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Fed: PM's mate got no special treatment: motor industry chief

By Kate Hannon, National Political Editor
21 Jun 2009 6:52 PM

CANBERRA, June 21 AAP - The furore over assistance to a car dealer friend of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took a new turn on Sunday, with a motor industry leader insisting the Brisbane dealer got no special treatment.

The remarks by Michael Delaney, executive director of the Motor Traders Association of Australia (MTAA), signal a potential lifeline for Treasurer Wayne Swan as allegations linked to the OzCar auto finance facility look set to dominate parliament on Monday.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull distanced himself over the weekend from an email purporting to show Mr Rudd's office had directed a public servant to help car dealer John Grant gain dealer finance.

Instead, Mr Turnbull shifted his focus to Mr Swan, calling for his resignation based on emails suggesting he had directed Treasury officials to ensure Mr Grant's application for help was dealt with.

But Mr Rudd launched a counterattack, saying Mr Turnbull had 24 hours to prove in parliament the existence of the email implicating Mr Rudd - or resign.

"I believe Mr Turnbull has a fundamental case to answer here," Mr Rudd told reporters on Sunday in Canberra.

"The time has come with parliament resuming for him to present this for authentication so that we can reach conclusions from it."

But Mr Turnbull said there was no question that Mr Swan had misled parliament over the issue, signalling the treasurer will be his main target in question time this week.

Over the weekend the government referred the matter of the email to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.

Mr Rudd announced on Friday night that he had asked the Auditor-General to investigate the matter and report back by July 31.

But Mr Delaney said Mr Grant's case was no exception.

"The treatment that Mr Grant, a member of mine, got was no different from the treatment all my other members got," Mr Delaney told the Ten Network on Sunday.

The MTAA has more than 1,400 car dealer members, and Mr Delaney was a key player in lobbying the government late last year to set up OzCar as a vehicle to provide finance for customers in the wake of pressure for big US finance providers to pull out of the local market because of the global recession.

The Ten Network reported that Mr Delaney had "dozens" of faxes showing the Treasury official in charge of OzCar, Godwin Grech, was following up dealers' applications for finance.

It has been alleged the email being investigated by the AFP was sent by Mr Rudd's senior economics adviser, Andrew Charlton, to Mr Grech on February 19 asking him to provide assistance "asap" to Mr Grant.

Mr Grech referred to the email under intense questioning from the opposition in a Senate inquiry on Friday, but he said that his memory could be faulty on the matter.

Mr Turnbull said he had not seen the email and that the opposition would cooperate fully with the AFP investigation, but he rejected Mr Rudd's challenge to produce the document.

"How can you have the gall, the arrogance to demand the opposition produce an email that it has never claimed to have?" Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

He said Mr Rudd was using the email to distract attention from Mr Swan, who "had unquestionably misled parliament" on June 4 when he said Mr Grant was one of many car dealers who made representations to MPs and Treasury.

But the Ten Network report said Mr Delaney had received an email from Mr Charlton that was subsequently forwarded to Mr Grech, suggesting it could have been the source of Mr Grech's confusion on Friday.

Legislation setting up OzCar is yet to pass parliament and is due to be debated in the Senate on Tuesday.