The Fitzgibbon affair – endgame?

They got their man.  But who are ‘they’?

First it must be accepted that Joel Fitzgibbon shot himself in the foot – several times.  So when it all boils down he has only himself to blame for his exit to the backbench.  The first-revealed misdemeanours of not recording gifts on the pecuniary interests register betrayed lack of attention to such requirements, an air of carelessness, but were forgiven.  The one that brought him undone was lack of probity in his relationship with his brother and his colleagues seeking Defence Department contracts for health care. [more]

There is a flurry of articles in the weekend press about the Fitzgibbon saga, perhaps none more detailed that one in The Age by Shaun Carney No valid defence who sets out to defend the Fairfax Press’ involvement.  He says: “Other sections of the media have been asserting in the past two days that the original reports about people in Defence spying on Fitzgibbon were wrong, discredited and unfounded because two investigations, by the department and the Inspector-General of Intelligence of Security, have come up empty-handed.  Which makes you wonder: how could the information that came into the possession of reporters Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie of The Age and Philip Dorling on The Canberra Times have come about? Was it conjured out of thin air and it then turned out to be true through some sort of cosmic accident?”  The Political Sword has criticized Fairfax and the journalists for making allegations that the Defence Department was spying on its own minister, including accessing his computer and banking files, which two thorough investigations found unproven.  Carney’s article does not ‘prove them’ either.  Rather it asserts that “There was a conspiracy against Joel Fitzgibbon within the Defence establishment. Various means were used to collect and confirm information, which was put before higher-ups in Defence and ignored, and then leaked.”  That there was leaking is not contested by Fitzgibbon who also believes that people in his Department did a ‘Judas’ on him, and perhaps people on his own staff as well. 

So where does that leave us? The facts are now common knowledge.  How they emerged is the matter of contention.  Why did Fairfax not say at the outset that they had received leaked information from inside Defence about the Helen Liu association and the other matters?  Why did Fairfax promote the ‘spying’ story in the first place?  There are numerous instances of whistleblowers leaking damaging information about ministers or their associates.  Why not state it as it seems by their own admission to be the case?  By playing the spying story they have caused a lot of work on fruitless investigations.

Fairfax’s approach remains questionable, not because it correctly described the facts of the Fitzgibbon affair, but because it wrapped it in the Defence spies on its minister story by Richard Baker, Philip Dorling and Nick McKenzie on March 26.  Recall that this story began with the words “Officials in the Defence Department have conducted a covert investigation into their own minister leaking personal information about Joel Fitzgibbon's relationship with a wealthy Chinese-born woman with past financial ties to Beijing.  Mr Fitzgibbon's 16-year friendship with Sydney-based businesswoman Helen Liu has recently been raised by officials within the Defence Department's intelligence and security areas as a possible security risk.”   Words like that left no alternative but to carry out intensive, prolonged and expensive investigations into these allegations.  A simple report of ‘leaking’ would not.

In his article in The Weekend Australian, A good minister despite misdemeanours Greg Sheridan has a different view.  He insists "It seems the people plotting against him were not Defence Department spies, as fairly fatuously alleged in the Fairfax press, but people somewhat closer to him who decided to do him harm."   This contradiction is a reflection of the rivalry between two mega media empires.

So who’s right?  We’ll never know. 

By any account Fairfax has not covered itself in glory over this matter.  Its involvement is an example of undistinguished journalism, despite Carney’s attempts to defend it.

To come back to the beginning, who are ‘they’?

If the past history of the Defence Department is any guide, there is a culture and modus operandi that exist there where the so-called ‘generals’ believe they should call the shots rather than the government and its Defence minister.   There is also said to be inefficiencies, some the result of the complexity and geographic dispersion of the department, and a chronic inability to select the most appropriate hardware, find the right price and effect timely delivery.  The department needs a shake-up, and for that a strong and determined minister is needed, one that won’t allow himself to be worn down by those who believe they should run the show, or eroded by those who wish to frustrate governmental or ministerial decisions.   It is unacceptable that what has happened to Fitzgibbon, and used by Fairfax, should be allowed to happen to his successor.

In his piece Greg Sheridan lauds Fitzgibbon in his opening words “Part of the tragedy of Joel Fitzgibbon's demise is that he had the makings of a very good defence minister. Virtually all the decisions of substance he made in his portfolio were the right decisions. He also maintained the Government's integrity of defence funding.  Those are the big portfolio questions on which his performance as defence minister should be judged.”  So while we cannot defend Fitzgibbons impropriety as a minister of the Government, we should not label him as incompetent, as the Opposition does.  Rather he should be commended for what he has achieved in eighteen months including a White Paper that will transform Defence in a major way as it prepares for its changed role in the decades ahead.

So the endgame for Fitzgibbon has arrived, although the Opposition is still muttering darkly about ‘more to come’.  But ‘they’ need to be ferreted out so that they cannot erode the next incumbent.  Otherwise there will be another endgame.

Fitzgibbon’s replacement, John Faulkner, is not a person to be fobbed off.  He deserves the support of all who understand the crucial importance of Australia’s defence capability and its capacity to meet the emerging challenges of tomorrow.

