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1 December, 2009  
Goings On ...

Malcolm Turnbull – from ruthless self-server to martyred man of principle … Godwin Grech’s lickspittle emails and the “inappropriate” replies … Were the glory days of ICAC so glorious? ... It helps to have a record of tax avoidance to get special kid-glove treatment from the ATO

imageIt’s funny.

Pump Mill Malcolm, the Howard era Minister for the Environment, who gave approval for Gunns’ hated mill on the Tamar River, leaves the Liberal leadership as an environmental martyr.

Turnbull was the most expedient of politicians. He opposed just about everything the Rudd government proposed, including the stimulus package.

The only time he took a principled stand, he lost his job.

Invariably, whatever posture he adopted he always seemed to be acting the part of a political leader. Well, at least, I was never convinced by him.

Now his departure is being saluted as a sad day for the Liberal Party, for federal politics, for democracy and the western world in general.

My hunch is that had Turnbull the skills to read what was going on in his own party he’d have happily jettisoned his backing of the amended ETS legislation, to save his leadership and his overweening ambition to the Prime Minister.

By the time he was aware of the danger he’d locked himself in to his “principled” position.

Turnbull is an utterly divisive character and it was inevitable he’d blow up the Liberal Party, as he blew up the republican movement, as he blew-up friendships and business alliances all through his career.

Anger, arrogance, aggression, bumptiousness and ruthlessness were his calling cards.

Half the party hated his guts.

He lit the fuse of his destruction when he declared in the party room last week that the amended ETS bill had majority support. “Look, I am the leader,” he told the reptile pack afterwards.

When the question was put to a secret ballot today the vote was 54 against the ETS and 29 for.

The parliamentary press gallery only seemed to have the most cursory grasp of Turnbull’s character. His well-funded message machine bowled them over with varnished bulletins about his charm and his glittering triumphs.

imageAnnabell Crabb, for one, was comprehensively snowed if her love letter to Malcolm in the Quarterly Essay is any guide.

The gallery, consumed by the tireless ping pong game in Parliament House, missed the angry groundswell building in Liberal branches about the ETS and the leadership.

This was being fuelled by the shock jocks, in particular 2GB in Sydney, which from five in the morning to midnight each and every day hammered out an unrelenting drum beat of hatred about Turnbull and the science of climate change.

All sorts of charlatans and mountebanks were summoned to the cause. It soon filtered into the Liberal branches, populated as they are by bone-heads and bores.

Now the federal parliamentary Liberal Party, with Tony Abbott as its leader, is back in the hands of the nasties, the remnants of the Howard rump.

These are a miserable, small-minded lot of hard line Santamariaists, deeply wedged into a dark age view of Australia and its future.

The right wing columnist Miranda Devine captured something of their thinking on Twitter this morning, saying this was “a win for the Liberal base – now they can build”.

Having Abbott lead the Liberals is akin to Mike Huckabee in charge of the Republicans.

The Nasty Party is back, and will be even nastier because there’s a scheming, festering Malcontent on the backbench.

Disclosure – M. Turnbull once sued over an article I wrote about the mysterious case of the strangled cat. The matter was settled, but Malcolm kept insisting he’d “won”.

* * *

After the Godwin Grech fiasco it was just a matter of time before the uglies found an opportunity to knock off Malcolm.

imageMore unfortunate information about Grech was released last week by the Senate Committee on Privileges, which has completed its report on the Treasury official’s OzCar evidence to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee.

Among the findings there was this:

“There can be little doubt that this is one of the worst cases of improper interference with the operations of a Senate committee that this committee has examined. A public servant who behaved in a politically partisan fashion used the process of a Senate committee inquiry and, with it, the protection of parliamentary privilege to raise allegations of corruption against senior government ministers based on a document which, it later emerged, had been fabricated by that person. The person, Mr Godwin Grech was an apparently well respected and hard working public servant holding a position in the Senior Executive Service of the Department of the Treasury. Yet, Mr Grech engaged in correspondence and conversations with fellow politically partisan individuals, using Commonwealth IT and communications equipment for the purpose, and apparently working against the Government and in support of the Opposition and its federal parliamentary leader.”

The committee also released a torrent of Godwin’s emails to and from “fellow politically partisan individuals”, including Turnbull loyalist John (Jos) O’Sullivan, the head of investment banking at Credit Suisse.

CS had been appointed the program manager for the government’s OzCar scheme, designed to bail out financially strapped car dealers.

O’Sullivan is also the husband of lunar right columnist and Howard favourite, Janet (Planet) Albrechtsen.

He started off as Turnbull’s law school note-taker, when Mal was too busy to attend lectures, and graduated to the job of chief fund-raiser for the Liberals in Wentworth.

The most disturbing email from Grech to O’Sullivan was about CS’s OzCar fees.

