“I swear that the evidence I shall give before this committee shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
Try as I might, I couldn’t find any evidence of that time-honoured adjuration, imprecation or calling to witness being administered to Godwin Grech before he gave evidence about the infamous UteGate email to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee on Friday June 19.
Ditto for the other witnesses who gave evidence before or with Godwin.
Before Grech and six other witnesses were lightly grilled by the senators that fateful Friday afternoon, the committee chairwoman, Senator Annette Hurley gave this helpful advice:
“I remind all witnesses that, in giving evidence to the committee, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.”
At page 433 of Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice it is noted that with the exception of a privilege committee, Senate committees do not usually take evidence on oath although they have that power by virtue of s.49 of the Australian Constitution.
Witnesses at the OzCar inquiry, which was by an ordinary committee, were invited to make an opening statement and were then subject to the traditional incisive and searching interrogation from the “bench” – senators Abetz, Cameron, Eggleston, Fifield, Joyce and Pratt.
Treasury officers Grech and his superviser David Martine were the final witnesses called for the day. They gave their evidence together.
Martine made a short opening statement:
“First of all, I would like to comment with respect to the media reports last night and this morning suggesting that there is correspondence between the Prime Minister’s office and Treasury concerning John Grant and Ipswich Central Motors. With regard to that matter, we have searched our available records to the best of our ability and we have been unable to locate any relevant correspondence, email or otherwise, from the Prime Minister’s office to Treasury, in particular, to the senior Treasury official, Mr Grech, managing implementation of the OzCar initiative.”
As a lawyer, Senator Abetz (BA, LLB, Tas – pic), Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senate, was amply qualified to interrogate Gormless Godwin.
Following publication of the Auditor General’s report on August 4 exonerating the Prime Minister and the Treasurer from Mercurial Malcolm’s allegations of misleading the parliament, Abetz and Turnbull went into immediate damage control.
The principal plan to extricate themselves from the merde was to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Godwin.
However, things needed to be thought through. What should be said if they were asked by reptiles of the media, “why were you experienced and savvy lawyers so gullible, so credulous that you accepted Godwin’s story without any corroboration”?
Abetz and Turnbull came up with the line that they were entitled to accept Godwin’s fairytale because when he appeared before the committee he gave sworn evidence.
In a joint statement on the Liberal Party’s website, dated August 4, Abetz and Turnbull laid out their carefully polished response to Godwin’s allegations.
It entailed 17 numbered paragraphs of self-serving spin, reconstruction and rubbish.
Para 14 proclaimed:
“No accusation was made against the Prime Minister by Senator Abetz or Mr Turnbull until after Mr Grech had given his sworn testimony in the Senate, and in doing so Mr Turnbull stated that he was relying on that sworn testimony.”
Para 17(f) summed up:
“In making public criticism of the Prime Minister and Treasurer, Mr Turnbull expressly relied solely on the sworn evidence given by Mr Grech before the Senate.”
Abetz would have known that Grech’s evidence before the committee wasn’t sworn.
As an experienced committee man since 1994 he would have been aware of standard Senate committee practice.
In an interview on the ABC’s The World Today on August 5, Abetz apologized to Turnbull and the Prime Minister for being “conned” by Grech.
“On the face of it, it appears as though some evidence may have been given to a Senate committee that was false, and that is a very, very serious matter and that clearly, I think, falls within the purview of a privileges committee inquiry …
It was only after the sworn testimony was given that Malcolm Turnbull then asked the Prime Minister to explain.
And can I say that I think that is the sort of due diligence that one should undertake in these things; but of course we were conned.”
Fortunately, Media Watch’s Jonathan Holmes (pic) brought this pollywaffle to light earlier this month.
He said that despite two months of intensive coverage of the affair nobody in the parliamentary press gallery had picked up the “sworn evidence” point.
There is to be a privileges committee inquiry into the affair, which will take evidence on oath.
Certainly Abetz will be among the first to receive a summons to appear. There are also noises within the Liberal Party that he should resign.
He might also receive a summons from the Public Service Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs (pic) for aiding and abetting Grech breaching his obligations under the Public Service Act 1999.
Otto Abetz will need a slick “tooled-up” lawyer, like one of those contemplated by Warren Zevon when he penned those immortal lyrics (with slight variations) in the late 70s:
“I was gambling in Canberra
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
To get me out of this.
Now I’m hiding down in Hobart
I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan.”
A rendition by the master is HERE.
A fuller version by The Wallflowers and Jordan Zevon is right HERE.