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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6697


Mr BOWEN (Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law and Minister for Human Services) (2:49 PM) —Lyndon Johnson once told a colleague of his that he was planning to make a particularly serious allegation against a political opponent. He was asked: ‘Is the allegation true?’ The reply was: ‘I don’t know but I am going to enjoy watching him deny it.’ It is the oldest political tactic in the book that we have seen from the opposition over the last week. ‘It does not matter if there is no truth to the allegation; it does not matter if there is no evidence; but we will make the allegation and we will watch them deny it. We will throw some mud and we will make it stick. We will throw some allegations and we don’t care if they are true because we do not care about integrity.’

We have seen this from the opposition over the last week. The opposition’s case has had two parts. Firstly, they said the Prime Minister had misled the House and they said that the Prime Minister should resign. They base this on the existence of an email, and we just heard the Leader of the Opposition say, ‘We asked legitimate questions. We said that there were matters to be answered.’ This is what he said:

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have used their officers and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates and then lied about it to the parliament.

There is no question mark. It is a statement from the Leader of the Opposition that the Prime Minister had lied.

We just heard the Leader of the Opposition say that we should wait for the outcome of the inquiry. There was not any such reticence last week when he called for the Prime Minister to resign. Now the opposition are saying that this email is a distraction, the very email they were basing their entire case on last week. They have been running away from this email at a million miles an hour.

We saw the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition this morning saying that Senator Abetz, a Liberal Party senator, only raised this email after he had read it in the paper. We know that it appeared in the paper the next day. I am not much of a gambler, Mr Speaker, and I am not much of a horseracing man, but I might start if I could take Senator Abetz with me. He knows the racing results—


Mr Abbott —I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to table what Senator Abetz did say. He did not say what is being put into his mouth—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Warringah will resume his seat. It is not a point of order.


Mr Abbott —I seek leave to table the document.

Leave not granted.


Mr BOWEN —There is something going on, but it is not on this side of the House that it is happening.

We saw Senator Abetz putting this email on the public record for the first time through the Hansard and now the Liberal Party are running a million miles from it. They cannot run a million miles from it because it is on the public record that they placed it on the public record. We have seen dissembling, we have seen manipulation of the facts and we have seen misleading from the opposition. If the opposition really want to clear this matter up, the Leader of the Opposition—he is in his office at the moment—can pick up the phone to the Federal Police and say: ‘Come and have a look at my computers. My office is available. Come right now and have a look at my computers. You can look at any computer in my office and see whether we have, at any time, had possession of the fake and forged email.’

The second part of the opposition’s case is this: that the Treasurer misled the House when he said Mr Grant had received no special treatment. That is what the opposition alleges. But that also does not hold water. We know that because we know, from the public record, that the Treasurer and the government were actively working to assist car dealers across the country. We had the chief executive of the Motor Traders Association yesterday make a public statement and this is what he said:

The treatment that Mr Grant, a member of mine, got was no different from the treatment all my other members got.

That is a pretty definitive statement from Mr Delaney—a statement which shows that the Treasurer and his office were actively working on behalf of car dealers across the country.

We know there are a range of emails to and from the Treasurer’s office on behalf of car dealers everywhere, on behalf of members of parliament on that side of the chamber and this side of the chamber, because we know that that was a very difficult time for the car-dealing industry in Australia. We know that there were hundreds and thousands of car dealers who were worried about access to finance. Many of them were approaching their local members. Many of them were approaching the Treasurer and his office directly to ask for assistance and the Treasurer was providing that assistance. Some were referred by the member for Riverina. I also discussed the member for Riverina’s cases with her and offered any government assistance that could be provided. Others were referred by other members of parliament. Why? Because there were jobs at stake; because there were car dealers worrying about how they would continue to employ their workers if they could not continue to get access to finance; because the ramifications of car dealers closing their doors on employment in Australia would have been very severe indeed; and because the Treasurer of this country is particularly conscientious when it comes to supporting Australian jobs.

I have worked as closely with this Treasurer as any member of parliament has and I am singularly unsurprised by the attitude that the Treasurer took. I am singularly unsurprised that he had his office actively trying to assist car dealers from across the country. I am singularly unsurprised that the Treasurer of this country decided it was important to assist car dealers get finance, because the jobs of their employees were relying on it. I am unsurprised because he is a man who cares about the jobs of ordinary Australians; he is a man who actually cares what happens on the street; he is a man who actually cares how people are dealt with; and he is a man who actually takes his responsibility seriously. If a member of parliament, be it the member for Oxley or the member for Riverina, approaches him with a problem, he tries to fix it, because there are jobs at stake.

