Bastard son of Keating

howard.jpgThe strategic release of a statement by 40 43 very senior retired military, diplomatic and public service heads calling for enhanced standards of truthfulness and accountability in government should by rights be a significant political development. These blokes aren’t in the main political partisans nor (with the exception of sacked Defence chief Paul Barratt) could they plausibly be claimed to have personal axes to grind. Of course, that won’t stop the usual RWDB suspects from making precisely those types of assertions. Just read Tim Blair et al over the next couple of days and you’ll see what I mean. (PS – I should have said a couple of hours. Our ABC Uncle has pressed the smear button already.)

Although I don’t share the left’s extreme animus towards John Howard, nor have I definitely decided that Iraq was a bad idea on balance (although this post from John Quiggin certainly pushes me in that general direction), I certainly agree that the ongoing erosion of standards of truth and accountability is a serious issue.

Tampa, “children overboard” and the Iraq WMD claims all contain disturbing elements of deceit and lack of candour. I’m not sure whether you can actually call it “lying”, but it certainly isn’t truth-telling. As I said in a recent comment (and then satirised by example in this post):

By a whole series of measures, including SES contracts, bureaucrats are subjected to pressure to effectively toe the government line. The most important is making object lessons of those who follow the unwritten rules and those who don’t. The ones who play the game of telling the Minister what he wants to hear, and more importantly not telling him what he doesn’t want to hear so he retains the invaluable gift of plausible deniability, will be rewarded and promoted. The ones who don’t play the Minister’s game will have rocky career paths thereafter.

My real problem is that I can’t bring myself to see John Howard as anything especially exceptional. Lying (or at least dissembling and creating the conditions for plausible deniability) about Iraq’s WMD capabilities was certainly deplorable. It might conceivably have increased Australia’s risk of future terrorist attack, and it could have (but didn’t) result in significant Australian military casualties. Moreover, the whole saga, cumulatively with Tampa and “children overboard”, continues the erosion of public trust in politicians and the integrity of the entire political process.

keating.jpgBut is it any worse than Paul Keating’s lies about “Honest” John Hewson’s GST? Or had Keating really changed his mind since he supported “Option C” so enthusiastically only a few years before? And what about Keating’s “L-A-W law” tax cuts? On any view that was a blatant lie of major proportions, because it won Keating another term as PM that he patently didn’t deserve. Moreover, you’d have to strongly suspect that the fact that Keating got away with these lies (at least for a while) was itself a significant formative factor in Howard’s apparent view of political truth as a pragmatically malleable commodity. In a very real sense Howard is the bastard son of PJK.

I can’t really draw any deeper conclusions than to say that Keating got his just desserts in 1996, and Howard equally deserves to lose now. And for exactly the same reasons. It’s time to turn the manure in the hope of getting good compost. And that’s your bloomin’ lot!

* Photos both liberated from Peter Nicholson’s cartoon site.

Update – According to this story, Labor is about to release a policy that addresses at least some of the concerns I have about the excessive politicisation of the Public Service. I’m not sure that it goes far enough to restore “an accountable, efficient and truly independent public service” (i.e. to reverse the ‘reform’ process begun by previous Labor governments and taken to absurd extremes under Howard), but it’s a good start.

Update 2 – Actually, Currency Lad’s own post on this topic (as opposed to his kneejerk ad hominem comments below) makes some perfectly reasonable points on the substance of the Menadue et al petition e.g. “The statement contains no condemnation of terrorists or terrorism.” It’s a lot more persuasive to a general audience (as opposed to the RWDB Mutual Admiration Society) than simply resorting to gratuitous character assassination, which merely suggests to most people that you have to resort to smear because you don’t have any decent substantive arguments.

If Jesus Christ had signed the petition, you could easily imagine the RWDBs instantly labelling him a leftie moonbat bastard child whose girlfriend was a whore and who consorted with thieves, and therefore should be dismissed by association. And in their own minds they’d be right. No-one could possibly disagree with them who isn’t corrupt, stupid or blindly hypocritical. Many on the left do the same with those who refuse to join unequivocally in their chorus of condemnation of Howard, Bush and the Iraq project. Pity really.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Once you get rid of truth in politics, you get the ‘slippery slope’ which leads to Keating/Howard style deception. And the conventional wisdom of Australian politics is that the Australian public can’t handle the truth. I might write more of this when I’m more awake.

Second passing thought- this broadside from the Generals will have little political impact against a serving Prime Minister. What would it have done against an opposition leader?

