Tuesday, 23 June 2009 

What’s happening is ordinary people aren’t allowed to talk to the elected politicians they put into power. We’ve come to the situation where you can’t do it any more.

John Grant talking to The Australian 20 June 2009

That’s the trouble following a weak political class. You go out of the country for a few days and you come back to find the jobs of its leading figures are suddenly on the line.

And all over nothing. The government is clearly being cagey about whether Swan made representations on behalf of Rudd’s friendly used car dealer, John Grant. But as Gillard said on Sunday’s Insiders, politicians making representations on behalf of particular interests is part and parcel of political life. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have lobbyists and political donations. It is inconceivable that such representations on behalf of the specially favoured were not made by Howard, Keating and (especially!) Hawke. The fact that this has become such a flashpoint threatening the careers of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and now the Opposition leader shows how things have changed. The whole fuss shows the degree to which the political class has become so insecure in the last few years, that what would have passed for normal political activity has become almost impossible.

At one level the discovery that the e-mail is fraudulent shouldn’t have really detracted from the Liberals’ case. It seems pretty clear that Grant did get special treatment from Swan, and it is hard to believe that Swan was acting purely on his own volition. The problem is that it is a case the Liberals don’t really want to pursue. As Australia’s last political party, they would be the last to want to criminalise representing special interests of business on a bit larger scale than some used car dealer in the Brisbane suburbs. This is why Turnbull is so vulnerable to tactical stuff-ups like the way he used the e-mail. He has become so caught up in process he has not realised that he has strayed onto political ground that is highly uncomfortable for his party. There was a bit of a sign on that on Lateline last night when Abbott tried to neutralise it further by trying to make it not even about whether Swan gave special treatment but whether he misled Parliament.

Abbott’s half-hearted defence of the Opposition’s strategy suggests the obvious, that the undermining of Turnbull, suspended after the instability that broke out following Bishop’s departure is back on. After a discrete interval we are likely to see that far from Costello’s departure taking the heat off Turnbull, as the media liked to think, it has simply allowed the party to focus on someone more tangible to replace him.

Meanwhile, if Turnbull has strayed off the Liberals’ ground, he is firmly on Rudd’s anti-political turf. Turnbull’s histrionics have now given Rudd the opportunity to escalate the whole episode even further by claiming these were accusations of ‘corruption’. They weren’t, of course. Merely claims of the sort of special favours one would more expect from a small town councillor, than the Prime Minster of a nation. But then, a Labor Prime Minister who is certainly not obliged to represent the union movement, will probably be quite happy not even representing his old mates.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 23 June 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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5 responses to “Flashpoint”

  1. Scott on 23rd June 2009 11:01 am

    Turnbull is using Utegate to detract from the crisis within his own Parliamentary ranks. Four of his House of Reps’ MPs crossed the floor on Alcopops yesterday and his party is in chaos over the Emissions Trading Scheme. Turnbull has muscled up with his attacks against Rudd and Swan to try and convince his own MPs he is a strong leader but the way he has prosecuted his case has made his position more precarious.

  2. PF on 23rd June 2009 12:51 pm

    I can’t quite grasp your proposition. Somehow vigorously prosecuting the case that Swan mislead the parliament makes the Libs uncomfortable and is proof of Turnbull’s leadership woes?

    If anything, the Libs were (and are) relishing going after Swan. He’s vulnerable and as evidenced by the feigned indignation and smokescreens initiated by the government over the past several days, they are the ones that are mightily uncomfortable over this matter.

    Furthermore, leak most likely originated from Treasury. This in conjunction with the government’s difficulties with the Defence Department and the continual dribble of information from mole(s) in Treasury suggests that they are starting to lose control (and the favour) of the public service.

    The massive spending splurge will only exacerbate these troubles in the medium term because they won’t be in a position to exercise enough control and properly target expenditure. Consequently, this may potentially open them up to more charges of cronyism in the future.

    If anything, the past week has indicated that the rot may be setting in on Rudd’s side as opposed to Turnbull’s.

  3. Ric on 23rd June 2009 2:29 pm

    Rudd’s saving grace will be the complete collapse of discipline on the Liberal side long before any collapse of public approval of his own.

    The classic state government position of the last 10 years – a mediocre ALP not delivering because the Liberals couldn’t even agree whether the sun rises in the east.

  4. Ric on 23rd June 2009 2:36 pm

    The list of NSW Liberal opposition leaders is now so long, can’t even remember them. Chikarovski at one point, was it Denham then Brogden or the other way round? And I’m sure another as well before O’Barrell.

    Point being -who finished off these people? Not the ALP. Twas their own side wot done ’em.

    Let’s welcome the passing parade in Canberra. Will it be Dutton? or does the Mad Monk still fancy his people skills? Or Pyne?

  5. The Piping Shrike on 23rd June 2009 4:09 pm

    There are points in what you are saying that I agree with PF. On a tactical level Swan is vulnerable. The trouble is the political point being made, that Ministers should not make special representation for business friends, cannot be something the Liberals will be comfortable with. This is why I think they will have trouble shifting the media focus back to Swan after the e-mail debacle.

    We’ll have to see what this reveals about Labor’s control on Treasury. But it is worth noting that this was first raised on the day that Fitzgibbon went down fighting the defence department. Any true conservative would have been highlighting that at the time and left this episode till a later date.

    From the government’s side, the bad taste left in the mouth is that it makes Rudd/Swan look like a bunch of old-time Queensland ALP hicks with no real connections to the national stage.

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