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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4317

Senator ABETZ (1:26 PM) —The Senate is considering the Car Dealership Financing Guarantee Appropriation Bill 2009. The so-called ‘special purpose vehicle’—SPV, dubbed OzCar—was established to help car dealers unable to obtain ongoing finance because of the credit squeeze. I remind the Senate that the credit squeeze was exacerbated by the mismanagement of the credit squeeze by Labor. Firstly, Labor’s ill-thought-out bank guarantee saw a flight of capital from credit companies to the banks. The consequences are there for all to see. Also, Labor’s huge spendathon, which has now sucked up $200 billion—and it is ever increasing—from the credit markets, made the credit supply all the more difficult. I still do not know how Mr Rudd and Mr Swan say with a straight face that somehow you deal with a credit crisis by putting a greater demand on credit resources by borrowing an extra $200 billion, which, by the end of it all, I think will be $315 billion.

Senator Fifield —Bizarre.

Senator ABETZ —It really is, as Senator Fifield says, quite bizarre. It is an act of economic stupidity and long-term vandalism to the rightful inheritance of the next generation of Australians. When Labor make these economically irresponsible decisions there are flow-on consequences. And, of course, the flow-on consequence for car dealers was that they found themselves in real strife. That is what happens. Once you start unsettling one part of the economy, there are flow-on consequences. Therefore, a mechanism was needed to assist the car dealers. That mechanism was established with the great announcement and great fanfare of the $2 billion OzCar fund. We now know, courtesy of Senate estimates—and it was never issued by way of press release—that although the $2 billion was announced with great fanfare, it shrank to $850 million, and we think it is now down to $450 million. There was no further discussion by way of media releases as to that, but we found that out.

We have also found out that OzCar, the special purpose vehicle facility, would not be in existence but for the need of Ford Credit, for which the parameters of the original OzCar were substantially changed. Indeed, the incontrovertible evidence is that, but for Ford Credit’s needs, OzCar would not even have been established. What was the importance for Ford Credit? Very simply, Ford Credit provides funding to the car dealerships which, not surprisingly, sell Ford motor vehicles. If the car dealerships that sell these vehicles cannot exist, there is then—and this is interesting—a knock-on effect to Ford manufacturing in this country. Therefore, this facility is needed, and we support the government in establishing the facility and expanding the parameters to allow Ford Credit into the scheme, something which it was not designed for originally. These are the flow-on, knock-on consequences of the irresponsible decisions which Labor has taken.

There has been some questioning around the issue of Ford Credit’s involvement in the OzCar scheme, and I want to place a few statements of fact on the record. But, first, I want to deal with a number of smokescreens that have been put up. Firstly, there has been a deliberate campaign by Labor to suggest that the opposition created a fake email. There is no evidence, and, might I add, it is a completely false assertion. Are we actually to believe that somebody from the opposition, on the evidence known, broke into Treasury to create it on a Treasury computer? That is fanciful stuff. I know there have been a number of journalists anxious to ask me questions. Given that it was created on a Treasury computer, I just wonder why they do not ask Mr Rudd and Mr Swan, ‘Do you believe that somebody from the opposition actually went in there to create this fake email?’or whether he will now apologise. I think we know what the answer will be. They will not even bother to ask Mr Rudd that question, unfortunately. The second point and the second smokescreen is that the whole case of the opposition against Mr Swan was based on the email. Can I simply say that that email bore no relationship whatsoever, in any way, shape or form, to the allegations that still stand firm against Mr Swan—and they remain very firm.

I will make some other observations, especially in relation to my friends in the media who, all of a sudden, seem very interested in me: some of your members have been willing to risk imprisonment for not revealing their sources. It is a matter of great honour to them, yet they apply a completely different standard to the opposition when the opposition says, ‘We will not reveal our sources.’ It is interesting. Remember when Mr Rudd was going on about the Australian Wheat Board and he had cable after cable leaked to him?

Senator Fifield —Where did he get those from?

Senator ABETZ —You could ask that question, Senator Fifield, but, interestingly, Mr Rudd was not asked by the media: ‘Reveal your sources.’ No such demand was made. Why not? Where is the standard here? I say to those journalists who rely on information provided to them: be very careful with this push—and I would in fact invite them to read the editorial in the Australian.

Can I also say that I am astounded at the language used. It seems that if a public servant gives information to a Labor opposition, all of a sudden they become a hero and they are a whistleblower. If a public servant gives information to a Liberal-National opposition they are a mole—an interesting change and nuance in the language employed by our very objective friends in the media! I would invite them to consider, and consider very carefully, their use of language and the way that they have sought to pursue this matter.

In case anybody is interested, the Hansard is up. On Friday, 19 June there was a hearing of a Senate committee, and I invite everybody to read that Hansard and the statements contained therein. May I say that the questions that I raised therein were proper for any opposition to follow up on the basis of information received. If certain questions had not been asked and journalists had somehow found out that certain information may or may not have been received by the opposition, the headlines would have been that we are gutless and that we do not know what the role of opposition is. The role of opposition is to test the material that is supplied to us from time to time. Read the Hansard, even upside down if you like, and you will find nothing other than a testing of information, a testing of propositions, which, as we now know, the witness was not allowed to answer because of the deliberate interference of Labor senators and the senior officer at the table.

But let us get back to the facts that do not rely on any email whatsoever. The facts are these: the Treasurer of this country knew via emails going to his home fax that a Treasury official would raise the issue of a Mr John Grant at a meeting on 23 February 2009—a crucial meeting. Without its $550 million requirement of guarantee Ford Credit would be sunk and, without Ford Credit, Ford manufacturing would be sunk. This was the seriousness of the proposition; there were thousands of jobs at stake.

