The Auditor-General’s report on the John Grant affair, while clearing Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd, is highly critical of Treasury, and one wonders what the ANAO would have found if it had longer to consider the issue.
Rudd and Swan first. This is total exoneration. The most aggressive investigators in the Commonwealth, the process obsessives most likely to find the least skerrick of impropriety or misjudgement, the appearance of them or even the potential for them, has cleared the Prime Minister and, particularly, the Treasurer. It has even explained away why material was being sent to Swan’s home fax — at the instigation of Treasury officials.
Swan, who look in diabolical trouble at the height of the affair in June, must be feeling utterly vindicated. Those of us who claimed he had a case to answer have, indeed, got their answer.
Treasury, however, has not emerged unscathed. Treasury has covered itself in glory in its handling of the economic crisis and Secretary Ken Henry is the Government’s economic go-to man who has not put a foot wrong in the Government’s eyes.
But now he faces a report where words like “imprudent” and “inadvisable” have been used about his Department, and extensive criticism made of its handling of OzCar. And that’s before we get to the self-admitted behaviour of Godwin Grech.
As Treasury says, much of the ANAO’s criticisms of Treasury’s administrative processes — and the ANAO will ALWAYS criticise the processes of any agency it examines, no matter what — can be sheeted home to Grech. Poor records of representations were kept, for example, and that was Grech’s overall responsibility, even if it wasn’t his job to keep files up to date — that’s what you have staff for. There was also poor record-keeping in relation to the decision to “direct source” the services of third party providers, a no-no under Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines.
But the ANAO report also suggests a department eager to please, and be seen to please, its political masters, in assisting car dealers referred by the Treasurer, and in doing so acting unwisely. It is easy to see how Treasury officials, thinking they were doing the right thing and unaware their actions would later be scrutinised in the most charged of political environments, thought it not unwise to casually note to Ford Credit representatives that John Grant was a friend of the Prime Minister’s.
The revelation may not have even been intended to encourage Ford Credit to assist him; it may have been a conversational remark — but in hindsight it was indeed “imprudent”, and yet again demonstrates that public officials are supposed to be boring and process-focussed for a reason.
For its part, Treasury has copped to much of the ANAO’s criticisms. “Treasury accepts the conclusion by the ANAO that there were significant weaknesses in implementation of the OzCar facility.” But it is clear Treasury wants to put the blame mostly on Grech. It noted “that this conclusion needs to be considered in the context of issues which have been raised concerning Mr Grech’s conduct… it does appear that weaknesses outlined in the Audit Report … were substantially contributed to by actions of an individual officer.”
And Treasury in effect rejects the ANAO’s criticism that the area handling OzCar was not adequately resourced, saying additional resources wouldn’t have made any difference.
Given the workload on Grech clearly made him snap, that’s a judgement that many would question.