Monday, June 22, 2009

My Kingdom For A Ute…

It seems incongruous that a simple ute could be at the centre of so much political controversy, and have the potential to damage or even destroy the career of one or more of the most senior politicians, including the Prime Minister. So what’s all the fuss about? Is it really such a big deal that a constituent and supporter, who happens to be a car dealer, gave the Prime Minister, his local member, the use of a ute? Of course not. But that has proven to be the catalyst for a series of events, and subsequent allegations, which could conceivably destroy the credibility of either the Prime Minister, his Treasurer, or the Opposition Leader, depending on just what evidence eventually either emerges, or fails to emerge.

There are two key matters involved in the controversy. The first is the suggestion that a benefactor of the Labor Party has received favourable treatment from the Government above and beyond the normal assistance that may be provided to the general community. The second is the accusation that the Parliament has been misled over this matter. Both allegations are of the greatest seriousness, and if either or both are sustained by the evidence it will be a devastating blow to the credibility and integrity of the government and two of its highest officers. On the other hand, if the evidence proves to be ephemeral, flimsy, or just downright wrong, then the Opposition Leader is the one whose credibility will be in tatters.

Of course, the question of whether or not special favours have been done is the heart of the issue. While it might seem to some that looking after your mates is part of the Australian tradition, and that one good turn deserves another, it’s not that simple in politics and government. If you and I are friends, and I help you out at my own expense, then at a later stage you help me out in return, there’s no problem. You are doing me a favour, out of your own pocket. If you are a politician in government however, and you do me a favour out of the taxpayers’ pocket, then that is not your favour to give. That is in fact a form of corruption. In effect, it is the theft of taxpayers’ resources for private purposes.

The Government’s defence is that the used car dealer in question, John Grant, was treated no differently than any other similar applicant for assistance. The testimony of the Treasury official Godwin Grech has been described as sketchy, because he is unsure about the supposed email from the Prime Minister’s office about this matter. Claims by the Treasurer that he did not even know of the outcome of the matter have been called into question by the existence of other emails to and from his office. This factors heavily in the second question, that of whether or not the Parliament has been misled.

What is truly amazing about the whole episode is that an otherwise competent government has somehow managed to put itself into a position where it is now open to such an attack. To be so close to being brought undone by something which has its beginnings in such a seemingly inconsequential action as borrowing a ute from a mate borders on the embarrassingly idiotic. If John Grant had never lent his ute to Kevin Rudd, he would have been just another businessman applying for assistance from the government at a time when many in business are in similar need of such assistance.
Instead, it would seem that Mr. Grant was indeed the subject of much communication between the Treasury and the Office of the Treasurer. Wayne Swan insists that Mr. Grant was treated no differently than any other constituent seeking assistance, and has effectively said as much to the Parliament. Presumably that means we can all be reassured that the Government provides the same degree of attention to all its dealings with the people it has been elected to represent. That must surely be the case, because otherwise it would seem that the Parliament may well have been misled.

Nevertheless, it remains incumbent on the Opposition Leader to demonstrate that any wrongdoing has occurred, or suffer his own loss of credibility. Either way, it looks as if at least one of our political leaders has risked his kingdom for the sake of a ute.

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