Thursday, 6 August 2009
This blog owes its readers an apology. For the last eight months, it had been giving the impression that what we were seeing was the tortuous process of the Liberal party merely getting rid of its leader. It now is becoming increasingly clear that we are looking at something more brutal than that, not just his toppling, but his political destruction. Costello said on Monday night that Turnbull has had a far easier ride than Nelson, but this blog is now not so sure. There seems no other way to explain the Liberals’ extraordinary behaviour over the last few days.
Let’s start by looking objectively at where the Liberals were just before Utegate Round 2 began. Turnbull had clearly stuffed up. It was bad enough he chose to go in hard on an issue that was trivial and politically unfavourable, but it was also based on fraudulent evidence. While the former is testament to Turnbull’s political naivety, the latter is perhaps more understandable. After all, here was a mole who had apparently for years been providing reliable information to the Liberals, while in opposition and government, to both Howard and Nelson. It would seem reasonable to assume that he would do so again, especially as he produced what seemed tangible evidence.
As to why someone who was so well known and regarded by Liberals like Howard and such a staunch supporter in return, should suddenly approach Turnbull with a highly damaging fraud – let’s not even go there. Let’s just say that Grattan was right, most journalists would have made the same mistake Turnbull and Abetz did, certainly The Daily Telegraph and its reporter Steve Lewis did.
Beyond questions over Turnbull’s impetuosity, not really a surprise, there was only a slim potential it could have got worse for him, if it was found that he had pressured or forced Grech to act the way he did. Given that Chris Uhlmann had already reported weeks before that Grech was a long-standing and enthusiastic Liberal mole, it was generally regarded as unlikely.
Then the wheels start to turn. First we had Costello’s highly peculiar observation on Monday night that the Utegate affair would do further damage to Turnbull if there was ‘a knock-out development’ like the author of the e-mail ‘suddenly appears from somewhere’. This had been an interview, as others had noted, which was highly undermining of Turnbull. Costello, whose biggest grievance was Howard’s refusal to honour a back-room deal to give him the party leadership, has now suddenly discovered the party’s grassroots, bless him. Never mind the inconsistency, this new stance does allow him to imply that Turnbull is ignoring the party.
Yet Costello’s observation raises the obvious question, why would revealing the email’s author damage Turnbull? Unless it turned out to have been Mal and Lucy whipping it up on the home PC (unlikely given the e-savviness on display in The Australian Story), it is hard to see how it would have made things worse. In fact given that it was widely assumed to be Grech, as it was known to have come from Treasury, it would have cleared things up.
As we now know, by extraordinary coincidence, that very night the author of the email did come from somewhere and was found to be, no surprise, Godwin Grech. All that Costello’s comments did was to try and portray what should have been a non-event into a blow to Turnbull.
The Australian’s report of Grech’s testimony, of course, selectively picked up on the part that was damaging to Turnbull while ignoring the far more damaging claim against Rudd. That The Australian should give credibility to Grech seems odd enough, to be so selective about what to run with seems odder still.
The next day, with Turnbull facing the damaging charge that he had pressured Grech into releasing the email, it was clearly a case of his credibility against Grech’s. Yet all we had on Tuesday were Liberals seemingly more interested in defending Grech’s credibility than their party leader, capped off with the sterling performance from his new best friend, Tony Abbott, that evening. By defending Grech’s credibility, all they did was to keep the issue running.
It was left to Turnbull, almost alone, to defend himself. Dealing with Grech shouldn’t have been too hard, sly innuendos about someone who had checked himself into a psychiatric ward should have been enough. It is unlikely that it would have bothered Rudd, for example, if the media had also run with Grech’s charge that Rudd did send the email after all. Unfortunately left on his own, Turnbull again showed his political deaf ear, acting more like a lawyer than a politician, and produced evidence that Grech had instigated the meetings. Instead of killing the issue, Turnbull stoked it up further and now raised the question over whether the Senate Committee hearing had been a scripted farce. The government latched on to Turnbull’s lack of apology, made worse by Senator Abetz unhelpfully unilaterally apologising himself yesterday.
To cap it all off, we now have Liberal Senate Leader Nick Minchin, who had previously led the blocking of any Senate investigation into the affair, willing to keep the issue running even further by allowing it to go to the Privileges Committee. It might be thought he now had no choice. However, Minchin still feels comfortable enough in insisting that the terms be narrow enough to prevent a ‘witch-hunt’ against Abetz. If Abetz is going to be protected, who could any further investigation be possibly aimed at?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 6 August 2009.Filed under Political figures