Mission Impossible II

“This email will self-destruct in 5 seconds” — well, as everyone now knows, it darn well didn’t. It turned up in Godwin’s Grech’s house, on Godwin’s personal computer. Last week in Quadrant Online we noted:

This is an age of instantly erasable emails, text messages, voicemail as     well as “Stick-it” mini-notes and conversations held under gum-trees. It is an age where government officials and political rent-men have their own portable computers, their own mobile phones, their own Palms, Blackberrys, data-sticks and who knows what, to record, copy and manipulate files and data. 

This week saw unfold a gladiatorial contest between the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull over a faux email.

Despite nearly all of Australia’s media and political commentators screaming hysterically about the performance of Malcolm Turnbull, his demise, his fatal decision to go for the Prime Minister’s throat, his lack of judgement and what ever, the real winner may well turn out to be Malcolm Turnbull. 

As the week unfolded the conduct of the Prime Minister emerged as the main game for non-believers to observe, and it was an interesting spectacle to behold. Dennis Shanahan nailed it in The Weekend Australian when he noted, “Behind all of the smooth planning, the calm execution and successful exploitation of the Coalition’s errors there is a quickening in the veins and minds of government at the realisation it can work ruthlessly to bring those awesome resources to bear.” Those resources include the iron fist of government institutions and agencies. 

The most chilling moment of the OzCar-gate saga was Rudd’s decision to call in the Federal Police. It can only be described as a political manoeuvre. None of our senior journalists and commentators bothered to question why the heads of Treasury and/or the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet didn’t undertake this task. Politicians issuing orders to the Federal Police brings back memories of Lionel Murphy organising AISO raids on hotels and breaking into filing cabinets. It was ironic that this was happening at the time the opposition in Iran were being subjected to police and military terror. Not a good look! 

The two key issues were, and still are, whether Kevin Rudd applied any undue influence to ensure his friend, neighbour and political supporter, John Grant, received any preferential treatment regarding government funding and whether the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, gave that preferential treatment and then lied to the Parliament about his involvement. 

The suggestion that the Prime Minister didn’t, by a nod, wink or in pigeon Mandarin, convey to “someone” that his “little mate” needed help, goes against all we know about the Labor Party and how it operates. The ALP never fails to look after mates, political donors and those to whom they are indebted. Indeed, you wouldn’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to know what was required when the name John Grant Motors of Ipswich turned up on someone’s desk. 

But what was remarkable was Kevin Rudd’s reaction to Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that he should resign. The nerve…the sheer effrontery of Turnbull’s suggestion that he, “the Prime Minister of Australia” should resign, left Rudd almost frothing at the despatch box. And it was at this moment that Kevin Rudd lost his winning advantage. It was as though he thought that some sort of rule or unwritten protocol had been broken. Our PM needs to get out more. 

Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Howard and goodness knows how many Prime Ministers have had to stare down demands that they resign… and they have all managed to survive. Compared to attacks on the integrity and honour thrown at John Howard when he was Prime Minister, the OzCar-gate should have been handled by Rudd in the manner of a confident statesman. It wasn’t. 

Yes, Malcolm Turnbull looked nervous and shaken — but then he should have. But in the end he appeared more like Horatio defending the bridge in Rome, bruised and battered, but taking the punishment. It was a pity that his Liberal colleagues didn’t show similar bottom. 

Turnbull’s performance, facing Kerry O’Brien on Thursday night’s 7.30 Report, was a ripper. Quietly eye-balling O’Brien with a stunning 5 second pause (after tolerating O’Brien’s usual rudeness and interruptions) Turnbull asked, “Have you quite finished”. It was a “Rocky Balboa” moment.

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