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Friday Forum with John Hewson and Tim Gartrel -

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John Hewson and Tim Gartrell discuss OzCar

Broadcast: 25/06/2009

Reporter: Tony Jones

Former Liberal Leader Dr John Hewson and the chief executive of AusPoll Tim Gartrell join Lateline
to discuss the OzCar scandal.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: We are joined in the studio by John Hewson, former Liberal leader and Tim
Gartrell, until recently Labor's national secretary, one of the masterminds behind Kevin Rudd's
2007 election victory and heading up market research company Auspoll.

John Hewson, first to you, how much damage has the fake email affair done to Malcolm Turnbull's

JOHN HEWSON, FORMER LIBERAL LEADER: Well it's hard to conclude at this stage, there's a lot to go,
a lot to unfold, and with the police inquiry who knows how long it will go, it could go for some

Clearly his judgment has been called into question, we'll have to see how it goes.

The tragedy is he had a really good case against Swan, he had a case to answer, it got lost in all
the intrigue and miscalculations of the strategy.

TONY JONES: You say his judgment has been called into question, on what issue?

JOHN HEWSON: I think people... what was his role in relation to this email, what did he know, what
didn't he know, his failure to answer that, relying on the email to some extent. They are all
elements, there are probably 10 or 12 different ways in which people are now looking at it, and
it's easy to be smart after the event, going in saying he should have done this or that. The way
things are done few in politics is very few people are involved in these strategic decisions, they
call it as they see it at the time.

TONY JONES: You could see a collective slumping of shoulders, you sensed the mood change through
the course of the week. It was a bad look, how hard is it to recover from?

JOHN HEWSON: They can recover, they are going into six weeks of the long break, where many of them
will go away and overseas, issues will change and come and go. The police inquiry I imagine will
continue, it will be a constant reminder.

Andrew Robb summed it up saying it wasn't the best week they'd had.

TONY JONES: He looked grey faced.

JOHN HEWSON: He has that capacity, he obviously wasn't part of the strategic decision we were
talking about.

TONY JONES: Tim Gartrell, what do you say, from the other perspective. The Government certainly
looks like it smelt the blood in the water of a badly wounded opponent.

TIM GARTRELL, CEO AUSPOLL: The best thing for the Government, this it's not about this week, but
the next year and 18 months. With Peter Costello going, they had to pick a moment to start to train
the guns on Malcolm Turnbull. That's what they started to do.

TONY JONES: Malcolm Turnbull picked the moment - just the wrong one or issue.

TIM GARTRELL: He turned the gun on himself basically or it blew up in his face. They are going to
start setting some themes about Malcolm Turnbull, he's in a rush, he's impatient. Is he a bit of a
risk? All important things in the lead up to the election. That's the long take. There's little
event that have happened, they are starting laying down markers for the campaign.

TONY JONES: One of the markers was an actual Mark, Mark Latham. The suggestion that he had the
appearance of failed Labor leader, one of their own. Extraordinary when you think about it.

TIM GARTRELL: It's seared on the memory of a lot of Labor people what happened in 2004, the way the
Liberals managed to very cleverly get the notion of risk into the campaign, make it about economic
risk but really about the character of Mark Latham, that's what you are seeing now, that's why you
had a seasoned campaigner like Anthony Albanese going very directly down the Mark Latham route.

TONY JONES: Is that a danger, when you hear the strategy as it's laid out, it has a ring of

JOHN HEWSON: There's a bit of wishful thinking in what Tim just said. Economic events will run
significantly against the Government, issues of rapidly rising unemployment, a million people
unemployed, for a guy representing the interest of working families, that will bite, and those
issues will make it more difficult for the Government. They'll do what Tim says, tagging Malcolm,
position him, try and paint him in a particular light. The main game, and the big thing about this
week, is an incredible waste of time from the point of view of the big issues, like the economy...

TONY JONES: Which the Government has consistently said through Question Time, as they tried to
deflect the initial attack from the Opposition.

JOHN HEWSON: You go and talk to the punters, they'll tell you - they are over this, they are long
past this issue, it's only of interest to a few people in Canberra, a few media and a few
politicians. The big issues are there, as unemployment rises and the myth of us having avoided a
recession evaporates, life will be tough for the Government and Malcolm will have a chance to
re-establish his position, going back to the main game: the debt and deficit issue.

