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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6684

Ms JULIE BISHOP (1:50 PM) —This issue is about the Treasurer. This is about the Treasurer misusing his position as the Treasurer of this country—using his ministerial office, using his ministerial staff and directing Treasury officials to provide preferential treatment to a friend of the Prime Minister’s, who year after year after year has given the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, a free vehicle—the registration and all the costs involved. This is thousands and thousands of dollars as a gift to the Prime Minister. So this is about the Treasurer using his ministerial position, his ministerial staff and his ministerial office to direct Treasury officials to give preferential treatment to a mate of the Prime Minister’s.

Do you know what is extraordinary? This is exactly what the former Minister for Defence was accused of doing, and the former Minister for Defence resigned because he had used his ministerial office to direct Defence officials to meet with his brother in order to get preferential treatment.

The government tries to use the excuse that ‘Mr Grant did not get any credit from Ford Credit.’ Well, as I recall, the government also pointed out that Mr Fitzgibbon’s, the member for Hunter’s, brother did not get a contract with Defence, apart from the fact that those contracts have not been let yet, and that therefore it is okay. But the member for Hunter still resigned because he knew that it was an abuse of his position—his ministerial office—to direct a senior Defence official to be in his office to meet with officials that no other constituent would be able to access.

I just had a meeting with a whole group of constituents from the member for Mallee’s electorate and they said, ‘We have been in trouble in relation to Treasury matters before. We have needed support in relation to the bank guarantee.’ A number of them told me that they had written to the Treasurer’s office and received no reply. They have sought to get responses from the Treasurer’s office. But, in the case of Mr Grant, all he had to do was telephone the Treasurer and the Treasurer moved heaven and earth, that day, to make sure that Mr Grant’s needs were taken care of.

The patronage, the cronyism, the jobs-for-the-boys, the-looking-after-your-mates is so much a part of the Labor Party’s DNA that they do not even know when they have done something wrong. The member for Hunter was still denying that he had done anything wrong, because he was out blaming the Judases in his midst for his downfall. This is another Labor member with a messiah complex—yet another. They do not even know when they have done something wrong. They are still blaming the Judases for the Messiah’s downfall. This is another example of Labor once more trying to shoot the messenger.

Why is it that in the Senate inquiry last Friday the government senators, clearly on directions from the leadership, intervened to prevent evidence being given in the Senate inquiry? The government senators were trying to suppress evidence to a Senate inquiry by intervening in a most disgraceful way to prevent a Treasury official giving his evidence.

What happened to the openness and accountability and transparency that the Prime Minister promised on coming to office? A Senate inquiry was held not because the government wanted to clear the air but because the coalition, with the support of the Greens, was able to get up a Senate inquiry to answer the questions that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister refused to answer in question time. In fact, in the case of the Treasurer, the answers that he gave at the time were manifestly false and he knew it. So we set up a Senate inquiry, and what does the government do? It directs its senators to run interference against a Treasury official who is called to give evidence. That is disgraceful. That is absolutely disgraceful. The government directed a Treasury official to run interference on Mr Grech so that he could not complete his evidence. What kind of transparency is that and what is the government trying to hide?

If this was just a normal constituent—if Mr Grant was just a run of the mill constituent who made an inquiry and it was just going through the processes—why is the government trying to prevent the Treasury official who knows about this matter giving full evidence? What is the government seeking to hide? Well, you can get a fair idea of what the government was seeking to hide by the emails that were tabled—and I note this—by the government senators. I think it is passing strange that the Treasury officials did not table emails from Treasury but the government senators did. Government senators having tabled these emails certainly does gives the lie to what the Treasurer said in parliament in answer to questions about OzCar. In fact, it shows that on 27 February, after a whole series of efforts by Treasury officials and by the Treasurer’s office, they were prepared to do whatever it took to get Mr Grant preferential treatment. In fact, one of the emails—from Mr Grech, of 27 February, to Andrew Thomas in the Treasurer’s office and copied to the Treasurer’s home fax—goes so far as to say:

Andrew, just to let you know that I have spoken again with John Grant this afternoon to clarify progress.

This is a week of this Treasury official ringing Mr Grant, reporting back to the Treasurer and reporting to the Treasurer’s home fax. The email continues:

Grant said that he had a good meeting with Ford Credit on Thursday—

This is the meeting that the Treasury officials set up for Mr Grant. Do not worry about all the other car dealers across Australia; just one car dealer gets a meeting set up specifically for him with Ford Credit—

and they have told him that while they are generally concentrating on Ford dealerships—

So we know that Ford Credit do not generally deal with people who are not Ford dealers. He goes on to say:

… I know for a fact that they still have a number of non Ford dealers on their books … they were prepared to take him on assuming the numbers add up.

Mr Grech then goes on to talk about Grant’s accountant, who ‘is preparing the financial advice’. But I ask members to listen to this: Mr Grech says:

I told Grant to keep in touch and to let me know if Ford show concerns or resistance.

So if Ford shows ‘concerns or resistance’ to the direction from the Treasurer that Mr Grant is to be looked after, what happens then? Well, as Mr Grech says:

… I will not speak with Ford again on this unless it is absolutely necessary to push it through …

So this Treasury official was under no illusion that he had a direction from the Treasurer to push it through. In other words, Mr Grant was going to get access to money, whatever it took. At a time when Ford Credit was seeking half a billion dollars from the government, the Treasurer directed his office and his Treasury officials to make sure Mr Grant got preferential treatment. With this wording—‘I will not speak with Ford again on this unless it is absolutely necessary to push it through’—these Treasury officials were in absolutely no doubt at all that the Treasurer was directing them to look after the Prime Minister’s mate. The patronage, the cronyism, the-look-after-your-mates is just so much a part of the Labor DNA that they do not even know when they have done the wrong thing.

