Godwin Grech’s statement to The Australian — in a ripper of an exclusive by Paul Maley — needs to be considered carefully, particularly in regard to Malcolm Turnbull.
Remember that Grech has, on his own admission, both concocted an email and lied to a journalist in the past. He is also a man with extensive health problems, including mental health problems. There has been some commentary on Maley’s interview with Grech given the latter is “in a psych ward”. This shouldn’t be overplayed.
Grech is said to have voluntarily admitted himself to Canberra Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit at Woden and is suffering depression, which is not a great surprise.
But Grech knew the ANAO was releasing its report today, which includes a 34-page statement by Grech defending himself and attacking the Government over its lack of evidence-based policy. He has provided a shorter written statement to The Oz. The ANAO Report doesn’t address either the faked email or Grech’s contact with the Opposition. It appears Grech wanted to provide the full story rather than just the ANAO version.
The Australian’s political commentators have predictably used the revelations to suggest Malcolm Turnbull’s position is growing untenable. That newspaper has been gunning for Turnbull for quite some time. But significant parts of Grech’s story don’t stack up.
Grech claims he initiated contact with the Opposition in order to ensure the passage of the OzCar bill. That Grech thought this was even faintly appropriate shows just how out of touch with the most basic obligations of a public servant he was. That he thought that doing so by offering faked evidence that the Prime Minister had lied would ensure rapid passage of the bill suggests he had lost his judgement altogether. The Opposition couldn’t have cared less about OzCar, which they supported. They were only interested in scalps.
Grech also says that, unable to find the purported Charlton email — because, he suggests, a Treasury IT error deleted it from backup tapes — he thought it was a good idea not merely to make a record of the content of the email he believed he had received from the PMO, but to make it resemble an email itself. That’s certainly what you’d call an error of judgement. Making a file note describing his memory of a communication from the PMO would have been perfectly acceptable, even if his memory was faulty. But mocking it up into an email doesn’t fit any hypothesis except that he wanted to make mischief.
Grech portrays himself as the dupe of cunning politicians — Turnbull and Abetz pressured him into showing them the faked email, which they or Abetz adviser Brad Stansfield must have somehow copied and then shared with the press. At every stage Grech portrays himself as someone with good intentions — savings Australia’s car dealers — and trying to do so without support from his Department, which caused him to operate under pressure and make “misjudgements”.
But no one forced Grech to turn a file note into an email, or to travel to Sydney for a clandestine meeting with the Opposition, a meeting that he presumably did not disclose to his superiors, or even to hand over the faked email at that meeting, nor to speak to journalists on the say-so of the Leader of the Opposition.
In fact, Grech’s behaviour is that of a man who thinks he is a player. A man who perhaps got used to feeling important during the Howard years, and wanted to keep that feeling. A bloke who seems to enjoy big-noting himself and his proximity to power. In his lengthy and self-serving statement to the ANAO, he offers his own, uninvited take on the Government’s handling of the economic crisis.
“The normal policy disciplines had broken down… I was very uncomfortable preparing policy papers which contained options that had not been properly costed… I began to rely on a small network of 2 or 3 highly experienced former Treasury officers who I had known for the best part of 20 years…. I would therefore “roadtest” a few ideas and options with my small trusted network…”
Even now, Grech obviously feels there was nothing wrong with sharing the Government’s handling of the economic crisis — a matter of utmost national importance and with enormous potential for damage to economic and financial institutions if mishandled or if confidentiality was breached — with people outside the Public Service, so that he can look better in the eyes of the Treasurer and Prime Minister. There are real questions now about with whom Grech shared confidential information about the Government’s handling of the economic crisis and what those individuals did with that information.
Treasury’s advice to the ANAO also shows the much overworked Grech rejecting offers of assistance and “giving the impression that implementation was on track.” That might be self-serving on the part of Treasury, but its broader point — that as an SES Band 1, Grech knew the importance of having enough resources to handle a high-profile issue, is sound. Perhaps Grech didn’t like the idea of sharing responsibility. One wonders how well he delegated work to his EL2 and EL1 staff.
The idea that Malcolm Turnbull should fall on his sword on the basis of Grech’s statements is nonsensical. Grech in both his statement to The Australian and to the ANAO has not shed a great deal more objective light on what happened. But the fact that he is a deeply-troubled man is clearer than ever.