Friday, July 16, 2010

Whatever It Takes

It is a story that doesn’t seem to have been given much of a run in the southern states, but the front page of Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper has revealed a recorded message left by Federal Liberal Leader Tony Abbott on the answering machine of Michael Johnson, offering to “fix” a legal problem. Michael Johnson, you might remember, was the Liberal National Party member who made front page news for attempting to broker a coal deal with a Chinese company allegedly in return for a $12 million commission. That deal never went ahead, but the ongoing investigation into his personal financial affairs eventually saw him expelled from the Party on the 20th of May. But it seems that back in February he had some powerful friends on his side including Tony Abbott, who left the now contentious telephone message.

Here’s what it said: “Oh Michael, it’s Tony Abbott. Look mate, um I did speak to McIver. I said to him as far as I was concerned you’d been a member of the team, in fact a fine member of the team, down here in Canberra and that, ah, as long as there was no legal problem, I would be very, very, very disappointed if he wasn’t to get right off your case, (and) give you support rather than grief. And if there was a legal problem, well obviously we’d fix it, but I have no reason to think there was.” There was more, but that is the crucial part of the recording which I would have thought would raise at least a few eyebrows. “If there was a legal problem, well then we’d fix it.”

That’s a pretty powerful promise. Not just “we’ll help you fight it”, but “we’ll fix it”. Perhaps it was just a turn of phrase, but it is a pretty confident choice of words. It can easily be construed as an assumption that the power to influence the outcome of a legal matter is within the grasp of the Opposition Leader. It can easily be construed to mean that Mr. Abbott has the ability to make an awkward legal matter simply go away. Of course, the matter has not proceeded in that direction, and Mr. Johnson is no longer a member of the Party, but it does provide an interesting illustration of the processes at the top level of politics.

It might also remind many people of Tony Abbott’s previous role in coordinating the funding and orchestrating the legal action which effectively destroyed the political career of Pauline Hanson. Never mind the fact that her conviction was later overturned and Ms. Hanson was exonerated, the legal battle achieved its obvious aim by taking Ms. Hanson out of the political picture. There are still plenty of Pauline Hanson supporters who to this day feel that she was a victim of an unjust and unscrupulous attack led by Tony Abbott, which depended upon exploiting the legal system for political gain.

If only Tony wasn’t a Liberal… it would be enough to make Graham “Whatever it takes” Richardson proud.

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