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Sir Ian Crisp

6/06/2009Joel Fitzgibbon is living testimony to the vicissitudes of an MP’s lot. His demise has been a tortuous affair. His ‘untidiness was defended on a few occasions by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who was forced to vouchsafe Fitzgibbon’s continued role as a federal MP. Where did it all go wrong? Apparently Minister Fitzgibbon didn’t catch his Prime Minister’s announcement that the PM would subject the Code of Conduct guidelines to a thoroughgoing review. We were told that the bar would be set at a new dizzying height. The bar was too high for Fitzgibbon because he failed to enter certain items into the Register of Pecuniary Interests. The issue of non-disclosure was leaked to the press and at that point it became an endgame. The Psycho Chook used his oleaginous charm at his press conferences probably because of lingering doubt about what other non-disclosures by his minister would get a run in the press. Finally the Psycho Chook’s cat’s-paw, John Faulkner, was called upon to take a copy of the Code of Conduct around to Fitzgibbon’s office with one mission: to secure a letter of resignation. The precipitancy of Fitzgibbon’s removal overshadowed events of the previous day when dewy-eyed Doris Dope, federal ALP MP for the seat of Pollyanna said at one of those impromptu doorstops something like ‘Mr Fitzgibbon hasn’t done anything wrong’. What will be Fitzgibbon’s coda? It looks as if we’ll have to wait because Fitzgibbon’s querimonious temperament has surfaced and a few Judases have been told to expect legal action. Why should we feel lachrymose at the news of Fitzgibbon’s demotion and lack of opportunity to advance his career? Consider if you will ALP members Matthew Thistlewaite, Dominic Sullivan and Tim Mitchell; three hopefuls in a battle to secure pre-selection for the safe ALP federal seat of Kingsford. All of a sudden they looked skywards and noticed a parachute descending into the safe ALP seat of Kingsford. Riding that parachute was none other than rock star Peter Garrett. I don’t recall an outpouring of sorrow for the three gentlemen who were run over by the party machine. It’s a matter of what’s good for the party with no thought given to rewarding loyalty and commitment. The message to Fitzgibbon is clear and blunt with no room for sentimentality: get over it. The perquisites of office are meant to compensate those who enter politics and forgo more financially rewarding opportunities in the private sector. Those perquisites are not meant to be the reason for a career as a politician. Sadly, for some MPs when confronted with this simple principle, greed and conscience oppugn one another with a disappointing outcome. What is more disgusting is the protection of some MPs until opinion polls or political expediency come into play. Bellow is the declaration which is to be signed after entering items in the Register of Pecuniary Interests: I certify that the information in this statement, properly reflects, as far as I am aware, my Registerable Interests, and the Interests of my partner, and any other dependents, and that the information provided is in accordance with the Guidelines for Pecuniary Interest. ……………………….. Signature of Officer. Juxtapose the above with the declaration that a person signs when completing a tax return via a tax agent: I declare that: The information provided to the agent for the preparation of the document is true and correct; and The agent is authorized to give the document to the Commissioner of Taxation Important: the tax law imposes heavy penalties for giving false of misleading information …………………. Signature. There are no penalties for signing an ‘untidy’ declaration if you are a politician. Also consider the following guidelines: STANDARDS OF MINISTERIAL ETHICS (All references to Ministers should be read as including Parliamentary Secretaries) Other forms of employment 2.15 A Minister shall not act as a consultant or adviser to any company, business, or other interests, whether paid or unpaid, or provide assistance to any such body, except as may be appropriate in their official capacity as Minister. (This requirement does not apply where a Minister has the Prime Minister's permission to continue an interest in a family business – see above). Gifts 2.16 Ministers are required to exercise the functions of their public office unaffected by considerations of personal advantage or disadvantage. Ministers, in their official capacity, may therefore accept customary official gifts, hospitality, tokens of appreciation, and similar formal gestures in accordance with the relevant guidelines, but must not seek or encourage any form of gift in their personal capacity. Ministers must also comply with the requirements of the Parliament and the Prime Minister relating to the declaration of gifts. 2.17 Ministers must not seek or accept any kind of benefit or other valuable consideration either for themselves or for others in connection with performing or not performing any element of their official duties as a Minister. Ministers shall ensure that they do not come under any financial or other obligation to individuals or organisations to the extent that they may appear to be influenced improperly in the performance of their official duties as Minister.

Ad astra reply

7/06/2009Sir Ian, Your comments are informative, giving us as they do the wording of declarations politicians make. I see you have descended into Barnaby Joyce’s barnyard to join him in his ‘Psycho Chook’ description of the PM. If Barnaby’s jibes are the best you can do, you’ve set a pretty low standard. He thinks he’s comical, as does the media, always looking for something to distract them from their boredom, but they will soon tire of his inane witticisms, and look for something new. Joyce is lightweight, but a heavy albatross around Malcolm Turnbull’s neck as he struggles for party unity. Your comments are welcome, but if you wish to continue to contribute, please elevate your vocabulary for describing politicians. You use of labels like “Mr Rude’ and ‘Psycho Chook’ are not just demeaning, they are the silly, boring, irritating, and not at all humorous.

