech came in the following manner: On Feb 20, ALP Backbencher and Grant’s MP, Bernie Ripoll, contacted Swan about Grant. Swan rang Grant, spoke to him for a couple of minutes, then asked his office to contact Grech. Andrew Thomas from Swan’s office does so and Grech calls Grant on the telephone. At 5:19pm that same afternoon Grech emails Swan’s Office saying he has contacted Grant and what he (Grech) intends to do for him, whereupon Andrew Thomas ALSO calls Grant and at 7:27pm Thomas emails Swan telling him “‘Treasurer, both Godwin Grech and I have spoken to John Grant this evening.” A week later (Feb. 27), Thomas from Swan’s office receives updates from Grech about the Grant file and emails Grech saying ‘Godwin, we really appreciate this. Just so you are aware these emails are going through to the Treasurer’s home number’.
So, in one day Grant contacts his local MP and gets personal phone calls from the Treasurer, Mr Swan, a member of Swan’s personal staff, Mr. Andrew Thomas and the Treasury Official in charge of the Ozcar facility, Mr. Grech. Most of this contact is squeezed into a two-hour period after hours on a Friday evening.
Wow! What service. If I was Grant I would feel well looked after indeed.
Not Your Average Constituent
Of all applicants, ONLY Grant got a personal phone call from the Treasurer, though other cases were bought to the Treasurer’s notice.
Of all applicants, ONLY Grant received phone calls from the Treasurer, the Treasurer’s personal staff and Mr. Grech on the same day.
Of all applicants, ONLY progress on Grant’s was emailed directly to Swan (NB different to fax) see Coorey, “Rudd swerves on car scandal”, SMH .
Grech was especially informed by Andrew Thomas in Treasury that Grech’s progress reports were being sent to the Treasurer’s home fax. Grech testified in Senate Committe that this is the ONLY occasion that he was informed that emails were going to Swan’s personal fax. The implication is that Swan is especially interested in Grant’s application.
Grech testified that the manner and style of approach and correspondence from Thomas made it clear to Grech that Grant’s file was a priority case and should be proactively managed with the aim of a favourable outcome for Grant if at all possible. From the Senate Estimate Committee hearing:
Mr Grech —Senator, actually I have been in the public service now for 20 years, and I take my work very seriously. When a Minister’s office—I previously also worked in Prime Minister and Cabinet—so when the PMO or the Treasurer’s office approach you with something, you give it priority. In the case of Mr Grant, the referral came from Andrew, and it was made clear to me that it was something that had to be managed and that is what I tried to do.
It was this manner and style of correspondence from the Treasurer’s office that left Grech in no doubt that Grant was, in Grech’s now famous words ‘Not Your Average Constituent’
Mr Grech — I was certainly left with a general understanding that Mr Grant had some relationship of some type with at least the Treasurer.
The 51 Club
The relationship, as we now all know is that Grant donates a ute to Rudd and that he is a member of a club that does fundraising for Rudd, the Brisbane ’51 Club’. Members of the 51 Club also claim Rudd met Grant in China on two occassions and conversed about Grant’s business dealings. Rudd has spoken at the 51 Club on one occasion. The 51 Club also visited Rudd in Canberra and received a very nice personal tour of Parliament House including areas off-limits to the general public.
Grant’s Rolls-Royce handling by Swan is a direct result of Grant’s favours for Rudd both personally and through the 51 Club, which Rudd honours with occasional personal visits.
Further indications that Grant received special consideration from Grech based on Swan’s wishes are found in that Grech raised Grant’s file with Ford Credit in a meeting in which Ford Credit was seeking access to $500 million of Treasury finance. It is true that Grant was not the only dealer discussed at that meeting but Grant’s file was the only one “substantially discussed” in the words of Greg Cohen, Ford Credit’s Managing Director.
Prior to the meeting, Grech identified Ford Credit as a ‘fallback position’ for Grant. Afterwards, Ford Credit speedily contacted Grant to see how he could be accommodated despite the fact that they did not handle any other Kia dealerships. Ford Credit were willing to make an exception for Grant. It seems naive to think that this was completely unconnected with their hope to access half a billion dollars in Government money after a meeting in which Grant’s file was ‘substantially discussed’.
Cohen testified that ONLY Grant’s phone number was provided to Ford Credit despite three or four other dealers being mentioned in that meeting of Feb. 23rd
From the above it is plain that Swan has a prima facie case to answer of ‘help-for-mates’ (nepotism) and of misleading Parliament.
