Monday, June 22, 2009

'Utegate' and Political Accountability

On Saturday, I wrote "A picture of an alleged email appears in The Daily Telegraph today, allegedly from Andrew Charlton (senior economic adviser to Kevin Rudd) to Treasury official Godwin Grech. The image in The Daily Telegraph is, indeed a picture, and pictures can be doctored." On Sunday, Kevin Rudd announced that he matter had been referred to the AFP - a tactic that opened the possibility of police interviews of Opposition members, their staffers and Treasury officials.

Today, Monday, the AFP have released a statement confirming the email was fake, but not who created it. "Preliminary results of those forensic examinations indicate that the email referred to at the centre of this investigation has been created by a person or persons other than the purported author of the email." Some news reports indicate the email originated within Treasury.

And so Parliament played the game of political argy-bargy. Kevin Rudd's government dredged up his alleged involvement in the HIH (insurance company) scandal when (now Opposition Leader) Malcolm Turnbull worked for Goldman Sachs as a merchant banker; and wanted to know Malcolm Turnbull's involvement in the fake email. PM Rudd taunted Mr Turnbull with "The leader of the opposition has his fingerprints all over the promotion of this fake email and he knows it." There were questions about a (recently-left) former staffer for Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Lindwall, and whether the AFP wanted to interview him. He has denied any involvement.

The referral to the AFP appears to have worked for Kevin Rudd. Parliament censured Mr Turnbull today, albeit with a vote on party lines only; and Turnbull has effectively had to drop his attack on Kevin Rudd. The opposition has now turned its attention to Treasurer Wayne Swan, who is alleged to have received a fax about the Ipswich car dealer, John Grant, who provided a ute for Kevin Rudd, and who reportedly asked for assistance getting dealer finance.

Much of the mud appears to have rebounded onto the Opposition, possibly one or more Oppositin staffers, at least one person in Treasury, and The Daily Telegraph.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Politicians, Children & Accountability

Wow - they say a week is a long time in politics. It's 2 weeks since I last posted and soooooo much has happened.

Just in the last week:
  • Former Federal (Coalition) Treasurer Peter Costello has indicated that he will not seek pre-selection for his Melbourne seat of Higgins at the next election. That event doubtless caused much joy and celebration for Malcolm Turnbull and his supporters; and doubtless Costello's supporters, largely the more extreme & right wing in the Liberal Party, felt a little flat. They have no viable right-wing leader. Parliamentarians of all sides played the game, and said nice things about Peter. Even he conceded it was almost a series of eulogies.

    It will be some little time before history settles on his real legacy: wannabe Prime Minister, with no guts to challenge John Howard; good/great Treasurer; Treasurer who could have done more in the good times.

  • Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was asked to remove her 2yo daughter from the Senate during voting. Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, and Liberal Senator Sue Boyce have asked for the issue (of children in the Senate) to be debated "so the rules are clearer". Notwithstanding that there is available child-care provided at Parliament House, I think that there are times when outsiders are not appropriate in workplaces. Some people seem to equate "family-friendly workplace" with the ability to take children anywhere. Such a view is, I think, much too broad. Except for the need to breastfeed infants, I think outsiders, including toddlers and children ought not be present in Parliament, especially during House business, debates, votes & Parliamentary Inquiries.

  • During The Press Gallery Mid-Winter Ball in Canberra, Liberal Party adviser Anthony Scrinis allegedly grabbed the breasts of up to six women, and "lurched from woman to woman on the dance floor". He worked for Liberals' spokeswoman on Women's Issues Sophie Mirabella for less than a week, and has resigned. I guess most people would take "Issue" with his behaviour. He was also allegedly drunk. Who needs alcopops!? And how have the organizers and alcohol providers fulfilled their responsibilities for responsible service of alcohol? The answer, of course, is that they haven't. I hope we don't get to the stage of having "minders" for politicians' minders .. ooooh, my head hurts at the thought.

  • Opposition parties are always looking for blood, especially of a Prime Minister. And so PM Kevin Rudd finds himself at centre of a storm over allegedly misleading Parliament about his / his office's interference in a government OzCar vehicle financing scheme to help a car dealer obtain finance. The dealer, John Grant, previously donated a ute for Mr Rudd to use in his electorate. A request for assistance was allegedly sent from the Prime Minister's Office to a Treasury official. A picture of an alleged email appears in The Daily Telegraph today, allegedly from Andrew Charlton (senior economic adviser to Kevin Rudd) to Treasury official Godwin Grech. The image in The Daily Telegraph is, indeed a picture, and pictures can be doctored. The Government claims the email does not exist, and The Telegraph has not released the original to any other outlets. Treasury officials, including Godwin Grech and his boss have told a Senate Inquiry that they cannot find the email on any system. It would be expected to be still on a server, or backup. Even if an individual "deleted" it, that does not delete it from the server. THere might have been inappropriate advances, but in the absence of definitive proof - an original email extracted from the servers - it remains an allegation / suspicion.

