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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6661


Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (12:04 PM) —by leave—I move:

That this House require the Treasurer to:

(1)   immediately attend the House and make a full and unreserved statement about his personal involvement and that of his office in the OzCar “deals for mates” scandal and disclose the following information: How many car dealers:

(a)   received special treatment from the Treasurer, his office and senior Treasury officials—as they were “not your average constituent”—as was the case with John Grant?

(b)   did the Treasurer personally hold telephone conversations with, to discuss their financing troubles, as was the case with John Grant?

(c)   were the subject of regular and lengthy updates to the Treasurer’s personal home fax, as was the case with John Grant?

(d)   had their telephone contact details handed over to Treasury officials at a high level meeting to discuss a half a billion dollar funding proposal, as was the case with John Grant? and

(e)   were described in meetings between Treasury officials and finance companies as an “acquaintance” of the Prime Minister, as was the case with John Grant? and

(2)   lay before the House all emails (from departmental, APH and personal accounts), all correspondence, all fax records and all phone records related to the OzCar “deals for mates” scandal by no later than 12 noon tomorrow.

On 4 June the Treasurer was asked a question about representations having been made by his office on behalf of Mr John Grant. He answered relevantly as follows:

It is the case that Mr Grant made representations to my office, and he was referred on to the SPV—

that is, OzCar—

just like everybody else. I have no idea what the outcome of that was.

That was the Treasurer on 4 June. On 15 June, the Treasurer was asked this question:

I refer the Treasurer to his statement in question time on 4 June that Mr John Grant’s representations in relation to OzCar were referred to Treasury as the responsible agency for this taxpayer funded finance company. Will the Treasurer advise the House what manner of assistance his office requested Treasury officials were to give to Mr Grant?

Mr Swan’s response was as follows:

Mr Grant approached my office. He was referred to a departmental liaison officer who then referred him on to the relevant section of the department. Mr Grant would have received the same assistance as any other car dealer who was referred through that process received.

The Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia has sought to persuade this House, to create the impression, that Mr Grant’s concerns came through the door in the regular run of business and were just referred in a mechanical way off to the Treasury officials responsible for dealing with them. They were sent off and he was treated like anybody else. There was no special treatment. The Treasurer expressed a complete indifference to—indeed, an ignorance of—what exactly had transpired. And yet we now know the fact that these statements were completely and utterly false.

It turns out, from the emails that have been tendered in the Senate by the Treasury itself, that the case of Mr Grant was raised directly with the Treasury official, Mr Grech, by the Treasurer’s office. And so concerned were they when they raised the matter of Mr Grant on 20 February that they encouraged the Treasury official to raise this matter with Ford Credit when the Treasury met with Ford Credit at a prearranged meeting the following Monday, 23 February.

Now, that meeting with Ford Credit on 23 February was of enormous significance, because Ford Credit, in common with other finance companies in this industry, were facing very serious financial challenges. They had been struggling, as had others, to raise short-term finance to roll over their commercial paper and they were seeking financial assistance from the Commonwealth government in the order of $500 million—half a billion dollars. This was a matter of the greatest urgency, the greatest necessity, absolutely vital for the continuance of Ford Credit’s operations in Australia. It was at that meeting on 23 February that it was proposed the case of John Grant would be taken up. So not only would the Treasury seek financial support for Mr Grant, this benefactor of the Prime Minister, this provider of a free car to the Prime Minister—who has more cars and planes that one could possibly imagine—but this individual was to have his case raised by the Commonwealth, by the Treasury. That in itself is bringing to bear considerable influence on his behalf. But then the circumstances in which Ford Credit were asked to provide support were circumstances in which Ford Credit knew that it needed to do anything it could, whatever it could, to be agreeable to the government. After all, it was seeking half a billion dollars of financial accommodation from the federal government.

What do we imagine, what would anyone imagine, went through the minds of the executives of Ford Credit when the Treasury said, ‘Oh, and there’s this chap John Grant; he’s a Kia dealer, he hasn’t been able to get his floor plan rolled over with his existing provider; do you think you’d be able to help him out?’ What are Ford Credit going to do when they are asked that question and told that he is a friend of the Prime Minister’s? They are obviously going to do exactly what they did: spring to attention and seek to render whatever assistance they can. So here we have a case where the considerable influence—and, in fact, leverage—of the Commonwealth government is brought to bear on a finance company that is seeking $500 million of finance, the provision of which is absolutely vital for its survival.

Now, this was all recited to the Treasurer in advance. On Friday, 20 February, his DLO, departmental liaison officer, Andrew Thomas, wrote to the Treasurer and said:

Treasurer

Both Godwin Grech and I have spoken to John Grant this evening.

This is this man who was not treated any differently from anybody else and in respect of whose affairs the Treasurer professed in this House a complete indifference! Thomas wrote:

… Godwin will also raise John’s case with Ford Credit when he sees them in Melbourne on Monday.

John has not yet been in contact with either—

the other one being Capital Financial—

We are confident we can arrange for John to be taken up by one of these two.

Then the email goes on to describe in considerable detail the situation of Mr John Grant, the man of whose affairs the Treasurer told this House he knew nothing; his was just another representation that came through the inbox. Following that email, we had a report from Mr Grech on Friday evening, after the meeting. He says to Andrew Thomas:

As promised, I raised the case of John Grant with the CEO of Ford Credit, Greg Cohen, during my meeting with Ford Credit in Melbourne today.

I met with Ford Credit as part of the ongoing negotiations I have been having—along with Credit Suisse—to come up with a possible response to Ford Credit’s request of 14 January 2009 that the Government arrange for Ford Credit to access up to $500 million for around 12 months to allow it to continue to run its wholesale floorplan financing business in Australia.

