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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6678

Mr ABBOTT (1:20 PM) —This motion moved by Leader of the Opposition is about the most important subject of all. It is about integrity in government. Integrity in government is something that should be determined by a cool and dispassionate analysis of the facts, and that is precisely what the Leader of the Opposition sought to do in moving this motion and in his speech to the parliament.

What did we have in response? We had the Prime Minister come in here, his face flushed, surrounded by a phalanx of heavies. He came in here and tried to carpet-bomb the integrity of anyone who dares to question anything that he did. He carpet-bombed the integrity of News Ltd. He carpet-bombed the integrity of the Leader of the Opposition. Do you know what the Prime Minister has even done today? Since last Friday, and again today, the Prime Minister has used governmental organisations as agencies of political intimidation. He has sooled the Australian Federal Police and the Auditor-General onto politicians and journalists to try to stop them doing their job. That is the real import of what we have seen today: a Prime Minister who will balk at nothing to try to ensure that he does not suffer any political disadvantage whatsoever.

Let us return to the whole point of this: this is not about emails in dispute; this is about emails that are not in dispute. This is not about an email that may or may not have been sent by Andrew Charlton to a Treasury official. This is about the emails that were most undoubtedly and indisputably sent by the Treasurer’s staff to the Treasury and from the Treasury back to the Treasurer’s staff and to the Treasurer himself. That is what this debate is all about. This debate is not about the integrity of Malcolm Turnbull; it is about the integrity of the Treasurer. It is about the integrity of the Treasurer, who has plainly, on the basis of the emails that were tabled by Labor senators in the inquiry last week, misled this parliament.

Let us be absolutely upfront about this. The greatest political crime that a member of this parliament can commit is to mislead this House. A member of parliament can maladminister a portfolio. A member of parliament can squander billions of dollars. A member of parliament can run naked down George Street and survive. But a member of parliament cannot mislead this place and survive. Any member of parliament who misleads this House must resign, if he or she has any integrity, or must be forced to resign, if the party leader has any integrity. That is the point here.

We have a Treasurer who, on the face of the legitimate emails—the emails that are clearly valid emails sent between the Treasurer’s office and the Treasury and the Treasurer—has misled this House and should resign. That is what this debate was all about. This debate was all about giving the Treasurer an opportunity to come in here and clear this matter up. He could have done that but, no, this Treasurer does not take easily to checks to his political career. We all know what the member for Lilley’s reaction was to losing his seat back in 1996. We know what happened to his office, provided by the taxpayer. We know what happened to his car, provided by the taxpayer. That is what he did when he was confronted with the reality of losing office. Confronted now with the prospect of losing office for misleading this House, he came in here and, as his Prime Minister did, carpet-bombed the integrity of every person who is asking legitimate questions on this matter.

What the Treasurer should have done, instead of giving the speech we have had from him now, is come in here and explain just how many car dealers have had personal phone calls from the Treasurer about this car-financing matter. Maybe there have been dozens, maybe there have been a handful, but I suspect that there is just one. Let us not forget that this Treasurer came into the House on 4 June and said:

… Mr Grant made representations to my office, and he was referred on to the SPV, just like everybody else.

Mr Grant was treated ‘just like everybody else’. As if that point had not been made clearly enough on that day, on 15 June in this House he said:

Mr Grant would have received the same assistance as any other car dealer …

So he did not say it once, where perhaps he may have had a bit of a rush of blood to the head. He said it twice. He did not say it once and have no chance to correct the record. He said it twice, about nine days apart. So, clearly, this is a Treasurer who wanted to let the world know and wanted, most importantly, to let this parliament know that this car dealer, John Grant, was treated in exactly the same way as everybody else. Again, I say to the Treasurer: please tell us how many car dealers you have personally spoken to about their financing arrangements. It is not a vicious, underhand, subversive question. Absent the answer, I am not even accusing the Treasurer of any lack of integrity. I am giving the Treasurer an opportunity to demonstrate his integrity and, most of all, to demonstrate that he has not misled the House because the personal, private phone call that he gave to Mr Grant was exactly the same sort of treatment that he gave to everyone else.