True RWDB
True RWDB
2022 years ago

“These blokes aren’t in the main political partisans”. Oh come on, Ken. Menadue and Renouf were well known Whitlam apparachicks. Scratch behind the name of many of them and you’ll find elements of Labor Party partisanship. Who was the driving force behind this statement I wonder? Smells like a Labor party conspiracy to me. If you’re really interested in “truth” you should agitate for this information to be made public. The whole thing brings to mind the famous Mandy Rice Davies response.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

It appears that Menadue was the driving force, and the dreaded Alison Broinowski was also involved. That will, of course, be enough for most RWDBs to dismiss it, but then they would anyway, wouldn’t they? (Mandy again). But you can’t dismiss the vast majority of the 43 as Labor stooges, and of course those with closed minds and a desperate desire to defend Howard at all costs, don’t even try. They just seize on a couple of names and vilify them in extravagant terms, and hope that might serve to discredit all the rest by association. It’s a cheap and dishonest debating tactic, but no more than you’d expect.

Sedgwick
2022 years ago

Instructive to note the RWDBs’ triumphant *GOTCHA* (Comments at Surfdom) upon release of the non-partisan, purer than the driven proverbial, testimony of the swift boat vets vs Kerry vis a vis their whistling up the ghost of Mandy Rice-Davies* on this one.

Acted out on two different stages but the principle – unprinciple? – applies in both cases. Hardly, as you say, the pathway to an illuminating, instructive or intelligent discourse.

*Have to confess that my adolescent hots leaned more in the Christine Keeler direction at the time.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

As with most things of this kind, it’s easy to point to precedents under Keating, but Howard has been far worse.

Hawke and Keating routinely broke promises, and (a little less frequently) made promises they had no intention of keeping. Howard matched and exceeded them on this within his first few days in office and topped it off with the ‘never-ever’ GST.

But from 2001 on we’ve had things far worse. Outright lies have become the norm and public servants and military officials have had the choice of participating or losing their jobs.

As you say, I hope Labor gets in and stops the rot quickly, before they have the chance to be tempted.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Sedgwick

You must be older than I’d imagined. The Profumo affair happened in 1963. I was just under 10 years old at the time, not even adolescent. However, I can recall thinking even then (or perhaps a little later) that Christine Keeler (pictured) was a pretty classy looking woman where Mandy Rice Davies was a bit of a coarse blond tart (although I’m sure I didn’t know words like that back in those days).

Sedgwick
2022 years ago

Old, yes. But only as old as you think. I think I’m an adolescent trapped inside a Austin A40 body.

The Profumo affair played havoc with my matric studies … and my hormones. (And I’d just gotten over reading “Peyton Place”.)

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I think that in the future we will look back on these years and refer to them as The Howard Stain

It was a time when the public service was corrupted, our trust in the political system was sullied, our image abroad was tarnished, and egalitarianism was shat upon.

It was a time when the Howard Stain was finally removed with a liberal application of Lathox

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Sign me up for the predicted moronic RWDB response. I saw the Oz today and there was Woolcott leading the charge. These codgers loved dictatorships then and they love them now. Net effect on election result = zero.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

There’s an irony as big as Amanda Vanstone in a bunch of statement-releasing worthies claiming a completely bipartisan “truth in government” intent when it’s clear from the timing, if nothing else, that their real motivation is rather more about scoring a partisan knock-out punch on Howard. Why on earth can’t they simply state it unequivocally? If they wanted to avoid appearing ‘political’ they’ve gone about it with Clouseau-like dexterity :)

Isn’t Richard Woolcott a charter member of Colonel Collins’ dark and shadowy “Jakarta Lobby?”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Geoff

I agree that the avowed intention to be non-political by releasing the statement “well ahead of the election” (when it may be announced any day now) is amazingly unconvincing. But the fact that they reckon it’s time for Howard to go is no reason to dismiss them as mere Labor stooges. I reckon it’s time for Howard to go too, and no-one who knows me would accuse me of being a Labor stooge.

And yes, I think Dick Woolcott (and Rawdon Dalrymple for that matter) is generally viewed as part of the Jakarta Lobby. But you’d have to be a fairly spectacularly paranoid conspiracy theorist to see this as a move by Jakarta (or its sympathisers) to get rid of Howard (if that’s what you’re inferring). The Coalition has been pretty successful in rebuilding the Indonesia relationship since 1999 IMO, and I’m sure the more sophisticated members of the Indonesian political elite understand very well that Labor in power wouldn’t have acted noticeably differently than Howard did over East Timor.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

I certainly don’t think that they’re Labor stooges and I doubt that I’ll be shocking anyone when I confess that I won’t be voting for Howard either. I’m just amused at the dichotomy presented by the pursuit of truth from a position of motivational obfuscation.