TIM GARTRELL: But John people are going to start thinking about Malcolm Turnbull and start to see
him as an alternative leader, that's why I made the comment and why the Labor Party and journalists
and others will start focusing more and more on Malcolm Turnbull, there's no other alternative,
he'll be the leader at the next election.

TONY JONES: These themes are not only picked up by the Labor Party, but the media and indeed it
some Liberals who are backgrounding journalists, the impetuosity, the strong will causing him to
ignore the advice of others, those kind of issues are coming up from his own people evidently.

JOHN HEWSON: It's unfortunately something that happens more on the Liberal Party side than the
Labor side. There's still a few aspiring to greatness behind him, but as time goes on they'll pull
together behind him. Some of those weaknesses he got to make strengths, his toughness, his focus,
his capacity to deliver an argument and to argue a case. He has to turn what they are trying to
make weaknesses into strengths. It's part of the game and it's what you'll see over the next 12, 18
months or not that long, an early election still I think is on the cards.

TONY JONES: I asked this about the senior Liberals, I said at the beginning it's been reported that
there was almost a universal view in the leadership team that the email should not have been used,
so the overreaching, the impetuosity comes up, do you see it in him, they are genuine flaws that he
could possibly turn to his advantage, they are flaws, are they not?

JOHN HEWSON: They are features of Malcolm's character, they can be strengths as much as weakness,
it's true of any of us. The fact that the leadership team now, ex-post thinks it's a problem to use
it, I wonder how many in the beginning... when the news came through, here is the killer email, how
many would have said, "We won't use it, put it to one side", I think it's so easy to be wise after
the event and there's an element of that pretty pronounced in the Liberal Party all the time.

TONY JONES: Tim Gartrell, where do you think this will go now, this particular case, the faked

TIM GARTRELL: As John said, the whole police investigation is going to roll out. We won't hear a
lot about it daily, because Parliament is not sitting for another six or seven weeks, but we'll
hear about it as more news rolls out of the police investigation and all the rest.

TONY JONES: It was reported today, of course, that Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Eric Abetz, the
very man that was going to cross-examine Godwin Grech, actually met him in a secret meeting prior
to him giving that crucial evidence last Friday.

It's not illegal, but it does appear wrong, you don't know what happened in that meeting. There are
an awful lot of questions still unanswered.

TIM GARTRELL: My question is why is the leader, why is the Opposition Leader involved in such an
early stage in these investigations? John, when he was Opposition Leader took things to the Labor
Party, I was involved in Opposition, in researching documents and a lot of other people Senators
Ray and Faulkner would get into this process, it was a long drawn out process, people were very
careful. One thing you did was didn't jump the leader in quickly you let it go through the Senate
slower, much slower than Senator Abetz has done, you create a bit of a firewall but you have to
make sure the documents are genuine. I talked to a senior person today involved and they said 80
about per cent of documents coming to them they never used because they were worried about
authenticity, sources, that stuff.

JOHN HEWSON: You can't do too much homework. I ran three of these issues in my time, the gold lunch
in Western Australia, the foundation of WA Inc with Hawke at the time. The whiteboard with Ros
Kelly, and the Marshall Islands and Graham Richardson. In the third case, I got a brown paper
envelope full of emails, I wasn't sure if they were or weren't valid. We didn't run on them, but
questions. Not emails, faxes. The answers to the questions contradicted the faxes, the faxes then
disproved the answer, and day after day you chipped away. You can't do too much homework. As Tim
says you have to be sure before you go...

TONY JONES: This is the central flaw, it appears that the homework, the checking, the veracity of
this wasn't done, the Leader himself was involved in sitting down with the main source.

JOHN HEWSON: I go back to my point, put yourself in his position, you get an email, you are pretty
sure it's authentic, you are lead to believe it's authentic, maybe you put Eric Abetz out there,
let him have a run, if he falls off, bad luck. But the point it...

TONY JONES: You wouldn't have sat with actual sources in secret meetings?

JOHN HEWSON: No, you always have to operate, as I used to say to my staff, if you are not prepared
to read it on the front page of 'The Australian' don't do it, don't say it or be part of it. I
think you have to be very careful as to the process, and we don't know whether there's anything
wrong with this process or not.

