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Canberra quietens after the week that was -

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Canberra quietens after the week that was

Emma Griffiths reported this story on Friday, June 26, 2009 12:15:00

Federal Parliament has risen for the winter break but questions still remain after a week of
politics dominated by the OzCar affair. "The World Today" speaks to two former senior advisers from
either side of the political divide to get their take on the winners and losers from the scandal.

PETER CAVE: It's been a ferocious week in federal politics with accusations flying between the two
major parties over the fake email scandal.

Parliament has now risen for the winter break and MPs have headed home with questions still hanging
over both the Coalition and Labor.

At issue for the Coalition: whether it lent on a Treasury official to go public with the now
notorious email; and for the Government: whether Wayne Swan did in fact play favourites with a
Labor Party donor, the Brisbane based car dealer John Grant.

To help go through some of these issues today we have two former senior advisors.

Graeme Morris who was John Howard's chief of staff and Simon Banks who held the same position under
the former Labor leader Simon Crean.

They're both speaking with Emma Griffiths who's in our Canberra studio.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Graeme Morris, Simon Banks, thanks for joining us today.


SIMON BANKS: Thanks Emma.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: We'll start with the man at the centre of this affair, the Treasury official Godwin
Grech. It was his evidence at a Senate inquiry exactly one week ago that set this all in train. Let
me get it on the record first, gentlemen.

First Graeme Morris, what do you know of Godwin Grech? Have you ever met him and have you ever had
any dealings with him?

GRAEME MORRIS: I haven't met him but a lot of my former colleagues and friends know him very well
and they tell me that a) a very, very professional, diligent public servant, a workaholic, knows
his stuff and also a fellow, I'm told who for many, many years has not been well and...

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Did you know him as a man who was supplying information to the Coalition?


EMMA GRIFFITHS: And Simon Banks, any dealings with Godwin Grech?

SIMON BANKS: Yes, like I dealt with him in his role as a public servant in recent times and I found
him to be a professional public servant.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Did you ever think perhaps he was doing anything that a public servant shouldn't

SIMON BANKS: Had no idea, no idea.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: So we'll go to another man at the centre of this scandal - Malcolm Turnbull.

Graeme Morris, how does Malcolm Turnbull look at the end of this week? It should have been a big
win for him but it hasn't turned out to be like that because the email has turned out to be a hoax.
Can he recover from this?

GRAEME MORRIS: Yes he can. He can. Look when you think about it, if there was talk of you know
special treatment from the Government for a prime ministerial mate and that was confirmed by a
public servant, I would have thought most people would have thought Malcolm Turnbull was a bit of a
wuss or a sook if he hadn't done something.

As it turned out probably he opened up with a full sort of cavalry charge on the Prime Minister
when he probably should have had some sort of guerrilla or sniper fire at the Treasurer and he sort
of missed the PM completely.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: So was that a mistake? I mean you can't really see John Howard doing that, can you?
There was no caution there, was there?

GRAEME MORRIS: Oh, you know, John Howard had his mistakes too at times. But look all Opposition
leaders do.

And you know, did it hurt him? Yes I think when it was clear that the Prime Minister and his office
was in the clear the Government aimed all their missiles and cannons at Malcolm Turnbull and he had
a bit of skin taken off him, but you know he's a big boy.

And Opposition leaders, all Parliamentarians but particularly the Opposition leaders are tested by
how they handle themselves in difficult periods.

And it just seemed to me, just watching Parliament this week that the three people on each side,
the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and Anthony Albanese up against Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and
Tony Abbott - it was Parliament at its best on a peculiar issue. But they, you know they got in
there. There was lots of drama, there was lots of tension, lots of pressure and they did their job.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: On Malcolm Turnbull though, I mean his leadership, there are senior Liberals
expressing concern about that. Has he being saved simply because there's no-one else out there
really at the moment? Peter Costello has gone the week before.

GRAEME MORRIS: They're not senior Liberals. There is one or two prissy little pygmy panic merchants
who might be out there and it's, you know, and it's on both sides. Had the Treasurer had a rougher
week than he had, you know some of the Labor people would be saying oh dear, you know the Treasurer
is bringing us down.

Look, Malcolm Turnbull is very safe; a) because he is the best person I think, the backbench thinks
the best person to lead them; and yes because it is daylight to anyone else.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Peter Costello is in Israel during this whole thing. Do you think there was a bit
of phone traffic asking him perhaps to reconsider?

GRAEME MORRIS: I doubt it. It seemed to me that the former treasurer made it very clear that he's
done politics.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Simon Banks, Wayne Swan has been ducking and weaving over this issue. He, you know
he has had dealer with the car dealer John Grant. John Grant has given a free ute to the Prime
Minister. Wayne Swan spoke directly with John Grant on the phone. Is there an error of political
judgement here?

SIMON BANKS: Well I think the first point I make about all this is that the Government has put all
this on the record so it's there; I mean the relationship between the Prime Minister and Mr Grant
in terms of the, you know, the gift of the ute for his campaigning purposes. All of this stuff is
on the public record. I think the Government has put it out there. People can form their own
judgements about whether they think is, you know, right or wrong.

The key point at the end of the day with this particular matter is that, you know, Mr Grant didn't
actually get any special treatment. He didn't get any privileged position out of this compared with
all of the other car dealers who were coming forward expressing problems at the time. He was dealt
with in essentially the same way.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: But there was a suggestion or a prompt from Treasury to Godwin Grech to bring up
John Grant's case at a meeting with Ford Credit at the time that Ford Credit was seeking
half-a-billion-dollars worth of funding from the Government.

