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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6688

Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (2:06 PM) —On Friday, the Leader of the Opposition, at a press conference, stated the following:

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

The Leader of the Opposition then called on the Prime Minister and Treasurer to resign as a result of these claims that they had been engaged in corrupt behaviour and had lied to the Australian people. It is hard to think of a more serious accusation that can be made against a Prime Minister or Treasurer than accusations such as these. Accusations of corrupt behaviour in particular are not very common in national politics.

We have now heard reports over the past hour that the AFP has run to ground the fake email on which all of these accusations were founded by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition and his office now have some very interesting questions to answer. They have been pushing this fake email around for weeks and have been promoting its content for weeks, and now they have some very, very tough questions to answer. It is apparent in the opposition’s behaviour in the parliament today that they understand the predicament they are now in. They have not moved a censure motion. Two or three days ago they were asserting corrupt conduct on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and yet they are not moving a censure motion here today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spent most of her speech talking about events of weeks ago that are irrelevant to the current context, and very, very significantly did not even mention the Prime Minister during her opening remarks in her statement about what was wrong with the government.

The opposition now have some very, very tricky questions to answer, particularly in their role in the production, dissemination, distribution and promotion of this phoney email. I call on the opposition to open up all of their computer resources, all of their backups and allow the Federal Police to examine these matters in the same way that the government has. Just a word of friendly advice—to use a Turnbull-like term—do not go scurrying back to your offices and try to delete emails, guys; I do not think that would be a great idea. I suggest that the opposition think very carefully about your behaviour from here on in because you have made the most extreme assertion that is possible to make against a government and against a Prime Minister—corrupt behaviour—on the basis of virtually zero evidence, and now that evidence has blown up in your face.

Over the past few days we have seen an extraordinary saga unfold about this alleged email. It has been a bit like the Loch Ness monster. Everybody has heard of it, everybody knows a bloke in a pub who had a photograph of it, everybody knows what it looks like but there is no evidence of it. And there is no email that anybody can bring to bear.

We even note that the journalist, Steve Lewis from News Ltd, who published a story detailing the content of the email, referred to it as ‘an alleged email’ that had been read out to him. I wonder who might have read out that email to the journalist, because for the last few weeks, the Leader of the Opposition and his acolytes have been telling anybody who wants to listen that they have documentary evidence that shows that Kevin Rudd has lied to the parliament and that Kevin Rudd is corrupt. I note several instances where journalists reported this on Friday, 20 June. Paul Kelly reported Liberal sources saying that they had:

… sighted the evidence.

Sid Maher reported:

… the Coalition last night was maintaining that it had an email …

Phil Coorey reported:

The Coalition claims to be aware of its existence and some say they have read it.

It sounds a lot like the Loch Ness monster to me. It is significant that by the end of the day, Mark Riley, on Channel 7 news was reporting, ‘Those people in the Liberal Party who were telling me yesterday that either they knew of its existence or its contents are now certainly running away at 100 miles an hour.’ It is equally notable that yesterday, at a press conference, the Leader of the Opposition was stating that he had:

… never claimed to have a copy of the email—

and that he had—

… not claimed at any time to be in possession of this email.

Yet, mysteriously, one of his shadow ministers in the Senate was able to read out the content of this alleged email on Friday at the Senate hearing before it had been published in any media outlet. So, although the Leader of the Opposition says that he and by definition the Liberal Party had nothing to do with the dissemination of this email, one of his frontbenchers was able to read it out word for word at the Senate inquiry before it had been published in the media.

There are some peculiar things about this email, and I want to draw the House’s attention to one particular aspect that should have said to anybody scrutinising it and asking is this genuine that there was a question about the email. It refers to ‘a Queensland car dealer, John Grant’, but what it does not contain is any contact information that would enable Mr Grech to follow up the request in the email. The use of the term ‘a Queensland car dealer’ to me implies that this is the first time the person sending the email has raised this matter with Mr Grech in this purported email yet, even though there is a request to follow up, there are no details included as to how this might be done. Anybody reading this email who is being diligent, who is being serious and who understands the explosive nature of the accusation they are proposing to make off the back of this email would have heard an alarm bell ring and said, ‘Hang on a second, this does not ring true.’ Yet the Leader of the Opposition was happy to hawk this around, happy to tell people and happy to front Andrew Charlton, the Prime Minister’s adviser, at the Press Gallery ball and claim that he had documentary evidence.

Mr Ruddock —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order and I would like to ask you for a ruling in relation to a matter that I regard as being quite serious. There are issues which—

Government members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! I would like to hear this point quickly. The member for Berowra has a right to be heard.

Mr Ruddock —There are matters that the Prime Minister believed to be sufficiently serious to be raised with the Australian Federal Police. A great deal of the debate which we are hearing traverses those matters that would be directly the subject of that investigation. I am asking for a formal ruling as to whether or not you believe it complies with the standing orders for members in debate to be traducing those issues that are the subject of a police investigation.

