I returned
from overseas at the end of last week to find the Treasurer with
considerable egg on his face and Adelaide businessman Robert Gerard’s
integrity compromised.

What a curious event, that has raised
more questions than it has answered. Whenever one seeks to dig through
the entrails of a political event one necessarily hones in on issues
like timing, who wins and who loses.

The fact that Gerard’s
tax problems were publicly known at the time of his appointment back in
March 2003 clearly indicates that the source of the story was from the
Liberal Party. Indeed, the Labor Party clearly didn’t leak it as
evidenced by the fact that they have spent the last few days drawing
attention to the time that has elapsed, and finding it difficult to
explain why they did nothing about it until now.

Clearly, Howard stands to gain most (at least in the short term), and Costello to lose.

However,
the issue is bigger than just this one event. One of the soft
underbellies of the Howard Government, that is yet to be exploited, is
its appointments to government boards, authorities, ambassadorial and
consular posts, and to senior public service positions.

If even
half the Canberra rumours are right about some of these appointments
and, in particular the personal involvement of the Prime Minister in
the making and in some cases blocking these appointments – the latter
sometimes on very personal grounds – this whole issue should be subject
to more public scrutiny.

While we wouldn’t want to go as far as
the US, there should be a more definite process of scrutiny, often
public – the process of such appointments should be more clearly
defined, at arms length, transparent and accountable.

While both
sides of politics are clearly not blameless on this issue, the Labor
Party now has a unique opportunity to change the system. Indeed, it
could prove to be a veritable “ladder of opportunity” for the
opposition parties – it could even prove to be the Howard Government’s
“white board.”