Sir Ian Crisp

7/06/2009Ad Astra, why are you disturbed at the use of Psycho Chook? Here at TPS I have read titles such as Truffles, Jolly Joe, The Banker, Lying Rodent Devotees, and, other titles. The use of those terms has not roiled you in the slightest nor have you issued a ‘please do better’ caution to the authors. Why then does Psycho Chook upset you? Please publish your standards so I may know my limits. Please explain why the terms I’ve mentioned above don’t upset you. Would you please let me know your understanding of the word ‘consistency’.

Sir Ian Crisp

8/06/2009Thanks for the heads up Rx. I am well aware of Ad Astra’s ownership of this site. However, what if in a mood of capriciousness Ad Astra woke one morning and declared that anyone with the letters ‘R’ and ‘X’ in their sign-on will be issued with a ‘please use another sign-on’ caution. Wouldn’t you scratch your head and wonder why no action was taken on earlier occasions when those letters were used? I’m not a fanboi of the country bumpkin but I am a big fan of the Blacktown Amendment Bill which was co-authored by Joyce and Xenophon.

Sir Ian Crisp

8/06/2009Thanks for the heads up Just Me. Can you tell me what the rules are please. I mean the rules for today as opposed to those of last week and the rules that may be in place next week. I will "live by the rules of this blog owner" as you put it, but I would like to know what the rules are. A reasonable question do you think? I seem to recall you upbraiding me; not the actions of a moderator I would have thought.

Ad astra reply

8/06/2009Thank you folks for your supportive comments. Sir Ian, You’ve asked for consistency regarding the use of less-than-complimentary terms to describe politicians, so let’s look at some of the appellations that have appeared on this site to tag them. You have researched the site pretty well, so let’s use your list. ‘Truffles’ is a term often used in the blogosphere for Malcolm Turnbull which acknowledges the fact that his wealth would enable him to routinely feast on truffles. I don’t find that term offensive, and I doubt if he would either. ‘The Banker’ simply refers to Turnbull’s past life; again I doubt if he would find that term upsetting. ‘Jolly Joe’ is almost a term of endearment; indeed it’s his jolliness that enhances his popularity. ‘Lying rodent’ is pejorative, but since it was Liberal George Brandis who coined it, it’s not surprising others have copied him. But ‘Psycho Chook’ is not just pejorative, it’s senseless. There’s no accounting for Barnaby Joyce’s thinking. How he could really believe Kevin Rudd was ‘psycho’ in the commonly used sense of the word is beyond comprehension, and what ‘chook’ has to do with Rudd is something only Barnaby could explain. My guess is that it was just a pseudo-smart inspiration Barnaby had under the shower to add to his collection of witticisms in which the media now delight and which they have come to expect. If wonder will he be able to keep up the supply. ‘Mr Rude’ is another pejorative term you use, no doubt derived from Rudd’s encounter with the RAAF hostess. If being rude was his constant form, the term might be appropriate, but we know it’s not. Another string in your original comment was "...dewy-eyed Doris Dope, federal ALP MP for the seat of Pollyanna..." I don’t know to whom you’re referring, although if I had the time and interest I could probably work it out. Why not just name the person and make your criticism? You ask me to publish ‘my standards’. To do so would engage us in a fruitless legalistic debate. May I suggest instead that we all use commonsense and avoid terms that might be odious to the person or his or her supporters. Such terms are too often used as a substitute for reasoned argument. We can do better than that.

Ad astra reply

9/06/2009Rx, I noted those items on [i]ABC Online[/i]. Anabelle Crabb seems to have been charmed by Malcolm Turnbull enough to quote whoever said that [quote]“Malcolm Turnbull has been described as 'the kind of Prime Minister you'd want Australia to have'.”[/quote] I’m looking forward to reading her piece in the [i]Quarterly Essay, Stop at Nothing[/i]. You’re right, why is there no comment about the gender imbalance in the Coalition Shadow Ministry, where the proportion of females is far below that in the Rudd Government. To criticise Rudd for not promoting more women to his ministry is simply criticism for criticism’s sake; his criterion was merit. Two females were in fact given an advancement Kate Ellis and Maxine McKew; one was demoted, Jan McLucas. On the ABC site in the [i]Best of[/i], in the audio of Annabelle Crabb's interview with Fran Kelly, she reveals that Turnbull has [quote]“a very fiery and difficult side to his personality”[/quote] and is an [quote]“unusually difficult person when he’s in a mood”[/quote], and [quote]“a lot of people dislike him”[/quote]. We have heard much of Rudd’s short fuse, and his inclination to fly off the handle, but we haven’t heard much about Turnbull’s ‘fiery and difficult side’. I wonder why?

Ad astra reply

9/06/2009Rx, I should have mentioned in my last comment that on this site tags for bold, italics and underline need to be placed in square brackets.
I have two politicians and add 17 clowns and 14 chimpanzees; how many clowns are there?