We all remember the period of time in which these events unfolded. We all remember that there were car dealers who were very, very worried about where they would get their finance from. We all remember that there were employees of car dealers who were very worried about where their bosses and their employers would get their finance from. We all remember that there was concern that car dealers across this country, from one end of the country to the other, would have to close their doors.

The government had a choice. We could have said: ‘We are going to let the market sort that out. We are not interested.’ We could have said: ‘You are on your own, guys. We are not going to help.’ We could have said: ‘Sorry, there is nothing we can do.’ But we did not say that. We said we would intervene. We said we would establish a special purpose vehicle. We also said we would assist car dealers, where possible, by ensuring that they had access to whatever finance was available. That is what the Treasurer of this country did and he should not be condemned for it; he should be praised for it. He should be thanked for it, because he is a man who actually cares about what happens to ordinary Australians. He is a man who actually came into this place to make a difference and help ordinary working Australians, while you mainly came into this House to take their conditions off them. He is a man who actually believes he can make a difference—and he did.

The government could have said to Mr Grant: ‘Sorry, we’re not going to help you. We’re not going to help you, because you have committed the crime of actually knowing a member of parliament. You have committed the crime of actually knowing the Prime Minister of Australia.’ That is what we could have said, but we did not. The Treasurer acted entirely appropriately and has made his position very clear in the House. The Treasurer has outlined what happened and, in each case, it has been accurate. The opposition, so desperate to come back to office, clinging so hard to the born-to-rule mentality, say: ‘We will latch on to any crisis; we will not tell the truth about it; we will exaggerate about it; we will mislead about it; and we will endeavour to engineer a scandal, even though the facts do not support it.’

Last week, we had the Leader of the Opposition saying the Prime Minister and Treasurer have misled the House. He said:

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have used their offices and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates and then lied about it to the Parliament.

This is not a question to be raised, not something for the Treasurer to be held accountable for. It is a call for a resignation—the most serious allegation that can be made against a minister of the Crown, an allegation which leads automatically to the resignation of the minister if it is proven. But it is an allegation totally lacking in support; an allegation totally lacking in any corroborating evidence; an allegation based on a fraud, a forgery and a fake; and an allegation that is not based on any objective analysis of the facts.

The Leader of the Opposition has a very important role in the Australian political institution. The Leader of the Opposition’s role is to hold the government to account and to be ready to serve as the alternative Prime Minister. It is important that the Leader of the Opposition’s position is taken seriously. It is important that the government and the people can take the Leader of the Opposition at his word. It is important that when the Leader of the Opposition makes an allegation it is taken seriously. The trouble is that from this day forward nothing the Leader of the Opposition says can ever be taken seriously. The trouble with this Leader of the Opposition is that his position is completely untenable and he has no credibility. He could come in here and make allegations tomorrow and the Australian people would rightly say, ‘How can we believe you, Malcolm?’

How can we believe anything this Leader of the Opposition says? He is prepared to say anything and do anything to take this chair. The Leader of the Opposition is prepared to besmirch the reputation of good men and women for his own base political objectives. The Leader of the Opposition is prepared to tear down people’s reputations that have been built up over decades in public office because it suits him. The Leader of the Opposition is prepared to sell out on morality, to sell out on the truth and to sell out on evidence in order to take his rightful place—in his view—as leader of the government. It is not a position which is credible. It is not a position which the Leader of the Opposition can maintain.

The Leader of the Opposition had a choice: he could come in here and furnish the email that he has based his campaign on or he could tender his resignation. He has failed to tender the email because it is a fake. He has failed to tender the email because he now realises, I would think, that it is a forgery and that his entire political campaign of the last week has been based on a lie. It has been based upon a falsehood; it has been based upon an allegation which cannot be held to be true because it is based on a lie.

The Leader of the Opposition has had the opportunity to support his allegations; he instead has been shown to be a shallow man who is not prepared to back up his allegations. He is a man who has sold out on all semblance of credibility, on all semblance of holding to the truth and on all semblance of being a credible alternative Prime Minister of this country. Instead he has made himself a weapon and a tool of smear and innuendo.

The Treasurer, the Prime Minister and this entire government will continue to be focused on the real issues at hand—the real issues of helping Australians through the global financial crisis, of coming up with vehicles to actually keep Australians in employment and of working with people like the member for Riverina on methods to keep Australians in jobs, because that is the job and the mandate that the Australian people gave us. They gave us the mandate to see them through these difficult times. While ever the member for Wentworth occupies that seat the opposition will not be involved in helping ordinary Australians through these very difficult times; they will be involved in smear and innuendo, in grubby politics and in cheap opportunism because that is the epitaph that the Leader of the Opposition has written for himself.