We weasel into the discussion courtesy of a Treasury official with the specific instruction of the Treasurer: ‘By the way, there’s a fellow called John Grant who needs financing for his car dealership. By the way, I just happen to have with me his mobile telephone number. It might be helpful. By the way, he is a mate of the Prime Minister, but that is all irrelevant and the mobile number’s here. Give him a ring.’ And the Ford officials rang Mr Grant that very day and arranged to have further discussions a few days later. Can you imagine the immense pressure on Ford Credit? They were fighting not only for Ford Credit’s life but also for Ford’s manufacturing life in Australia—$550 million for Ford Credit plus all their investment in Ford manufacturing.

It was a huge burden and I lay no blame on Ford Credit for ringing Mr John Grant. But I do blame the Treasurer of this country for using his officers to ask for such an accommodation for Mr John Grant. Out of all the car dealers that had problems in this country, not a single one got the favoured treatment that John Grant did. Why John Grant, a mate and benefactor of the Prime Minister of this country? No questions about that. That is the absolute truth. That is the absolute situation. Mr John Grant, out of all the car dealers, was offered that special deal. Indeed, in trying to run his own defence—and the media should see this as very contemptuous of the parliament—Mr Swan put down a press pack of emails. He did not table it in the parliament where he was under attack but gave it to the media late in the afternoon so the opposition could not see it and respond to it until the next day. See how Labor is always driven by the media cycle? But finally the media did provide us with a copy of the emails and, as a result, the opposition could go through them.

Those emails are very telling, because they disclose that those car dealers on which Treasury officials were working had a detailed analysis attached to them: somebody was not in a financially sound position; somebody else was an elderly couple, but the children did not want to take over the family business and there was no succession plan. And so the detailed analysis went on. Where was the analysis of Mr John Grant’s business? It was not even John Grant. I think it was just ‘John tells us he fits the criteria’. That was the rigorous assessment that the Treasurer demanded. What a rigorous assessment: ‘John tells us it’s OK’. What else do the emails tell us? Every other car dealer was referred to by the name of the business. What about Mr Grant’s? Was it John Grant Motors? Was it even Mr Grant? Was it even John Grant? No, the emails flowing to the Treasurer’s home fax spoke of ‘John’: ‘John this’; ‘John that’; ‘John said.’ The familiarity just reeks of Labor Party mateship and Labor Party deals. No other car dealer was referred to only by their Christian name in these emails emanating from Mr Swan’s office which reported progress back to Mr Swan’s home fax. No other car dealer got that sort of special treatment.

Our case against Mr Swan is based on his misleading advice to the parliament that John Grant was dealt with in no special way; that he was dealt with no differently. We now know for a fact that it was only John Grant’s case that went to the Treasurer’s home fax. We now know from the information released that the only car dealer who was referred to by Christian name only was our dear friend John, Mr John Grant. We know that it was the only case raised on that particular Monday, 23 February with Ford Credit. Others had been raised with Ford Credit previously, but it was the only case on that particular Monday at the crucial meeting in Melbourne which was to help determine whether Ford Credit would be accommodated. The case of John Grant was raised and his mobile phone number handed over with a message ‘He’s a mate of the Prime Minister.’ It was all done with the full knowledge of the Treasurer, and when the bureaucrat got back to Canberra he sent an email outlining what he had done and that then got shot off to the Treasurer’s home fax as well.

The case is now clearly established that Mr Swan can no longer maintain and sustain his argument about Mr Grant. Mr Swan cannot say in any way, shape or form that John Grant was not treated in a preferential manner. He was treated in a preferential manner, and when the bureaucrat first got the message from the Treasurer’s office it was made perfectly clear that this was no ordinary constituent. There was something special about this man; he was a mate of the Prime Minister.

The legislation before us is necessitated by Labor’s poor handling of the economy. The credit crisis has been exacerbated by Labor’s foolish bank guarantee, which has had a flow-on consequence with people withdrawing money from credit companies into banks, and as a result the credit companies cannot provide the credit assistance that they have in the past. And if Ford Credit—and that is basically the only company that is now being accommodated by this—were not accommodated, Ford dealerships may well collapse around the country which would have dire consequences for Ford Australia’s manufacturing.

If Mr Swan’s involvement in Mr John Grant’s case had happened in the state of New South Wales, it would, without any measure of doubt, have been referred to ICAC. I thought my home state of Tasmania were the limbo champs with the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Senator Parry and Senator Bushby, who are sitting here with me, know that when somebody is caught misleading the parliament—even in state Labor—they do the decent thing and actually resign. And here is Mr Swan continuing to assert that nothing special was done. Clearly, something very special was done, and to suggest that the opposition’s case against Mr Swan relies on the email is simply false. It is untrue. The evidence is there for itself.

In my time as a lawyer and as a parliamentarian, I have always told people, ‘You can rely on my assurance that I will not breach confidences.’ If something is given to me confidentially, it will remain so with me—even if it becomes uncomfortable for me and even if it does become easier to reveal my source. My own personal integrity and my own professional integrity say that you cannot be concerned about yourself; it is about those people to whom you have given a promise and an assurance. So I say to my friends in the media and the Labor Party: do you really want a senator to breach a confidence and pursue that or do you want to pursue a Treasurer who, on the documentation that he has tabled in his flawed defence, shows that he has misled the parliament not once, not twice, but on more than half-a-dozen occasions over the past week or so. So, I indicate that the opposition supports the bill.