TONY JONES: What about the actual propriety of sitting down with someone about to give damaging
evidence. First of all, the man who is going to cross-examine him sits down and gives the answers,
the context changes dramatically from what he said in his first appearance before the Senate on
June 4th, to the one last Friday. On the first appearance he says nothing wrong happened, everyone
behaved with perfect propriety to me as a public servant. By the next appearance he's saying
completely different things. It looks very bad.

JOHN HEWSON: It does, it looks pretty dicey across the board, and who knows who did what and who
said what and who attended what. The advantage of the police inquiry as a legitimate police
enquiry, is it will investigate all of that.

The government doesn't come out well, Treasury doesn't come out well either. There's a lot of water
to go under this bridge. Who knows where that will go.

TIM GARTRELL: I think the Government probably came out ahead this week, John.

TONY JONES: Look, I mean, you'd have to say that. The Government is clearly sort of cock-a-hoop.
One of the questions is whether they will now be seriously contemplating taking advantage of this
with an early election.

TIM GARTRELL: I am not a believer in early elections, that they happen that regularly.

TONY JONES: Double dissolution election gives them a chance to get back control of the Senate.

TIM GARTRELL: There's a three-month trigger, it's arguable what happened with the delaying of the
CPRS legislation ... there's always a long way to go with these things, people always start talking
about early elections. I think there'll be an election late next year.

TONY JONES: What if the first vote happened in August on the climate change legislation, the second
vote before the end of the year, what's the earliest possible time after that?

TIM GARTRELL: Once the three months triggers, you're looking at December, so you're probably
looking more like February, people don't want to campaign over Christmas, so February next year.

That's on the cards.

TONY JONES: February/March is what people behind the scenes are saying as the main date, where you
could have a double dissolution election, that sounds about right to you?

TIM GARTRELL: Yes, but I think the government will go past the real date, the 16 August, where they
can start calling a normal election, half Senate, full house election.

JOHN HEWSON: I think the point about the ETS is the only way they'll get that passed is with a
double dissolution, joint sitting of both houses to get it through. Inevitably that'll be the case,
I don't think the positions will switch. The trigger will be there, it's whether they use it.

Go back to the economic scene, rapidly rising unemployment, increasing evidence of debt, pressure
on debt and interest rates, the probability of an early election is high.

TIM GARTRELL: John, the economic news is bad around the world, but the recent news today is that
Australia is doing pretty well. I think that's got to be factored in.

JOHN HEWSON: We are just later into it, our bad news is to come, the fact everyone is relieved we
didn't have a technical recession, we'll have one. Go back to 1990. We had a negative quarter, then
one positive quarter, "No technical recession". And then two consecutive quarters of negative
growth and the recession we had to have as Keating said.

TONY JONES: Let's imagine a double dissolution election in February or March, what happens?

JOHN HEWSON: Malcolm can make that a contest.

TONY JONES: Even now, when he's seriously damaged his own credibility?

JOHN HEWSON: He can be seen to rebuild and regroup and to go on to the attack. Focusing on the real
issues. Out there the last week to most people has been an incredible waste of time, a game
politicians play at the expense of the rest of us.

TONY JONES: Who will they blame for the waste of type, the Government or the Opposition, who?

JOHN HEWSON: They'll blame politicians and go back to the issues, who is making a stand who is
contributing on issues that matter. There's so many issues that matter, they'll get worse as the
economic conditions deteriorate.

TONY JONES: Tim Gartrell?

TIM GARTRELL: I don't necessarily think so, I think the stimulus package is having a positive
impact, people in tough times turn to incumbent governments and people with first-term Governments
in tough times turn to those governments. I don't think the rougher times will necessarily
translate to people rushing towards the Liberal Party and rushing towards Malcolm.

TONY JONES: Final quick question for you. The Government got out from under a potential scandal.
Have they learnt a tough lesson not to do anything that appears to benefit a political friend?

TIM GARTRELL: People have to be careful. I think the case against Wayne Swan is not that strong.
Lots of Ministers talk to people and then refer them to the department. That's all that happened
here. He referred this guy to the processes in Treasury, the guy hasn't got anything out of the

TONY JONES: Quick response.

JOHN HEWSON: I think you are better off being a mate than not a mate in that process.

TONY JONES: John Hewson, Tim Gartrell, thank you for joining us tonight.

JOHN HEWSON: Thank you.

TIM GARTRELL: Thank you.