    Kevin Rudd is not the first, nor will he be the last, PM to have allegedly misled Parliament. There were at least 2 allegations against John Howard: one over a meeting with the owner of Manildra ethanol producer (it later received Government funding) and the Trish Draper travel affair/rort.

Ahhh, politics, nothing changes, except the players. And they don't learning anything from their political forebears in terms of behaviour.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Human Decency Lost, And Found

This week has seen a string of events that have reflected badly on our humanity, and one sad event that has reminded us that there is hope.

"David Gabriel Watson, 32, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years' jail on Friday after pleading guilty in the Supreme Court in Brisbane to killing his new wife, Christina (Tina) while scuba diving in north Queensland in October 2003." ( ) He will server 12-months in gaol, with the remainder of his sentence suspended. He will then be free to return to the US, whence he came.

"A couple whose baby daughter (9-month-old Gloria Thomas) died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter." ( ) Thomas Sam is also a qualified doctor. A custodial sentence for both parents seems likely.

The Chaser's War On Everything - a satirical show that has included stunts such a character dressed as Osama bin Laden attempting to gatecrash the APEC conference in Sydney (they gave themselves up after security failed to stop them) - has been suspended from ABC TV for 2 weeks after public outrage over their "skit" on dying children. "The ABC was inundated with callers outraged by the "Make a Realistic Wish Foundation" skit in which Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor ask actors playing hospital bed-ridden children what they wish for. When one little girl asked to meet Hollywood actor Zac Efron, she was handed a stick instead, with Taylor asking 'why go to any trouble when they're going to die any way'." (,22049,25584801-5001021,00.html )

So much for the tacky, the inhumane, and just plain criminal. However, we were sadly reminded that human decency, compassion, and skill can all be combined. The sad event concerned (Prof.) "CHRISTOPHER O'BRIEN, the world-renowned cancer specialist who died from a brain tumour last night, acquired many honours during his career, including being made an officer in the Order of Australia, to be announced in the Queen's Birthday honours list on Monday." ( There will be a State Funeral for a man whose medical peers, and all who knew, or were treated by him, acknowledge his human compassion, understanding and surgical skill. Professor O'Brien's passing has helped to remind us that there are good people, and we can aspire to emulate them. Vale, Professor Chris O'Brien.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rudd's First Ministerial Resignation

Joel Fitzgibbon resigned today as Minister For Defence. He has had a number of "troubles" in recent months including: the SAS pay bungle; undeclared gifts of trips to China paid for by businesswoman Helen Lu, this week there were revelations of hotel accommodation paid for by NIB Health Fund; and meetings involving his brother (as Chief Executive of NIB Health) and Defence officials. Two inquiries, one where Defence Signals Directorate investigated itself, have cleared the Department of spying on the Minister.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seemed to acknowledge the "mistakes" relating to proper accountability when he said "The minister has accepted responsibility for these mistakes, they are mistakes in relation to accountability, there have been a number of them."

The resignation comes at a time when some reforms are overdue within the civilian arm of the Dept of Defence. Also, British MP's are looking for any hole in which to hide from public scrutiny over rorting their allowances; and increasing scrutiny on Australian politicians.

Former Prime Minister John Howard did much to diminish accountability and Parliamentary responsibility, mostly to protect his political allies. One would hope that Kevin Rudd, having bit this bullet, will further insist on his Ministers and members having proper accountability. Note that accountability refers to the concept that a Minister is answerable to Parliament for the performance of their Department. It is however, a Minister's responsibility to declare gifts, and to claim only those expenses incurred. Joel Fitzgibbon had, perhaps by force, been both accountable and responsible for his actions/inactions. Restoring both accountability and responsibility ought to be one of Kevin Rudd's missions; reforming Question Time is another.

Voters will hope that Joel Fitzgibbon is the last of Kevin Rudd's Ministers to resign, because all the others will have learnt their lesson from Mr Fitzgibbon's public shame.


Postscript 5-Jun-09
Senator John Faulkner has taken on the position of Minister for Defence following Joel Fitzgibbon's resignation. Senator Faulkner is an experienced Minister, and politician. He has shown himself to be coolly forensic in Senate Estimates hearings, an approach that should serve him well in this difficult portfolio. (Defence has a somewhat chequered history of its treatment of Ministers)