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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6720

Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (4:25 PM) —I move:

That this House censures the Treasurer:

(1)   For failing to make a full and unreserved statement about his personal involvement and that of his office in the Ozcar ‘deals for mates’ scandal and for his failure to disclose the following information:

(a)   The number of car dealers that received special treatment from the Treasurer, his office and senior Treasury officials—as was the case with John Grant;

(b)   The number of car dealers that held personal telephone conversations with the Treasurer to discuss their financing troubles—as was the case with John Grant;

(c)   The number of car dealers that were the subject of regular and lengthy updates to the Treasurer’s personal home fax—as was the case with John Grant;

(d)   The number of car dealers that had their telephone contact details handed over by 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)   The number of car dealers that 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)   importantly, that this House censures the Treasurer for failing to table 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.

Mr Speaker, it is vital that this matter be discussed today and that this censure motion be debated today. We have had debate in this House today about the Treasurer’s conduct. Now he is walking out of the House, hiding behind another issue.

The reality is this: the email evidence that has been given, without contradiction and without contravention, in the Senate today has demonstrated that the Treasurer has failed to tell the truth to this House. The Treasurer has failed to disclose the very special treatment that John Grant received at his hands, at his insistence. He has failed to disclose the way in which John Grant alone, of all the car dealers, had the privilege of being represented by the Treasury at a meeting with Ford Credit when they were seeking $500 million of Commonwealth funds—as vulnerable and dependent on the Commonwealth’s goodwill as any company could be. And there it was that the Treasury officials with the knowledge, the connivance, the support and the encouragement of the Treasurer himself, all documented in the emails before the Senate, wanted Mr Grant to get that special treatment.

They say that nothing wrong has been done. They say that this is just a smear. This, of course, is the party that stands up and raises issues of the HIH takeover of FAI 11 years ago, and fails to mention that a royal commission investigated it comprehensively and made no adverse findings against me or the firm I was a partner of at the time, Goldman Sachs. This is a government whose practice and policy is one of smear, and yet here we have the absolute proof positive that what the Treasurer said in the parliament was wrong. What did he say? He said, ‘Mr Grant was treated like any other dealer.’ Palpably false. He was treated like no other dealer. When asked a second time to see if he would stand by the first answer he gave, he said that Mr Grant would have had the same assistance as any other dealer and he did not really know what had happened about it, as though he was indifferent to the proceedings on behalf of Mr Grant and indifferent to what had been done. It was just a bit of routine stuff and yet here we have the regular reports repeating everything that was said at the meetings. On 20 February, that afternoon it says:

Treasurer, both Godwin Grech and I have spoken to John Grant this evening.

It goes on:

Godwin will arrangement for Capital Financial to contact John in the next couple of days. Capital has been very aggressive in the market, so it is a good chance to take on John’s business.

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

So we know that the Treasurer was aware that John Grant’s case was going to be raised with Ford Credit. And what was the meeting with Ford Credit about? Well, it was about getting $500 million—totally dependent on the Commonwealth for their survival. And duly, after that meeting, Mr Grech reported at 8.23 pm to the Treasurer and his staff. He said:

… I raised the case of John Grant with the CEO of Ford Credit, Greg Cohen, during my meeting—

He met with them as part of his ongoing negotiations to come up with help for them, they—Ford Credit—needing access of up to $500 million. He said that Ford Credit had said they:

… will shut down the business if they could not secure access to capital.

And he said that he had raised John Grant’s concerns. The chief executive of Ford Credit, Mr Cohen—who said to the Senate that he was told that Mr Grant was a friend or an acquaintance of the Prime Minister—gave an undertaking to Mr Grech that Ford Credit ‘will actively look at taking Grant on’. He said:

Although [they] do have independents on their books … they have been rationalising these in recent months …

The reality is this, and the facts are plain: whatever the distractions, whatever excitement the government can present, whatever smears they can fling across the chamber, the facts are inescapable. John Grant was a very special person; he got very special treatment. He was given the endorsement of the Commonwealth in circumstances where that endorsement was as powerful as it possibly could be. And yet nobody else got that. No other dealer got that sort of support. And the Treasurer has lied about it in this House. He said he got the same treatment as everybody else, would have been treated the same as everybody else, and yet the documents that his own department produced in the Senate demonstrate conclusively that his answers were false.

The government is concerned, as we are, about the email allegedly from the Prime Minister’s office to Mr Grech. We have seen reports today saying that the AFP has formed preliminary conclusions that it had been concocted. We have seen reports that it had been concocted in the Treasury. If that is true, it is a matter of enormous concern to everybody in this House. That is why, if the government was serious about taking these dealings relating to John Grant on, of really investigating it, they would hold a full judicial inquiry. We will attend; everything can be available to the judicial inquiry. Let us get to the bottom of this because what we have is a Treasurer who has unquestionably misled the House. There is no doubt about that. The case is closed on that, and the Treasurer is conveniently hiding behind the issue of the alleged email between Charlton and Grech as a means of avoiding scrutiny.

But the fact of the matter remains that the seriousness of the Treasurer’s conduct cannot be overstated, because it is not simply a matter of misleading the House—that in itself is bad enough and justification for him to resign. The fact is that the power and the influence of the Commonwealth was brought to bear in conditions where Ford Credit was so vulnerable, so susceptible—no doubt so anxious to secure support from the Commonwealth—and that was done on behalf of somebody whose only qualification was that he was a crony and a benefactor of the Prime Minister. And they wonder why we opposed Ruddbank? They wonder why we were concerned about the Treasurer leaping up and identifying a property development in Brisbane—presumably a developer he knew well, who needed support. Cronyism, looking after mates is absolutely fundamental to the DNA of the Labor Party—as are smears.

The Treasurer has been caught out and he has to be brought to account for it. He has to be censured for it, and it is vital that we deal with this censure today because all of the other issues that can be debated and that should be ventilated through a judicial inquiry cannot escape the fact that the Treasurer misled the House twice, and that he conferred an extraordinary and unprecedented benefit on John Grant in a situation where the person from whom that advantage was being sought, Ford Credit, was vulnerable—susceptible to pressure from the Commonwealth. He set out to do that for no reason other than that Mr Grant was a crony and a benefactor of the Prime Minister. And for those reasons, leave is required today, urgently, to allow us to censure the Treasurer for his conduct.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Is the motion seconded?