There are questions there, aren't there?

SIMON BANKS: Well look there are issues about it obviously and people will have a look at it. The
Auditor-General is going to have a look at how this case was handled at the time and that's an
appropriate and independent way of checking to make sure that things were done properly.

But the key point again, I keep coming back to is that at the end of the day Mr Grant didn't
actually end up getting any special treatment at all from anyone.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Wayne Swan though was looking under pressure. There would have been some very
worried people in Labor ranks listening to that Senate inquiry last week, wouldn't there?

SIMON BANKS: Well look I think you have to now look back a week later on that Senate inquiry in
context. I think there are obvious questions out there in the public domain about the evidence that
may have been provided to that Senate inquiry.

I think we have to wait until we see all of this come out in the full wash. I don't think you can
judge it based on that information at that time.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Has Malcolm Turnbull through jumping on this hoax email, given Wayne Swan a bit of
a get out of jail free card here?

SIMON BANKS: Well I think the big problem that Malcolm has really had over the past week is a
fundamental one. I mean that like in a couple of months' time no-one is going to particularly
remember these events.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: But it has been a close call for Wayne Swan, hasn't it?

SIMON BANKS: No, no I wouldn't say that at all. What I'd say is that what people are going to take
out of this last week in particular is real issues about the judgement of Mr Turnbull in dealing
with this matter.

He made a series of mistakes. Let me just run through them very quickly for you.

First of all on Friday he jumped to some conclusions on the basis of Mr Grech's evidence to the
Senate inquiry and really overreached by calling at that stage for the resignation of the Prime
Minister and the Treasurer.

Then you know early in the week he promised that he was going to fully cooperate with an AFP
inquiry and as the week went on he reversed that and said that he was going to qualify it.

Thirdly, you know then you know despite during the middle of the week clearing the Prime Minister,
saying that he had no case to answer, yesterday in Question Time they continued to come back to the
Prime Minister's relationship with Mr Grant despite the fact that there is no evidence, no evidence
at all of anything inappropriate.

And then finally I think you know the question that a number of his own colleagues are raising at
the moment which is, why did he get so personally involved in all of this? Why didn't he keep some
distance and objectivity about what was going on? Why did he invest so much of himself in this?

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Well on that...

SIMON BANKS: Those fundamental questions of judgement I think will linger and it's not the Labor
Party raising those questions today. It's the Liberal Party raising those questions today.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Well on that last point, Graeme Morris should Malcolm Turnbull have handed this
matter over to somebody else who could really take up the fight against Labor instead of putting
himself all out there?

GRAEME MORRIS: Well the answer is yes but you knowJoe Hockey didn't do a bad job. Tony Abbott
didn't do a bad job. But sometimes in these sort of things everyone says come on leader, it's

And yes look if you know if you had a Peter Reith or a Peter Costello there then maybe you would
hand it over there but he didn't.

And look, you know an Opposition leader needs, they sort of needs a backbone, they need guts, they
need ideas, they need to be able to work long hours and they need a little bit of luck.

Now Malcolm I think has got all of those but this week he ran out of luck.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Has he had, has he worn some damage though with the electorate? I mean their choice
of leader recently, their choice of Prime Minister has shown they appreciate a bit of caution.


EMMA GRIFFITHS: The electorate.

GRAEME MORRIS: Oh yes, look the electorate, well that, that's true that there is, one has to be a
bit cautious. But also, you know the electorate has to look at how a person handles themselves
under pressure and there is no doubt at the end of the week Malcolm ended up under pressure but he
was still in there fighting, he was still in there batting.

And when you think about it, it's not, it's only a couple of weeks ago the Labor Party was in a bit
of a schmozzle when Joel Fitzgibbon fell over and here we are today at the end of that strange week
when we've got, what was it, five minutes on the ABC's main news where we're talking about a fellow
who for half of his life probably would have been kicked out of the sideshow alley at the Wagga
show because he was too weird.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Well I just want to keep on that issue about how people out there, voters are
looking at this issue because it's been a fairly fierce time in federal politics the last week and
there have been lots of letters to the editor in the papers saying what are our elected official
doing? You know, get on with running the country.

Simon Banks first, does anyone really win in this sort of stoush?

SIMON BANKS: Look I think politics as a whole is the loser out of these sorts of you know incidents
but look, Parliament and politics is a process for holding people to account at one level.

I think the real problem out of the backend particularly of this week is that there are really some
very substantial issues that the Parliament should have been getting on and dealing with - climate
change being the most obvious example.

And what we are seeing constantly from the Coalition at the moment is a focus on these issues on
the one hand. And the answer is if they were doing that but then getting on with the main game of
the legislation in the Parliament, you could at least give them some credit for that. But they are
not even getting on with the main game around those core issues that people really do care about.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: And Graeme Morris, is there any winner is this? Can there be any winner in this
sort of stoush?

GRAEME MORRIS: Yes I, look I think there are. I think people do judge leaders by how they handle
themselves in difficult periods. And the week started off on sort of probity and governance and
standards and it ended up sort of, the Government get Malcolm.

But he's still standing. I think, look I think the basic message the electorate took out of this
was Malcolm Turnbull had a go at something. He got it a bit wrong. He shouldn't have had a go at
the Prime Minister. But the Treasurer did something there and I think they would hope that the
Treasurer wouldn't handle things in future the way he did with this one.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: Okay Graeme Morris, Simon Banks, thanks very much for your time.

SIMON BANKS: Emma, Graeme.


PETER CAVE: And asking the questions was our political correspondent Emma Griffiths.