The Treasury wanted the fees to reflect the quantum of support actually provided to the industry. CS was after $5 million, regardless of the size of the scheme. Grech’s email to O’Sullivan said:

“FYI for now. What I had in mind is that once Rudd and his hacks sign off on Ford Credit – you and I can change the contract to reflect your preferred fee arrangement and push that through quickly next week. I will not be running this past [Treasury Secretary] Henry and co.”

O’Sullivan seemed pleased that Godwin was subverting the proper processes:

“Thanks Godwin. Sounds sensible … I will give you a call Monday to see where we got to. Many thanks Jos.”

You bet it sounded sensible. The fee settled at $5 million while the scheme itself was reduced from a projected payout of $2 billion to $230 million, with Ford Credit being the sole beneficiary.

O’Sullivan ducked for cover when the reptiles asked for a response. He’s citing commercial confidentiality obligations as the reason for not saying anything.

However, he did manage to have squeezed into The Australian, for whom the lovely Janet scribbles, this reassurance:

“It is understood Mr O’Sullivan asked Mr Grech to cease inappropriate email communication.”

That request doesn’t seem to be among the emails released by the Privileges Committee.

Certainly, to reply with “sounds sensible” to a proposal for something underhand doesn’t seem like a disdainful response to “inappropriate email communication”.

Treasury asked Ernst & Young to review the fee arrangement and it came back and said everything was hunky dory.

It smacks of one big fee gouger backing up another big fee gouger.

Isn’t it about time there was a Commonwealth corruption commission to investigate these things?

Speaking of which …

* * *

It’s exciting to have Ian Temby back in the limelight.

imageFrankly, he’s been taking a backseat position for far too long, so it was a treat to see him pop into life with a statement to The Sydney Morning Herald in which he stuck the needle into outgoing ICAC czar Jerrold Cripps.

The Financial Review on November 18 reported Crippsy (seen here) as saying ICAC lacks the resources to do a wide-ranging inquiry into the rorts and rackets associated with political donations, lobbying and property development in NSW.

Whereupon Temby, three days into the gilded rank of treasurer of the NSW Bar ‘n’ Grill, announced he was surprised that ICAC couldn’t manage an inquiry into lobbyists.

“I do not wish to comment on matters of current political controversy. However …”

Temby was the inaugural commissioner in charge of ICAC and was in the saddle for five years from 1989 and 1994. Before that he’d been Commonwealth DPP and before that deputy mayor of Subiaco (WA).

ICAC’s first major inquiry on his watch was into north coast land development.

Temby said that this was done while the commission “was inquiring into several other matters”.

On the question of ICAC’s resources and capacity Temby, 15 years after leaving the commission, is at odds with the insights of Cripps, who departed on November 13.

Now that Tembers returns to our consciousness, memories come hurtling back.

In August 1991 he began to investigate Neddy Smith’s allegations against Roger Rogerson.

Public and private hearings were held by ICAC in 1992-1993, with Greg Smith (now MP) as counsel assisting. This was known as Operation Milloo.

There were Milloo reports in February 1994 and April 1994.

It’s fair to say that this inquiry didn’t get within cooee of cracking the nut.

In May 1994, John Hatton MP (Ind) forced a Royal Commission on police corruption. The vote was 46-45.

That was the inquiry undertaken by Jim Wood.

At the time Hatton remarked that ICAC …

“does not handle corruption adequately and that is the reason we have come to this point.”

In 1992 Temby found that Premier Greiner had acted corruptly by offering a job in the public service to a former minister, Terry Metherell.

The Court of Appeal said that this finding was made beyond ICAC’s jurisdiction, was wrong in law and a nullity.

Too late for Greiner.

More recently, Temby ran the NSW Crime Commission case in the High Court, where he got trounced by T.E.F. Hughes, 86.

A majority on high reawakened Kable from slumber.

In the meantime, John Hatton is buzzing around the state collecting evidence of corrupt property deals – specially in coastal regions – to back-up his call, not for an ICAC inquiry, but for a Royal Commission.

All we can hope for is that David Ipp doesn’t seek to restore ICAC to Tembers’ glory days.

* * *

What’s with this special deal the NSW and Vic bars have with the tax office?

imageNew prez Tom Bathurst (seen here) told members last week that:

“For some years now the NSW Bar Association has had a close working relationship with the ATO with a view to assisting members who for various reasons have difficulty meeting their taxation obligations.”

The ATO has come up with a more structured mechanism to deal with these problems.

It’s a snitch. Barristers with problems just email a specific address ( at the tax office with an explanation of the difficulty.

They’ll be phoned pronto by a kindly tax assistant.

Solicitors don’t seem to have arranged such a neat inside tax track for themselves and what about the reptiles of the press – why can’t they have a nice little direct email address so their woes and miseries can get kid-glove care and attention?

No, to get special access and treatment you have to be an organisation that had members who were among the most atrocious tax avoiders imaginable.


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