Utegate and Mr Godwin Grech:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “One more revelation will do for Malcolm Turnbull. Who’s next?” (yesterday, item 2). Bernard Keane writes, “Turnbull, by the way, is perfectly justified in refusing to commit to assisting a broader AFP inquiry into public service leaking. No Opposition worth its salt in a democracy would support such an investigation and Turnbull should reject it as a matter of principle.” I am afraid I cannot agree. A distinction needs to be drawn between a “leak” and “whistle-blowing”. The latter needs to be protected in a democracy as it is an element of accountability. The former is and should be a crime, and it appears there have been a number of Treasury “leaks” over prospective policy announcements.

In fairness to Turnbull, I think in this instance he thought he had a whistle-blower — a person providing purported evidence of claimed undue influence. What he had was a leaker of fraudulent documents. I do not think Turnbull should be protecting criminals in the name of democracy.

Finally, there is a reading of the whole affair that is potentially very damaging for the coalition. Grech’s role in PM&C makes it sound like he was, in breach of APS values, a political fixer for the PM. The ALP arrives and quite innocently refers on a specific item raised by a constituent. But the public servant trained in the morality of the Howard Government interprets the request as being asked to put on a political fix, and absent a direct request feels manufacturing one is okay because in his mind it is what he was asked to do.

Anthony Keenan writes: When you start reaching for comparisons to Hitler or the Nazis, you know your argument is in deep trouble. It’s widely recognised a modern day fallacy, one Tony Abbott recently succumbed to, when he claimed that Government outrage over the faked email was a gigantic smokescreen to protect Wayne Swan.

From The Age: Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott said the Government was “using all the agencies of the state as a form of political coercion and intimidation” with moment-to-moment updates of an police investigation. He accused the Government of “the big lie technique that would (make) Joseph Goebbels proud”.

As you’d imagine, the tactic is incredibly prevalent on internet discussions, forums and talk pages. So much so that way back in 1990, an adage was coined. It follows.

“As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Named after it’s creator, it’s more commonly known as ‘Godwin’s law’.

Michael Byrne writes: I cannot help but feel that the flow of truth in the Utegate matter has become obstructed by big blobs of bombast being dropped by the Government and eagerly cemented into place by journo insiders. In the meantime the solidarity through trust that underpins our democracy again has its foundations eroded.

Case in point: Malcolm Farr in the Daily Telegraph reported the Government “voted down” the motions of censure from the Opposition. Such use of words gives the reader the sense that a censure debate took place. I was watching the televised events and therefore had the advantage of real-time observation. There was no “voting down”. Rather the Government moved and resolved that Turnbull and Hockey “not be heard” on two occasions. I think the term is “gagged” isn’t it? Therefore the Opposition did not have the opportunity to structure and deliver their case before the Australian people in their Parliament against the Treasurer on the charge of lying to the Parliament.

Sloppy reporting? Hardly. I see it as an indicator of indulgent attachment to the drama (Saving Treasurer Swan ) rather than to truth, at the cost of detached, accurate reporting of matters as they are.

With a detached media, Swan should have been gone by Wednesday for his sloppy work as evidenced through the Senate Hearings. If Mr. Grech was dodgy he would have been exposed by Monday, and Turnbull gone by Wednesday. Instead we have an unsatisfied electorate with further diminution of its generous trust in their political masters.

The fake email, and its own inglorious story, should be a separate opportunity for detached reporting with perhaps more heads from either side falling into the basket. Its use as a blocker to the main flow has built up pressure that is injurious to all except the only people who cannot lose – you journos. Then again at the end of the day it really cannot be satisfying for you.

Shirley Colless writes: As a Christian, definitely not the evangelical, Hillsong, end of that sector, I have a couple (at least) of concerns about the development of this so called Ute-Gate kerfuffle:

  1. Malcolm Turnbull and, presumably, Joe Hockey, Eric Abetz and Uncle Tom Cobley and all Coalition members, may claim parliamentary privilege in refusing to answer either media or inquiry enquiries. What are the bounds of that privilege? Does is encompass what is said within the chambers of the parliament, within the bounds of parliament house itself or on the steps of that house? When then parliamentarian Ted Mack, foolishly, made comments on public radio about a particular matter on Radio 2UE, he was taken to the financial cleaners by the affronted people he had, it was claimed, defamed, the matter ending in an out of court settlement not in Mack’s favour. Therefore, if Turnbull or any other parliamentarian makes a comment in the studios of any media organisation, can that or can that not be covered by parliamentary privilege?
  2. Who else has benefited from gifts similar to that obtained by Kevin Rudd, i.e., the use of a motor vehicle of some kind? Can I really have noted, over a number of elections, that Joe Hockey, the Member for North Shore, has had the use of a vehicle, I would describe as a small table top truck, in his electioneering for the Federal seat of North Sydney? Can I have also noted that a member of his staff had the use of what may be the same or at least a similar vehicle in his campaigns in standing for election to North Sydney Council? Is this sort of ‘gift’, whether as a loan or as a transfer of ownership, something quite normal in the hurley burley of election ‘gifties’?