Another question for the Treasurer is this: how many car dealers’ financial problems have been the subject of instructions, by his own staff to Treasury officers, that those officers have to look after the dealer? Maybe there are dozens. Maybe there are dozens of car dealers who have had Treasury officers take a direct personal interest. Maybe there are dozens of car dealers who have been the subject of specific, direct representations from the Treasurer’s office. Maybe there are. But, if he wants to put himself in the clear, that is what he has to show. If he wants to demonstrate that he has not misled the parliament, as he seems so clearly to have done, that is what he has to show. It may be that, in discussions between Treasury officials and car finance companies, many, many car dealers have had their problems dealt with at length. Maybe it has happened. But, until the Treasurer has demonstrated that it has happened, clearly Mr Grant has received special treatment. He has received treatment denied to the thousands of other car dealers in this country and to all of the other car dealers who have been making representations, or whose MPs have been making representations, to the Treasurer’s office.

How many discussions between Treasury officials and finance companies involved those Treasury officials saying to the finance company, ‘This guy is a friend of the Prime Minister?’ Really, how often does this happen? Is this everyday treatment? Is this the kind of thing that the Treasurer does every day? If he does not do it every day, he has misled the parliament. How often do Treasury officials give the mobile phone number of a car dealer to car finance companies and say—wink, wink; nudge, nudge—‘If you want half a billion dollars you had better sort this bloke out?’ How often does that happen? It clearly happened in this case because that is what the undisputed evidence to the Senate committee said. So, Treasurer, come into this House and tell us just how often this kind of thing is done. If it is done routinely, fine, your answer is okay. But if in fact there is only one car dealer in the whole country—the good old Kia dealer from Ipswich—who gets this kind of treatment then plainly he has misled the House.

He came in here today and tried to suggest that his office had been very prompt in attending to the concerns of the member for Riverina. I am sure he has an efficient office; I would like to think he has an efficient office. Certainly, his office was hyper-efficient when it came to the problems of Mr Grant but the fact is this: by no stretch of the imagination is the treatment that the Treasurer’s office accorded to the member for Riverina’s car dealer on a par with the treatment accorded to the Prime Minister’s friend and the person from whom the Treasurer himself bought a car just a few years ago?

Mrs D’Ath —Where’s the proof?

Mr ABBOTT —They ask, ‘Where’s the proof?’ Read the Hansard of the Senate inquiry of last Friday. Read what the Ford finance representatives told the press last Friday. Finally, amidst all of the problems of the car industry that were driving our poor Treasurer to distraction—he was losing sleep at night he was so concerned about the state of small business—how many other car dealers have had their problems made the subject of faxes and emails sent directly to him at home after seven o’clock on a Friday evening? It is utterly implausible that anyone has been treated in the same way that Mr John Grant has been treated.

I have read Mr John Grant’s statements in the press. I am sure Mr John Grant is a fine man and nothing that is said in this House is directed against him. I have seen that Mr Grant has said, ‘Friendship is friendship and loyalty is loyalty,’ and I just say this: lying is lying and misleading the House is the worst political offence that a member of parliament can commit, and it has been committed by the Treasurer of this country—unless he can come into this House and explain precisely why what he did for Mr Grant was exactly the same as what he did for everyone else.

What we have seen from this government is an extraordinary campaign of bluff and intimidation against anyone who dares to call the integrity of its senior members into question. What kind of country has Australia become if a media report that the government does not like and which seriously embarrasses the Prime Minister and the Treasurer becomes the instant subject of an Australian Federal Police investigation? This is more akin to the actions of a police state than it is to the traditions of a great democracy. On the face of it, even in the Prime Minister’s own performance today we saw a radical lack of integrity. What did the Prime Minister come in and say? He said that Senator Abetz on Friday had in his possession a forged and fraudulent email. He must have had access to the Senate Hansard where Senator Abetz said that he had been told by a journalist about an email. This is a very significant fact and yet it is a fact which was totally ignored by a Prime Minister who is desperate to defame, intimidate and bluff anyone who is calling his integrity into question.

And then he comes into this parliament and says that the Leader of the Opposition has concocted this: on the basis of the first report of the AFP’s investigation the so-called fake email originated in Treasury. Now the fact of the matter is this: I think that the Leader of the Opposition is a very powerful man but he cannot cook up a conspiracy with the Treasury—he cannot alter the Treasury’s computer system. What we are seeing today is a giant smokescreen from a terrified government. (Time expired)