This just goes to show why the Labor Party is running so much of a distraction on this. The fact is that this matter should have been cleared up in the Senate inquiry on Friday. A Senate inquiry was held so that the Treasury official could give evidence. I remind the House that this was the Treasury official who was sent away during Senate estimates to be hidden from the Senate inquiry. These were Treasury officials who were not able to give evidence during Senate estimates, were they Treasurer? A Treasury official was sent away from Senate estimates so that he would not have to face questioning. A Senate inquiry was set up, with the support of the Greens—not with the support of the government but with the support of the Greens—so that this Treasury official could give his evidence unimpeded, and yet time and time and time again, the Treasury—

The SPEAKER —Order! I will interrupt the Deputy Leader of the Opposition as it is two o’clock. It is my understanding that it is the wish of the House that this debate continue and that that has been agreed by the Leader of the House and the Acting Manager of Opposition Business. That means that after the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s speech there are four more speakers.

Mr Albanese —No, sorry; five.

The SPEAKER —So question time commences at about 3.15 or 3.20 pm. As that is agreeable to the House, I will allow leave for that to occur. The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Ms JULIE BISHOP —As I was saying, a Senate inquiry was set up specifically so that Treasury officials could come before that Senate inquiry and give evidence as to what they had been told by the Prime Minister’s office and what they had been told by the Treasurer’s office. Yet time and time again the government senators, on directions from the leadership team, ran interference to prevent the Treasury official from giving a full answer. Not only did the government senators run interference but so did a Treasury official at the table, to prevent Mr Grech from giving his evidence in full not distorted by the attacks from the government senators. As I was saying, I have just been speaking to some constituents, and I say this to those who might be listening to this debate: how many people who have had a problem that required Treasury attention have received an immediate phone call from the Treasurer? How many people have received action taken that day?

Ms Macklin —Kay Hull.

Ms JULIE BISHOP —I am talking about a constituent.

Ms Macklin interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs!

Ms JULIE BISHOP —How many have had a representation made that day to the Treasurer’s office? How many times has a Treasury official then gone into bat for that constituent and written the most detailed response back to the Treasurer’s office? But remember this is in the context of the Treasurer saying he knew nothing about this and he had no knowledge of the progress of this. But day after day after day long emails were sent to his home fax detailing all of the representations that had been made on behalf of Mr Grant. Every single nuance—whether Mr Grant was happy, whether Mr Grant was sad, whether Mr Grant had been buoyed by the news or not—is contained in these emails.

If the members of the government still do not get what it is that the Treasurer has done—how the Treasurer has used his ministerial office and his staff and directed Treasury officials to give preferential treatment to one person and one person only—then that shows a reflection on those members. The Labor Party do not understand that the level of patronage, of cronyism and of looking after their mates is unacceptable. The member for Hunter had the decency to resign. The Treasurer should resign.

When the Treasury official Mr Grech had spoken with Ford Credit, he went back to give the Treasurer’s office a detailed description of everything that occurred. He said he had spoken with John Grant, he had given him a good rundown of where things are at, he had told him he would arrange for Capital Finance to get in touch with him. He had flagged a fallback ‘but I will not set that out here, suffice to say it involves Ford Credit’. So this is the plan and this goes to the Treasurer at home. It is interesting to note that the Treasurer was copied in on emails from 20 February, so from the Friday night he was being copied in. Then Mr Grech goes on: ‘I’m meeting Ford Credit in Melbourne on Monday and I will raise Grant’s case.’ That should have caused alarm bells to ring in the Treasurer’s office, that a Treasury official felt—in a prearranged meeting with Ford Credit to discuss Ford Credit’s application for the OzCar rules to be changed, Ford Credit’s application to access half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ funds—that he had to raise the Prime Minister’s friend’s issue with Ford Credit at that time.

The fact that that does not ring alarm bells in the minds of those opposite is of great concern. They have no understanding of what their level of patronage of cronyism and preferential treatment for their mates is doing to the integrity of this government. Then, on the Monday after Mr Grech had met with them, he gave another detailed response back to the Treasurer and to the Treasurer’s office, pages of emails on what the government now says was just another constituent. The government knows that no other constituent got this kind of treatment. The government knows that it was only the Prime Minister’s mate—who had given him a free car for years and years, who had donated money to him, who was one of his strongest supporters—who received treatment that no other car dealer in Australia received. That is why the government has worked so hard to ensure that the full facts of this case do not come out. If the government has got nothing to hide, why did it run interference in the Senate inquiry? If the government has got nothing to hide, why is it that government senators prevented Mr Grech from giving his evidence in the Senate inquiry on Friday?

In case viewers of, and listeners to, this broadcast are in any doubt of what is occurring here, this is all about the Treasurer’s use of his office, the Treasurer’s use of his staff, the directions the Treasurer gave to Treasury officials to give preferential treatment to the mate of the Prime Minister, treatment that no other car dealer in Australia received. On that basis alone the Treasurer should resign. The member for Hunter resigned for a lesser offence than this. The Treasurer should resign. He will continue to bring this government into disrepute for every minute that he stays in the Treasurer’s role. This government has lost its moral compass. This government has lost its way. (Time expired)