Joe Hockey gave an accurate summary of the events of Feb 20 and Feb 23 in Parliament Question Time on 22nd June.
In this section I will examine Swan’s response to criticism that he was economical in the truth with his Parliamentary answer to questions on favouritism to Grant in the OzCar affair.
To make it plain, the criticisms that Swan faces are over process, not outcomes. All agree and it is a matter of fact that Grant did not receive any money from Ozcar despite Swan’s championing of Grant’s file.
1. All Treasury Emails Go To Swan’s Home Fax
The Opposition made a big deal of the fact that updates on Grant’s file were sent to Swan’s Home Fax. What the Opposition neglected to mention was that Swan has a standard work practice that ALL Swan’s emails are diverted to his home fax when Swan is out of Canberra and actually at home.
What Swan did not mention was that of all applications, it was ONLY Grant’s that Treasury Official Andrew Thomas specifically indicated to Grech was going to Swan’s home fax. This is a clear signal to Grech that Swan has a personal interest in the progression of Grant’s file.
The Opposition over-egged the ‘home fax’ issue. Swan side-stepped it.
2. Coalition-Friendly Car Dealers Got The Same Treatment As Grant
In Parliament and outside, Swan emphasisied that a car dealer represented by Kay Hull, National MP for Riverina also received very attentive service from Treasury Officials and Grech.
In Parliament Swan read from emails between Treasury and his office which showed that within 11 minutes, Swan’s office responded to Hull’s request for assistance for the dealer by contacting Treasury (not Grech initially), but within three days Grech (the official in charge of Ozcar) had spoken to Capital Finance and the dealer, inviting the dealer to stay in touch about the progress of his finance and had reported that fact to Swan’s office.
While this certainly shows attentive service to Kay Hull’s constituent, it differs from that given to Grant in a few respects:
– The Treasurer did not ring Kay Hull’s consitutent
– No member of Swan’s staff contacted the car dealer
– Grech was not indirectly informed by Treasury of any personal interest by Swan in the matter
– Swan’s office did not directly approach Grech.
– Grech did not raise Kay Hull’s constituent in half-billion dollar financial negotiations
– Kay Hull’s constituent did not get his mobile phone number passed to financiers by Grech.
– Grech has testified that the style and manner of Swan’s office approach to OzCar was different to that in Grant’s case. Kay Hull’s man was a normal constituent, Grant is not.
Senator CAMERON (ALP) —Mr Grech, you said earlier in relation to John Grant and the matters that have been raised in relation to his situation that you got the impression he was not your average constituent.
Mr Grech —Yes.
Senator CAMERON —Did you get the same impression from the referred-on Kay Hull’s inquiry—that it was special because it was coming from the Treasurer’s office?
Mr Grech —No, Senator
Hull’s constituent was Swan’s best example of ‘everyone treated the same’, but the record shows that Hull’s constituent, while well attended, did not have the same superlative level of attention as Grant.
3. Motor Traders Association Says Grant Treated No Different To Anyone Else
Swan and Grant made much use of the testimony of Mr. Michael Delaney, Executive Director of the Motor Traders Association Of Australia, who said that “The treatment that Mr Grant, a member of mine, got was no different from the treatment all my other members got,”
As Kerry O’Brien pointed out, Mr. Delaney while sincere, cannot be aware of the interactions between Swan, his office and Treasury which form the substance of the questions directed against Mr. Swan.
Swan knows this. Swan used Delaney’s evidence as a smokescreen. But it doesn’t address the real issues of inquiry or delegitimize Grech’s testimony.
4. Look, I Swear, Everyone was Treated Exactly The Same
On June 22, Swan released 23 other emails between car dealers, Treasury and his office, purporting to show that all dealers received the same level attention from Government and Treasury and Grant’s treatment was not special.
Analysing these, David Crowe, Chief Political Correspondent for The Australian Financial Review on 24-Jun-2009 ran an article, ‘Some Dealers Are More Equal Than Others’ which patently shows that not every enquiry from a car dealer about Ozcar was treated the same.
Victorian car dealer Graeme Nelson contacted his local MP, Sharman Stone on March 31 who then contacted Mr. Swan. Absolutely nothing has happened for Graeme Nelson since.
Cyril Campbelj spoke to his Liberal MP Bruce Bilson. Bilson speaks to Grech on April 3rd. No-one from Treasury or Government contacts Campbelj.
On Feb 12th Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey wrote to Mr. Swan about car dealer Boolearoo Agencies. No-one from Treasury of Government has contacted Boolearoo Agencies.