Government members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member can resume his seat. Order! This is a serious issue. The questions being asked are not being asked by police and are therefore not in relevance to sub judice. Therefore, the member’s point of order is not relevant. The minister has the call.

Mr TANNER —My comments relate entirely to matters that are on the public record. So we have lots of people who all happened conveniently to be connected to the Liberal Party whispering around the corridors that they have the smoking gun, and as soon as it becomes clear that the smoking gun they think they have got could be blowing up in their faces, they scuttle at 100 miles an hour away from it.

This is not the first time that the Leader of the Opposition has been involved in exercises of this kind, to pump up a case way beyond any content that he has; this is not the first time he has behaved like a grubby opportunist. You will note some interesting examples in the Quarterly essay by Annabel Crabb recently, where he took legal action with respect to the Costigan royal commission and claimed that he had ‘significant evidence that was never produced’. He put out a press release saying that he had serious material to back up this action, and yet the judge in the case—Packer against Meagher—subsequently concluded:

… failure to give those particulars has never been explained. Nor have the particulars ever been supplied …

And then he said of the now Leader of the Opposition he:

… managed effectively to poison the fountain of justice immediately before the commencement of the present proceedings.

Similarly, he claimed to be aware of the identity of a commission staff member leaking material to the journalist Brian Toohey. That was absolutely repudiated by Brian Toohey at that time.

It is not only the Leader of the Opposition who has form in this respect; it is the entire Liberal Party. Somehow the paths of the Liberal Party and dubious documents, forgeries and information that does not stack up just keep crossing. They keep weaving into the single stream time and time again. We all remember the ‘children overboard’ affair. Another case of Chinese whispers, as they are called, where the gossip, the innuendo, goes round in circles and it gets ever more hysterical, ever more florid, ever more off the point and ever more inaccurate, and then it emerges in public debate as if it were fact when of course it clearly is not. We all remember weapons of mass destruction—not just an effort by the Liberal Party, I hasten to add, but something they embraced enthusiastically without really being too careful to worry about whether there was any factual information to back up the assertions.

More recently we remember the activities in the seat of Lindsay in the last week of the last federal election campaign, where Liberal Party activists, including people very senior in the Liberal Party, were caught red-handed distributing fake leaflets. And of course, most recently and most pertinently, the Leader of the Opposition in South Australia, Martin Hamilton-Smith, produced into the public domain documents alleging the most extreme corruption by the South Australian Premier and others and then discovered, much to his embarrassment, that these documents are false. Somebody eventually has to teach people in the Liberal Party that you actually check before you make assertions of these kinds. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt here in assuming that you yourselves have not been the authors of this document. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I am prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt, but at least you should check.

We have a pattern of behaviour here that is unconcerned with evidence, unconcerned with truth, unconcerned with fact. It does not matter if you are the Young Liberals at the ANU, it does not matter that much if you are playing in the sandpit. But when you are Prime Minister or seeking to be Prime Minister, as the Leader of the Opposition is, it is an entirely different story. The Liberal Party tactics committee is slowly turning into the newsroom of the National Inquirer. Next we are going to have B-52 bombers found on the moon and Elvis alive and well in Montana. That is what is happening to the Liberal Party. And now we are seeing the backdown. Now we are seeing the grand retreat. Now we are seeing: ‘Uh oh! It’s blown up in our faces; we’ll just scurry away like the cowards we are. After having made these extreme accusations in the public domain, we are now going to run away, not even move a censure motion.’

There is other material in the public domain which tells you a lot about the grubby opportunism of the Leader of the Opposition. I remind everybody in the House just of the simple facts associated with his involvement with the HIH disaster. One, in 1997, along with Rodney Adler, he explored the prospect of buying HIH and decided that it was not a good purchase. Two, he was paid $1½ million to help FAI find a buyer. Three, he advised FAI not to get an independent valuation of its assets. Four, he wrote to Goldman Sachs—the Leader of the Opposition wrote to his employers in New York on 7 September 1998 saying that the true net value of the assets of FAI was about $20 million. It was then later sold to HIH, partly on his advice, for $295 million, and that played a central role in the collapse of HIH and we all know the misery, the loss that that caused around the Australian nation. And in June 2006, as the House will also know, the liquidator of HIH issued legal proceedings against the Leader of the Opposition, claiming, amongst other things, that he had misled the non-executive directors of FAI.

Mr Hunt —You should be ashamed of yourself, Lindsay!

Government members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! Standing order 65(b) still applies!

Mr TANNER —I find it amusing that a frontbencher of a party whose leader has just been prepared, without any evidence whatsoever, to accuse the Prime Minister of corrupt conduct now tells me I should be ashamed of myself for repeating facts that are on the public record in the parliament. I find that an extraordinary contrast. Accusing the Prime Minister of this country of corrupt behaviour is just about the most extreme, serious accusation the Leader of the Opposition could make. He, by failing to back up this accusation, discredits himself, he discredits the office of Leader of the Opposition and he discredits the Liberal Party and he should resign.