As you know, Ford Credit will shut down the business if they cannot secure access to capital.

I believe that we are getting close to a ‘solution’ which I will be putting to the Treasurer … within the next 2-3 weeks.

Re John Grant—Cohen gave me an undertaking that Ford Credit will actively look at taking Grant on (this would be for the Kia component of his business).

What we have here is an email sent by Mr Grech to Andrew Thomas—

Government members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! Those on my right!


Mr TURNBULL —and copied to the Treasurer’s home fax. What has the Treasurer learned from this fax? He knows that, consistent with the plan to which he was a party the previous week—on the Friday—Mr Grech raised the concerns of his mate, his crony, the Prime Minister’s friend and benefactor, with Ford Credit.

Government members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. This is a serious matter. It will not be won by those who shout the loudest. The Leader of the Opposition will be heard in silence, so all members of this debate can be heard in silence.


Mr TURNBULL —Thank you, Mr Speaker. The plan was hatched the previous week that Mr Grant’s case would be taken up with Ford Credit by Treasury at a time when Ford Credit was dependent, was relying for its own survival as a financing business in Australia on getting half a billion dollars from the Commonwealth. In that context of enormous vulnerability, when the influence of the Commonwealth was greater than it could ever be imagined to be in normal circumstances, at that point John Grant’s case was raised by the Treasury officials. Then the upshot of the meeting was duly reported that very evening to Mr Swan and to his office and, according to Mr Grech, all went well. Ford Credit have said that they will shut down their business if they cannot get the $500 million. In the context of that, when Ford Credit was as desperate as any business could be for $500 million of Commonwealth money—can we imagine a position where the Commonwealth has greater leverage over any business?—at that point with all of that leverage, with the knowledge, the connivance, the support and the request of the Treasurer, the case of one dealer and one dealer alone is raised with Ford Credit, and who is it? The crony and benefactor of the Prime Minister—John Grant. Nobody else. He is a very special person. That was provided to him.

In the light of all of that, the Treasurer came into this House and said: ‘Mr Grant would have received the same assistance as any other car dealer who was referred through that process received.’ Notice the use of the word ‘would’.


Mr Hale interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Solomon is warned.


Mr TURNBULL —It was deliberately designed to create the impression that the Treasurer had no direct knowledge of what had happened to Mr Grant. He did not say that he did receive the same treatment as any other car dealer; he said he ‘would’ have done, as though he did not really know and he just assumed that the normal mechanical bureaucratic processes would have been complied with. That was a calculated deception—calculated to mislead the House and the public—and, until the truth came out, no doubt it was successful.

Then on 4 June he said he had no idea what the outcome of Mr Grant’s representations had been, and yet we have page after page of detailed accounts of who met whom and who rang whom. Even the following week, on 27 February, again in an email sent directly to the Treasurer himself, he is told about the progress of the dealer of whose interests and activities he professed no knowledge at all. The Treasurer is told:

Grant said that he had a good meeting with Ford Credit on Thursday and they told him that while they are generally concentrating on Ford dealerships … they were prepared to take him on assuming the numbers add up.

And it goes on in considerable detail.

What we have here is a shocking abuse of power. We have a Treasurer who has used his considerable influence to get a favour for a mate—and not just any mate, the mate who is a benefactor of the Prime Minister.

Government members interjecting—


Mr TURNBULL —The government benches can shout and scream and try their distraction as much as they like, but these emails that were tabled in the Senate demonstrate that there was only one dealer who received that support and it was John Grant. That was the dealer in respect of which the government proclaim complete ignorance, yet they desperately seek to raise a distraction from the Treasurer’s situation.

Who could imagine any Treasurer surviving—in a government that had any integrity—when he has so manifestly and comprehensively breached the ethical standards? I will quote from the Prime Minister’s ministerial standards:

Ministers must accept the full implications of the principle of ministerial responsibility.

The Treasurer has said, ‘No, I don’t have to worry about that.’ He has no concern about that. He says that it is nothing special. Notwithstanding that it is abundantly plain that everything that he has said in this House about John Grant is false, he says that he has no obligation to step down.

The government can raise distractions about other documents and other emails as much as they like—

Government members interjecting—


Mr TURNBULL —Good. You can talk it up as much as you like. But you cannot escape the fact that presiding over the finances of the Commonwealth of Australia is a Treasurer who has lied to this House. He said that he had no idea of the progress of Mr Grant’s application. He said that he was treated like everybody else. There was nobody else treated like this. The only person who got that treatment was a crony and benefactor of the Prime Minister.

This goes to the very core of the ethical standards of this government. This Prime Minister, who, when he was in opposition, constantly stood up and spoke sanctimoniously about high ethical standards—and continues to do so as Prime Minister—here has a Treasurer who has lied to the House.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition should be careful.


Mr TURNBULL —The Treasurer has sought to use extraordinary leverage to seek an advantage for a mate, and the Prime Minister will not lift a finger against a Treasurer who has so abused his power. It is impossible to imagine any company being more vulnerable and more susceptible to government pressure than Ford Credit. They were fighting for their life and they were told: ‘John Grant needs help. He’s not a Ford dealer, but he needs help. Oh, and he’s a friend of the Prime Minister; he’s a mate of the Prime Minister.’ This is the culture of the Labor Party. They cannot escape from it: cronyism, patronage and abandonment of the—


Mr Symon interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Deakin is warned!


Mr TURNBULL —ethical standards. The louder they scream, the more desperate we see them to be as they try to hold up in office a Treasurer who has betrayed the trust of the Australian people and prostituted his responsibilities by seeking to leverage the power of Commonwealth to advantage the Prime Minister’s mate.


The SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?


Mr Hockey —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.