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