Speech

22 June 2009
Interview with Kerry O'Brien - 7.30 Report

O'BRIEN: A short time ago, I spoke with the Prime Minister. He was in his Parliament House office.

Kevin Rudd, on radio this morning and in the Parliament today you were very keen to argue that the entire Opposition case against you and the Treasurer rested on the contents of an email that you branded as a forgery. But you know that that's not the only basis for concern about your Treasurer's assistance for the Queensland car dealer John Grant, who is an acquaintance or friend of yours. You know that that's not the only basis, don't you?

PM: I fundamentally disagree with you, Kerry. Let me go to the heart of the proposition. Mr Turnbull, the Liberal Party's out there accusing myself as Prime Minister and the Treasurer of corruption. What's his basis for saying that? He has said that I have made a communication on behalf of Mr Grant to the Australian Treasury, and as a consequence have caused the Treasurer to act in a way to support Mr Grant's interests which would not otherwise normally occur. That's the essence of it.

So therefore the core of this entire argument rests on the alleged communication between myself, or my office, and the Treasury on Mr Grant's behalf.

And here are the facts: one, Mr Grant has said he's never discussed the matter with me nor asked me for representations - that's true. Secondly, I have not had any dealings with Mr Grant on this matter to make representations for him. Three, neither have my staff. But four, what Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Opposition have said: there's this smoking gun, this email which exists between myself, my office and the Treasury asking for representations to be made. That was exploded today and in terms of the statements I've made over the course of the weekend, because the document in question, the email, is a fake, it's a forgery, it is fraudulent. And we have - we have ...

O'BRIEN: But as you know, Mr Rudd ...

PM: We have the alternative Prime Minister of Australia making an accusation against the serving Prime Minister of corruption, based on this document which is a forgery, and him and his staff using the opportunity to convey the contents of that document around to various media outlets.

O'BRIEN: But as you know, Mr Turnbull also based his charges against you on the verbal evidence given by the public servant Mr Grech in the Senate on Friday where he said - and he acknowledged his memory might be faulty - but he said he had a recollection that an email had come to him from your office about Mr Grant. So that was part of the reason for Mr - on which Malcolm Turnbull based his claims. Another part was a series of faxes involving Mr Swan's office and Mr Grech.

PM: Let me go to the point that you've just raised in terms of what Mr Grech, the public servant, had to say last Friday. You're correct to say that in his evidence he said that his recollection might be false or faulty. Can I also say that after he delivered that evidence, both the Prime Minister's department and the Treasury department conducted independent IT audits to establish whether or not an email had been exchanged between Mr Grech in the Treasury and my senior economic advisor Dr Charlton. Both those searches by independent public service departments found zero.

On the basis of that, I then went out late on Friday, after the news bulletins had gone to bed, and said, "Based on this search I can only conclude that this document is false." But despite that, despite that, you had Mr Turnbull go out there and call for my resignation as Prime Minister of Australia, alleging corruption in my case. And he did so as we now all know on the basis of a forged document, and beyond that, for some weeks had been seeking to convey the contents of this document to news outlets in order to excite their interest. I believe, therefore ...

O'BRIEN: How credible are the sources who have told you that? Has it been other journalists who've told you that Mr Turnbull's been going around?

PM: Um, Kerry, you should know that here in Canberra, the corridors of power and the media talk a lot, and they talk a lot off the record, and this has been one the worst kept secrets in Canberra over the last couple of weeks, this is precisely what's been going on. And for Mr Turnbull as the alternative Prime Minister, and as a person trained as a lawyer, not to administer any basic due diligence to this document, this forged email, and to mount a capital case against the Prime Minister of the day, calling for him to resign, accusing him of being corrupt, shows such a lack of judgment on his part that he is no longer fit to occupy the office of Leader of the Opposition.

O'BRIEN: The Opposition has challenged Mr Swan today on several fronts to test whether he gave John Grant assistance, more assistance than he gave to other car dealers in similar trouble. He was asked directly in the Parliament whether he had personally rung other car dealers to talk about their problems as he had rung Mr Grant. Mr Swan ignored that question. Yet wouldn't you agree that the Parliament deserves that answer? And have you asked Mr Swan why he wasn't prepared to give that answer?

PM: Well, you know, Kerry, we have an Opposition today whose credibility is in absolute tatters because they have made things up. And not just your ordinary garden variety making of things up. Making up an allegation based on a made-up email which goes to an allegation of corruption about the Prime Minister and about the Treasurer. These are no small trifling matters. Their credibility's in absolute tatters.