Steve Simmonds writes: I still think Rudd should not have the bloody ute. Can’t he afford a few grand for a crappy ute? It is the perception thing, of course the guy would be getting “something” in return for this favour, even if this is just a free dinner at Kirribilli — something that any other punter can’t get. I don’t know why the media is not simply asking these “confectedly outraged” Liberals “Have you ever helped a friend or a friends company EVER get better treatment from Government, yes or no, would you swear your answer on a bible or say it in Parliament, yes or no.”

How could their answer EVER be anything other than “Err Ummm…. Errr well, YES!!!” For if they said no then they would risk being made to look like liars, mis-leading Parliament, because there would be plenty of people offering specific examples to the contrary. Swan should have just said “Well actually I did take a special interest in this issue as this guy is a friend and I wanted to help him through the process,” just like they all do. Not that it is right, but it is the reality of life in politics and business.

It is why the strategy will spell doom for the Liberals, as we will (and already are) seeing examples of what “favours” they have done for their mates.

John Goldbaum writes: Welcome to Wayne’s World:

Enema Griffith: How many other people had the means to create the fake email in the Treasury department, Mr Swan?
Wayne Swan: Well it’s a matter of public record that the AFP are speaking to Godwin Grech.

Enema Griffith: Well Mr Swan, how many other people had the motive to create the fake email in the Treasury department?
Wayne Swan: Well it’s a matter of public record that the AFP are speaking to Mr Grech.

Enema Griffith: Okay Mr Swan, how many other people had the opportunity to create the fake email in the Treasury department?
Wayne Swan: Well the AFP have put it on record that they are speaking to Godwin Grech, Enema. But that is simply irrelevant…

Enema Griffith: It may well be irrelevant, Mr Swan.
Wayne Swan: Thank you, Enema.

Enema Griffith: But you’re not answering the question, Mr Swan.
Wayne Swan: Well it’s not exactly the right question.

Global Financial Crisis:

Julian Gillespie writes: Re. “Markets slump as World Bank shades green shoots” (Tuesday, item 24). Yesterday the US Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee released its latest statement on the US economy and its ponderings over whether to change interest rates. The Fed has been using all manner of devices to describe its view of the world during this GFC — some of the more pertinent grabs I have extracted and interpreted:

“the pace of economic contraction is slowing” — the economy is still definitely contracting, but not as fast as yesterday, we think, maybe.

“Conditions in financial markets have generally improved in recent months” — we have given our big banks big bucks and the look of near death on the faces of their CEOs has improved greatly — their bonuses are back!

“Household spending has shown further signs of stabilizing” — where a lot of people recently had no money to spend, so of them now have some money to spend and remember, spending is good for you… spending is good for you.

“Businesses are… bringing inventory stocks into better alignment with sales” — business has gotten use to only selling half as much as they did before

“…economic activity is likely to remain weak for a time” — where time is as they say relative, and when used by economists, “time” can mean five or even 10 years.

“…market forces will contribute to a gradual resumption of sustainable economic growth in a context of price stability” — we can hopefully soon get the economy growing again, but not before we first understand how much less we need to pay for everything, because of how little we all have to spend, of course.

“…inflation will remain subdued for some time” — and we say ‘inflation’ because we don’t want to scare the hell out of bond market guys who keep lending us money by actually calling ‘subdued inflation’ what it really is right now, namely deflation (doh!).

“…the Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote economic recovery” — and we have this one really really big tool called a printing press, through which we ease large quantities of paper…

Fruity Fix:

Peter Anderson writes: Re. ” The sugar fix that earned a Heart Foundation tick ” (yesterday, item 5). The one thing you haven’t mentioned is the fee paid for the tick, some years back it was in the order of $10-20K, which on it’s own discredits the integrity of the system. I imagine it wouldn’t be that difficult to check what the fee is these days and work out just how much money the heart foundation make from the tick, surely this is the primary driver behind a system that was discredited some years back.


WSP Financial Services Pty Ltd Michael O’Hara writes: Re. “Superannuation, not quite scrapping commissions” (yesterday, item 10). I wonder if Bernard Keane has ever attempted to build a business, passing over short term gain in an attempt to offer a service that is in demand with the idea that if you do well then you will be rewarded with a higher business value?

My guess is that he has not. If you have Bernard then I apologise unreservedly for suggesting otherwise but also, if you have then I would have to ask just where the ideological drive is behind this call to legislate commissions out of superannuation?

I am a financial planner and a partner the firm Wealth & Security Planners. We offer those who deal with us a choice of the manner in which they receive and pay for our advice. A part of our business involves being noted as “advisors” on a large number of superannuation accounts which may or may not be SGC related (it is not something that we measure). Individuals can deal with us on an hourly rate, by an agreed upon percentage or by dollar amounts.

If you legislate right now to ban commissions, what on earth do you expect to happen? Do you expect that millions of super fund members are suddenly going to be better placed? How exactly do you see that occurring?