Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“Who knew? What did they know? And when did they know it?”

The name of Godwin Grech appears set to go down in political history as having played a central role in one of the most bizarre, not to mention inept, attempts to discredit a Prime Minister. Only a few days ago, virtually nobody had heard of Mr. Grech. Last Friday he made the six o’clock news with reports of his hazy recollection of an email supposedly from the Prime Minister’s office, although he claimed that he couldn’t be certain. That email has been the foundation of accusations of impropriety leveled by Malcolm Turnbull against Kevin Rudd, and the revelation that the Australian Federal Police have finally located that email and determined it to be fraudulent has had a seismic impact on the whole affair.

Today, amid reports which describe Mr. Grech’s name as “Dickensian”, questions are now being asked about the origins of this fabricated document. Who was the author? Was it perhaps Mr. Grech himself? Or was it another, inside the Treasury department. Was it somebody in the opposition, something which Mr. Turnbull has denied in the strongest possible terms. But if the opposition had no hand in the creation of the email, how then were they aware of its existence before the original reports appeared in the press? This entire affair has the potential to be a mystery surpassing in magnitude the question of who shot John F. Kennedy.

Whether or not anyone in the opposition had a hand in these matters, it has left the opposition leader in the embarrassing position of having led his troops far out onto thin ice, which is now cracking beneath him. It can only be a matter of time before some of those troops retreat to firmer ground, leaving him to sink or swim in the icy depths of lost credibility. Even if he manages to make it back to shore, the loyalty of the troops may well be less certain in future. In other words, support for Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is likely to suffer, even if he too has been the victim of somebody else’s subterfuge.

The real question, which might never be fully answered, is just who is behind that subterfuge. While Malcolm Turnbull denies that anyone within the opposition wrote or disseminated the fraudulent email, there is another explanation. One of the listeners to my program has suggested that the government has enemies within the bureaucracy. He suggests that the previous Prime Minister made many appointments to the public service which placed hand picked supporters in key positions. You might remember that when Kevin Rudd was first elected, he made a point of not having a widespread purge of the public service, in some sort of gesture of goodwill. My listener suggests that this decision has come back to haunt our Prime Minister, both with the recent events in the Department of Defence, and now in Treasury.

As far as conspiracy theories go, it is as good as any other. In a variation of the classic lines from the Oliver Stone film “JFK”, we might well ask “Who knew? What did they know? And when did they know it?” Ironically, those are things that we may never really know, at all.

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