And you go to this question about individual car dealerships. Can I just quote to you from the Motor Trades Association of Australia. Let me just lay this on the line for your viewers. This is quoting from them, Mr Michael Delaney, the Executive Director. He says, "... the treatment that Mr Grant, a member of mine, got was no different from the treatment of all of my other members on my intervention on their behalf to Mr Grech. They were all treated in the same way and for the same good reason. There was no other way to do these things.” He goes on to say -

O'BRIEN: With respect, Mr Rudd, Mr Delaney isn't expected to know everything that passes in private involving bureaucrats in Treasury, or Mr Swan - phone calls, emails or whatever. And can I draw your attention -

PM: Let me go on to a second point on that, Kerry, which is the number of other representations Mr Swan made as Treasurer. He was acting on behalf of representations from a number of members of Parliament. There was some 130, I think Mr Swan said today, emails from Mr Grech to his office concerning these matters over time, a handful of which dealt with the matter of Mr Grant, and there are at least two other car dealerships which involved a greater volume of email correspondence.

Now this seems to be of no relevance to the continued campaign of personal smear which Mr Turnbull and the Liberals are engaged in against the Treasurer. It's time - they had the opportunity today to put up or shut up when it came to providing their documentary evidence in terms of this email. They failed, and in fact the email proved to be an absolute forgery.

O'BRIEN: Well, when the Opposition says that Wayne Swan rang Mr Grant personally and then asked him were there any other car dealers who he was treating equally that he also rang, Mr Swan ignored the answer. He didn't say yes or no, he ignored it.

PM: Kerry, Kerry, you could pluck 1,000 questions out of the air on any day about multiple transactions between the Government, the Treasurer's office and the entire car dealership industry which this Special Purpose Vehicle has been created to support. Remember, why does this vehicle exist, this financing vehicle? Because the industry was in diabolical trouble at the end of last year because of the global financial crisis, and it was intended to support the impending withdrawal of 40 per cent of car dealership finance from the market through the return back overseas of two major car dealership finance companies. It was established as an industry-wide measure.

That is why the evidence I've just referred to then by the head of the Motor Trades Association is highly relevant. It's designed for the entire industry. So you can have Malcolm Turnbull cherrypick one argument or one aspect of this after another as he seeks desperately to cover up for the fact that his credibility is in tatters because of this forged email upon which he's based his attack on me.

O'BRIEN: But Mr Rudd, with respect, it wasn't just the forged email, there was - the imagery that came out of that Senate committee last Friday was absolutely graphic. There was a senior public servant under pressure who was saying things like, "I think, I can recall an email from the Prime Minister's office asking for assistance for Mr Grant." He also said that he had the clear impression that Mr Grant was a special case. And the Opposition is alleging that Mr Swan has essentially got Treasury via Mr Godwin Grech to intercede with Ford Credit on behalf of John Grant as a personal favour to your mate, even to the point of providing Ford Credit's chief executive with Mr Grant's mobile phone number. Now, was that kind of assistance afforded to other car dealers?

PM: Well, what you seem to have neglected in your question, Kerry, was that the same Mr Grech in the same testimony said that his recollection could've been entirely false or faulty. That's what he said himself. It seems to be missing from the general commentary here. The second point I'd make back to you is that in terms of these other car dealerships who are dealing from time to time with the Treasurer's office, there are at least two sets of cases which involved a larger volume of transactions or email communications in order to obtain results. One of - another case related to a car dealership in the electorate, I think, of Kay Hull, the National Party Member for Riverina, who was exceptionally satisfied, I understand, by the service and support she got from Mr Swan's office.

O'BRIEN: But just on that very case, Mr Rudd, I've had a look at the emails that were tabled in the Senate.

PM: Let me go to the question of Mr Swan's character here. That's what you're seeking to go after. And what I'm saying - I know Mr Swan very well. He is a diligent and exceptionally upstanding Treasurer who is seeking to work across the industry here to provide appropriate support in a time of great economic crisis.

And can I say on a day when the Leader of the Opposition's credibility has gone up in a huge explosion, it is remarkable that the Liberal Party can continue to mount a campaign against Mr Swan when, frankly, the senior members of that party, the elder statesmen, Senator Minchin and others, Mr Costello, Mr Nelson, should be tapping Mr Turnbull on the shoulder and saying, "Frankly, you don't have the quality of temperament to occupy this office of leadership of the Opposition."

O'BRIEN: Kevin Rudd, thanks for talking with us.

PM: Pleasure to be with you.