Two other dealers who did benefit from concerted attention, though not to the level of Grant were a Sydney dealer, believed to be Hunter Holden in Maxine McKew’s electorate who approached McKew and Rudd at an electorate function on April 17th and an unidentified dealer who Grech dealt with around April 28th.
The Hunter Holden approach resulted in Rudd referring to Andrew Charlton who referred to Treasury. None got a phone call from the Treasurer, none got phone calls from Treasury officials, none had their phone numbers passed to finance companies, none were ‘substantially discussed’ in high-level finance meetings , none were flagged with Grech as being sent to the Treasurer’s home fax. They were ordinary constituents treated ordinarily, unlike Grant.
Swan is kidding himself if he thinks all dealers were treated equally and no-one got better or worse than Grant. Or rather he is trying to kid us … and Parliament.
5. Refusing To Answer Questions
Rudd and Swan, as far as possible have tried to direct attention away from Grech’s testimony detailing exactly how Grant received special attention as a result of being underlined to him by Swan’s office as ‘Not Your Average Constituent’.
The 7:30 Report interview Rudd did with Kerry O’Brien on 22nd June is a great example of this. I will paraphrase it here. I encourage you to read it yourself.
O’Brien: The fake email is not the only thing that matters is it ?
Rudd: Incorrect. It’s totally about the fake email.
O’Brien: It’s not
Rudd: It is.
O’Brien:What about Grech’s testimony regarding Swan.
Rudd: Grech is an unreliable witness. Let’s talk about the forged email.
O’Brien:Now, about Mr. Swan
Rudd: That forged email is a shocker isn’t it! Michael Delaney puts us in the clear.
O’Brien: No he doesn’t.
Rudd:Swan gets heaps of emails about car dealers, not just Grant. That forged email is the most important thing anyway.
O’Brien: Swan rang Grant personally.
Rudd: That’s irrelevant. We’re trying to save the economy. And the forged email…
O’Brien: Grech’s testimony about Swan is compelling.
Rudd: Grech is unreliable. Kay Hull got help too. So that proves Swan is in the clear.
O’Brien: I’ve read the Hull emails. They don’t prove Swan is in the clear.
Rudd: Swanny is a good bloke. He wouldn’t do anything naughty. I’m vewy hurt. Pout.
On ABC Radio’s AM program on 25-June, Swan breath-takingly told interviewer Emma Griffiths that she was not asking the right question as she pressed Swan on the point of ‘how many other car dealers did you personally call’ and claimed it was irrelevant. Swan busted a gut to avoid answering directly and giving the straight answer which is ‘zero’.
EMMA GRIFFITHS: Put it on the public record who else you spoke to. What other car dealers?
WAYNE SWAN: Well I have put it on the public record that I spoke to Mr Grant, Emma, but that is simply irrelevant…
EMMA GRIFFITHS: But you’re not answering the question Mr Swan.
WAYNE SWAN: Well it’s not exactly the right question. That is irrelevant Emma to the fact or the claims that have been put forward that somehow some special treatment was given to Mr Grant.
The above interview was Mr. Swan’s only media interview for the week. It was quite apparrent as noted by Barry Cassidy on Insiders, 28-June, that Swan, along with Senator Abetz, had decidedly ‘gone to ground’. For a man with nothing to hide Swan was doing a good impression of hiding.
Despite the massive attention very correctly and properly placed on the forged email and Turnbull/Abetz’s prior knowledge of its existence, voters have given Swan a black eye over the matter, a nett 20% saying they had formed a more negative opinion on him, though only 48% said they believed Grant got preferential treatment in the Ozcar process. Send the bludgers here for a good read!
As Phillip Coorey noted, if the Coalition had not overreached to try and kill Rudd on this matter they could have pulled a great deal more hide off Mr. Swan. Swan is one lucky
duck goose swan bloke indeed.
Grant received treatment better than any other applicant to OzCar. This treatment has come about because of Grant’s relationship with Rudd as a donor and fundraiser for Rudd. Swan has indeed misled parliament about this. He deserves a Parliamentary censure.
Last word from Mr. Grech on page 30 of the Estimate Committee transcript that exploded into Utegate:
Senator ABETZ—Was it indicated to you, Mr Grech, that there was any particular interest, or that this
man, John Grant, may be particularly well-known to the Treasurer?
Mr Grech—I certainly had the impression that he was not your average constituent.
Quiggin has Costello’s Moment ?
Tim Blair was momentary hopeful in Await The Great Tailgate Debate