PM’s car trouble more than just a minor bingle
UPDATE 7.35pm: Kevin Rudd has called an Auditor-General’s inquiry into the affair, but is standing by his denials that neither he nor his office has made any representations on behalf of car dealer John Grant, and is continuing a full email search through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Follow the news links below for more.
KEVIN Rudd has a whole stack of explaining to do.
His claim that he has done nothing wrong in relation to his car dealer mate John Grant has now officially conked out, and is up on the blocks looking like very much like he sold the Australian people a lemon.
As a result of this afternoon’s estimates hearings it now appears he has seriously misled Parliament over his relationship with his friend and neighbour, who runs a Kia dealership, and who famously lent him a ute as an electorate vehicle. At its worst, it appears the Prime Minister’s office - and possibly even the PM - directly interfered on behalf of the PM’s little car-dealing mate to make sure he got a slice of the federal bailout money for the ailing car industry.
The affair is reminiscent of the Sunrise Dawn Service fiasco where Mr Rudd emphatically denied that his office had been involved in any attempts to reschedule the Anzac Day Dawn Service, only for emails to emerge proving he had done just that.
The Sunrise affair went to Rudd’s candour and it suggested a bit of glibness and cleverness in his replies - but in essence it remained a silly kerfuffle over a TV show. The Grant affair is in a different category as it involves the disbursement of public money, suggestions of favours for friends, and as of today’s estimates hearings, the undeniable proof that Mr Rudd has either cocked up or cooked up his line of defence in the Parliament.
The story exploded back into life this morning with the exclusive report by News Limited’s Steve Lewis revealing that Mr Rudd had lobbied for Mr Grant to receive a taxpayer-funded financial lifeline.
Lewis revealed that the car dealer was offered financial support by Ford at the very time the car giant was desperately trying to secure a $550 million Government “loan”.
The story was confirmed in explosive fashion this afternoon when Treasury officials gave evidence to a parliamentary estimates hearing which emphatically demolished the Prime Minister’s claims that neither he nor his office had any involvement on the issue with Mr Grant.
Godwin Grech - the Treasury official running the OzCar scheme – told the hearing that he first recalled being asked to consider Mr Grant’s case by the Prime Minister’s office.
Most damning of all he said it had been made clear to him that Mr Grant “wasn’t your average constituent”.
“My understanding (was) the initial contact that I had with respect to John Grant was from the prime minister’s office,’’ Mr Grech told the inquiry.
So it looks like Kevin Rudd has lied twice - to the people - via the Parliament. The punishment for that is meant to be dismissal. Ministers have gone for much less.
As The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Farr has written on his blog just now, allegations of misleading parliament don’t get more serious than this for a prime minister.
“Kevin Rudd will not survive if it is firmly established that he - or even his office - made special pleadings for car-dealer mate John Grant. It is undoubtedly his greatest crisis in politics,” writes Farr, who is not a man prone to overstatement.
Mr Rudd’s press conference at 7.30pm tonight did nothing to clarify anything - rather, it turned it into a he said, he said affair, with the PM saying that despite the evidence before estimates this afternoon, Treasury had found no emails which involved any representations on behalf of Mr Grant, and a (continuing) investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had also failed to unearth any.
The clear imputation from this is that Treasury official Godwin Grech erred in his recollections before the estimates hearing.
Mr Rudd’s decision to effectively refer himself to the Auditor-General is an interesting one, involving a degree of superficial bravery on his part, unless he’s so absolutely sure that no emails exist that he’s abided by the old political maxim of never calling an inquiry unless you’re sure what the result will be.
But whatever the case he is politically damaged. Malcolm Turnbull, up in the polls, freed of Peter Costello, gnawing on this issue like a dog with bone, has easily had his best week as Leader.
The next few days will be crucial for the PM as Parliament heads towards the winter recess with the resurgent opposition set to pursue the PM for all its worth. Politically it’s worth much more than a crummy old ute, and a dodgy phone call or nudge-nudge on behalf of a car-dealing mate.
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