“Turnbull link to Grech fee deal – EXCLUSIVE” headed the right column of the front page of this week’s edition of The Weekend Australian. When the names Turnbull and Grech appear in the one line, the question is “What have they been up to now?” Paul Maley’s answer is: “Godwin Grech, the Treasury official at the centre of the fake email affair, proposed a fee deal to the merchant bank running the OzCar fund whose chairman was a key backer and personal donor to Malcolm Turnbull.” The plot thickens – you must read on. “The effect of the deal was to enable Credit Suisse, the bank hired by Treasury to implement OzCar, to maintain its $5 million in fees, despite the fund being scaled back from $2 billion to $1.3bn.” Then ‘the exclusive’: “The Weekend Australian can reveal that John O'Sullivan, the chairman of investment banking for Credit Suisse, donated more than $20,000 to the Wentworth Forum, the Opposition Leader's political fighting fund.” And there’s more: “Mr O'Sullivan is president of the federal electorate conference in Mr Turnbull's Sydney electorate of Wentworth and a member of the Opposition Leader's Point Piper branch.” Goodness me! [more]
Anyone stopping there would suspect something fishy must be going on – again.
Then Maley gives a brief explanation that the Auditor General, Ian McPhee, had reported on the handling of the OzCar affair, but it was not until paragraph seven that we read: “Mr McPhee made no adverse finding against Mr O'Sullivan or Credit Suisse. Nor is there any suggestion that either acted improperly.” Now you tell us, just when the story was getting juicy. So if Mr O'Sullivan and Credit Suisse are both in the clear, what’s the story? Is Malcolm Turnbull somehow implicated? You must read on.
For those who have been out of the country for three months, Maley then fills in the details of the OzCar affair: the allegations against the PM and the Treasurer, Turnbull’s call for their resignation, the fake email, the meeting of Grech, Turnbull and Eric Abetz before the Senate hearing – you’ve heard it all before.
By now you’re two thirds down the first page and if you’re still interested you need to turn to page four, where there are two more long columns – there must be something substantial here – three columns are not easy to come by. You notice a rather grim photo of Grech in the last column, so you must read on. Then you read “Mr Turnbull told The Weekend Australian he had not received any information on the OzCar project as a result of his relationship with Mr O'Sullivan." “The only source of information about Mr Grant and OzCar was Mr Grech," he said. "Mr O'Sullivan has not at any time disclosed any information about OzCar to me." So it looks as if Turnbull too is in the clear. There must be a villain somewhere.
After some more details about the fee arrangements with Credit Suisse, Maley informs us: “...Mr O'Sullivan was not Mr Grech's main point of contact within Credit Suisse. Nor was Mr O'Sullivan the final decision-maker on Credit Suisse's fees for its work on the OzCar fund, which Wayne Swan announced yesterday would become operational on Tuesday. And The Weekend Australian understands Mr O'Sullivan was out of the country in the lead-up to the fee revisions.” Mr O’Sullivan cleared again.
Then there is more tedious detail about O’Sullivan’s donations to the Liberal Party and Turnbull’s Wentworth fund if you’re inclined to read it, and then “There is no evidence to suggest Mr Grech was aware of Mr O'Sullivan's links to Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Party before his proposal that the fees be changed.” So presumably Grech is cleared of knowing Turnbull’s links to O’Sullivan. What on earth is the story?
On and on it goes exploring who asked for, and who authorized the change in the fee arrangements with Credit Suisse. To cut a long and rather boring story short it turns out that Credit Suisse did not ask for the change – it was Godwin Grech who initiated it without referring it to his superiors.
So what was the story other than to detail the change of fee arrangements with Credit Suisse that advantaged it, and to establish the connection between O’Sullivan and the Liberal Party and Turnbull? It seems as if it all revolved around Grech purportedly giving preferential treatment to a Liberal Party supporter, O’Sullivan. Halfway down the last column Maley reveals: “Multiple sources have told The Weekend Australian that Mr Grech's email correspondence with Credit Suisse contained references to Liberal Party politics.” and that “Mr Grech was heavily criticised in Mr McPhee's report for using his position within Treasury to give preferential treatment to a car dealership affiliated with the Liberal Party.”
So the headline Turnbull link to Grech fee deal, far from exposing another shady Turnbull – Grech link, simply reveals, well over a thousand words later, that Grech, apparently on his own initiative, had made a deal favourable to a firm whose chairman of investment banking was a Liberal Party and Turnbull supporter, just as Grech had done for a Liberal car dealer. What a revelation! All others in the story are in the clear.
This story hardly deserves to be called a beat-up. It is simply much ado about nothing much. A long story of limited interest beginning with weighty implications of sinister behaviour, but on the way everyone but one person, the ubiquitous Grech, is exonerated.
If this is what The Australian believes is journalism worthy of its front page, heaven help we poor readers.
Oh, by the way, the declaration of interest statement at the end reads: “John O'Sullivan's wife, Janet Albrechtsen, is a columnist with The Australian.”