Godwin Grech, the Treasury branch head at the centre of the faked email affair, was a go-to man for the Howard Government on at least one politically-sensitive project while he was the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Grech spent five years as head of the Industry Policy Branch within PM&C, until July 2008. The period covered both the 2004 and 2007 Federal elections.
During the 2004 election campaign, the Howard Government boldly pushed into Labor heartland in Melbourne with a proposal to commit $8m to the Western Bulldogs football club. On 23 September 2004, just over two weeks before the election, Howard went to the oval of the AFL’s poorest club in Nicola Roxon’s western suburbs electorate of Gellibrand to announce a $20m re-development of Whitten Oval, to which the Commonwealth would contribute more than a third.
This was no ordinary sporting commitment, either in size or announcement. Normally it was then-Sports Minister Rod Kemp who announced (and subsequently implemented) this sort of suburban pork-barrelling. A week after the Whitten Oval announcement, for example, Kemp promised the handover of $2m to Geelong for further redevelopment of Kardinia Park.
The Whitten Oval announcement by Howard, however, was part of the then-Government’s pitch to the working class vote, which culminated in Howard being cheered by CFMEU members in Tasmania for his forests policy.
With the Government returned, it would have been normal for the then-Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, where there was a Sports Branch administered sports grants programs, to have overseen the commitment of the Commonwealth’s $8m input to the project, but unusually it was run by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and in particular by Godwin Grech.
The redevelopment proposal, however, became mired in planning disputes and a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal started hearings this month.
As part of the legal process surrounding the appeal, in November 2008 Grech was contacted by Bulldogs CEO Campbell Rose and asked for information about the process of providing Commonwealth funding for the redevelopment. Grech described his role in detail to Rose.
“Issues relating to sports and sporting ground redevelopments fell within the responsibilities of my Branch whilst I was in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet,” Grech, who by then was back in Treasury, wrote to Rose. That would presumably come as a surprise to DCITA’s Sports branch, which oversaw exactly those issues. Grech went on to say, “I was the primary officer within DPMC that managed and facilitated the Federal Government’s response to the submission by the Western Bulldogs Football Club regarding the proposed re-development of the Whitten Oval. This,” Grech continues, “included oversight and personally briefing the then Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, and his office, on the size, scope and overall merit of the project.”
Grech goes on to note that the club made a guarantee through him to the Prime Minister in relation to gaming machines, suggesting Grech was in effect speaking for Howard when dealing with the club.
Prime Minister and Cabinet staff, and particularly branch heads, would normally be expected to work closely with the Prime Minister’s Office. The letter makes clear, however, that Grech was a trusted agent of Howard and his staff in relation to a politically-important project. Clearly Grech was well-known to very-senior members of the Howard Government, including Howard himself, who overnight has described him “competent and hard-working”, (which is a more generous tribute than Howard gave Peter Costello last week).
In a comment that may or may not be loaded with significance, Grech’s Departmental Secretary Ken Henry this morning said “all will be revealed” in relation to the fake email affair and Grech’s relationship with the Coalition.