Joel Fitzgibbon blames 'Judases' for dramatic demise
Patrick Walters and Matthew Franklin | June 05, 2009
Article from: The Australian
DUMPED defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has threatened legal action against "a range of people and organisations" after lashing out at "Judases" who undermined him and contributed to his resignation yesterday.
After becoming the first Rudd Government minister to step down, over a series of careless errors involving his expenses and potential conflicts of interest, Mr Fitzgibbon said last night he had resigned to protect the Government's standing.
"It is obvious ... I have at least two or three Judases in my midst and they had the drip on me," Mr Fitzgibbon said. "They had nothing on me because there was no evidence I had done anything wrong."
Mr Fitzgibbon threatened legal action against "a range of people and organisations including media organisations" he believes contributed to his downfall.
Mr Fitzgibbon resigned after conceding that official contact between the Government and his brother Mark, the chief executive of health fund NIB, could be construed as a breach of Kevin Rudd's code of ministerial conduct.
Despite accepting the resignation, an angry Prime Minister yesterday rejected Opposition attacks on his own probity, accusing Malcolm Turnbull of shifting from a scare campaign over government debt to a smear campaign against his Government.
Mr Fitzgibbon handed Mr Rudd a letter of resignation about 1pm yesterday after a Senate budget estimates committee heard on Wednesday night that an army general was ordered to attend a meeting with US health group Humana and Mr Fitzgibbon's brother to discuss defence health insurance and the possibility of deep savings.
While Mr Fitzgibbon was not present, his junior ministers - Veterans Affairs Minister Alan Griffin and Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon - met the officials.
Despite Mr Fitzgibbon having previously said his office had had no contact with NIB, he confirmed yesterday that staffers from his office attended the meeting.
"Despite my decision to avoid being a part of any discussions between the parties, I am not absolutely satisfied that that objective was achieved to the extent necessary to ensure full compliance with your ministerial code of conduct," Mr Fitzgibbon wrote in a letter to Mr Rudd.
"On that basis and to protect the integrity of the Government I have decided to resign as a member of the executive, effective immediately."
Last night Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian accusations levelled against him in recent months, including questions over his dealings with Chinese businesswoman Helen Liu, "could only have been developed by people working closely with me".
"By that I do not mean senior members of the Defence organisation," he said. "But I don't rule out people within the Defence organisation. I don't rule out people who have worked for me.
"I am very sad that Helen Liu, who is a very, very fine Australian, was dragged through the political mire. Undoubtably the person who has the ultimate defamation case is Helen Liu. To be accused of spying on her country and suggestions that she was buying a favour from a close family friend since 1993. All of that was grossly unfair."
Mr Rudd praised Mr Fitzgibbon's ministerial performance but said he demanded high levels of accountability.
"This has been an error on the minister's part for which he has paid a high price. This simply goes to a question of the probity of the process," Mr Rudd said.
"It is an important reminder to all of us that standards of accountability must be kept."
Moments later, in Question Time, the Opposition Leader attempted to ensnare Mr Rudd in scandal, asking about evidence in another Senate hearing yesterday suggesting he had accepted a free car for use by his electorate office by Ipswich car dealer John Grant.
Mr Turnbull asked whether Mr Rudd had attempted to use his influence or secure funding for the car dealership from Oz Car - a $2 billion special purpose vehicle to support car dealers when financiers GE and GMAC were threatening to pull out of the Australian market at the height of the global financial crisis.
While Mr Rudd said he could not answer immediately and that he would seek advice from his staff, the Opposition continued the attack.
As tensions rose Mr Turnbull angered the Prime Minister by asking: "Why do you have to hide? Why don't you just tell us, tell us what representations you made."
Later Mr Rudd, having finally received the results of the check of his records, unleashed an explosive attack on the Opposition. He insisted he had an electorate car which he kept at the Lodge in Canberra, as was his entitlement.
He told parliament neither he nor his office had spoken with Mr Grant in relation to Oz Car, nor made any representations.
Wayne Swan has admitted making representations to Oz Car on behalf of Mr Grant, triggering Oppostion claims the Government had entered "murky and uncomfortable waters".
Speaking after his resignation, Mr Fitzgibbon said he would like to be remembered for his efforts to undertake root and branch reform of the Defence portfolio.
He also cited Australia's troop withdrawal from Iraq with their heads held high and the clarity he had given to Australia's military deployment to Afghanistan as core achievements in his 18 months as defence minister.
"I have also worked hard to make sure that our troops have all the training and capability to make sure they do the job properly," he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he had inherited a "train wreck" in taking over the portfolio from the Howard government, and that funding black holes had generated the requirement for an extra $30billion.
"I have tried hard to reform the organisation to make sure that in future we can afford the capability we will need to protect the country," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"If I hadn't pursued a reform program we would not have been able to affored the capability the strategic assessment says we will need to defence this nation in 20years' time. If I had left Defence on its then current trajectory the wheels would have begun to fall off."
Additional reporting: Lenore Taylor