I just chucked in the bit about Woolcott to be a smartarse. I hadn’t thought of the “Jakarta might be behind it all” angle Ken. But hey…it could have legs……:)

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

*Every longlasting government will be accused justly of misleading if not lying because over time they will say things to remain in power.

*Only Ken Parish could split the difference between lying and not telling the truth.

* please note on the LAW tax cuts that this was going to lead to paeople having a 15% SGC in other words enough money to retire gracefully without in most cases state support.
In the worst public policy decision of the present Government they cut this entirely out after promising not to. Consequently we are still talking about people needing more money for retirement.

zoot
zoot
2022 years ago

To be fair to PJK, even though he didn’t say it at the time, I believe the “L-A-W law” tax cuts were a non-core promise.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“Hawke and Keating routinely broke promises, and (a little less frequently) made promises they had no intention of keeping. Howard matched and exceeded them on this within his first few days in office and topped it off with the ‘never-ever’ GST.”

On this issue, I think we have to differentiate between what might be termed promises/commitments given in good faith at the time and those which are not. John Qs ‘never-ever’ GST is a case in point. When the GST was proposed and presented in an election campaign, I think the idea of ‘gotcha’ on never-ever is a bit trite. We might simply say Howard was a bit silly by never saying never, although the media are often guilty of reading ulterior motives into politicians who won’t say never on certain issues. After the demise of Hewson on the GST, Howard may well have believed in never again at the time. Nevertheless the GST reform of the WST, should now be considered a raging economic success story. Who seriously advocates rollback nowadays?

We also have to ask, to what extent should we morally bind complex democratic parties to such occasional rigid statements by individuals? Surely the streaker’s defense is appropriate from time to time. We could probably troll back through the records to find such unconditional promises of support by Labor on such things like ATSIC or no increase on copayments for PBS prescriptions and the like. Is a Labor party to be condemned for accepting new political realities when mugged by them, despite prior stated aversions to doing so? If we always took this moral line, we’d be constantly sticking to flat earth policies in a round world.

Tim Lambert
2022 years ago

I’m not persuaded that Howard learned his ways from Keating’s L.A.W. tax cuts. Surely it is more likely that Keating learned from Howard’s 1977 “fistful of dollars” tax cuts?

CurrencyLad
2022 years ago

I don’t recall a list of worthies led by the likes of Dick Woolcott publishing condemnations of the government when Keating signed his secret and, arguably, illegal security pact with Indonesia. While East Timorese were being slaughtered.

Funny.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Currency Lad

I don’t recall it being “secret”. In fact I have distinct recollections of Gareth Evans and Ali Alitas signing it somewhere in midair. Or was that the Timor Gap mineral treaty?

Anyway, the fact that the Jakarta Lobby members of this petition list didn’t protest at that time says nothing about their political partisanship. They would have been equally compliant if Howard rather than Keating had done something pro-Indonesia. Nor does the fact that the rest of them didn’t protest. Many of them would still have been serving diplomats, public servants or senior military officers at that time, and so not free to speak out.

I wonder why none of the RWDBs who’ve commented so far has actually engaged with the merits of the petitioners’ concerns, rather than trying to attack their character and integrity? This might give you blokes a warm inner “gotcha” glow among yourselves, but I doubt that ordinary punter observers will readily accept the proposition that so many retired senior officers etc are just a bunch of hypocritical ALP stooges.

CurrencyLad
2022 years ago

The Moet came out for the minerals treaty.

There’s something redsportscarish about this sudden RWDB theme. Overthrow a Noriega-like tyranny under a government led by Bob Brown and I’ll support it. For some of us it’s about liberty and the fact that the principal body charged with ensuring it – namely, the UN – is corrupt and incompetent beyond parady.

The left refuses to address that.

The presence of Woolcott’s name on any statement with a morally didactic intent sinks the whole thing as far as credibility is concerned. Why didn’t he resign back in the days when Indonesians were murdering East Timorese and Australian journalists?

When those things are dealt with by Left Wing Death (When the UN Says So) Beasts I for one will play ball on being more generous with some of their concerns.

The historically interesting thing, of course, is that it used to be the Australian left that wanted to end tyranny. The right was preoccupied with power for its own sake, with maintaining the old economic ‘settlement’ and the social hypocracies that went with it.

All those students with their Che Ts back in the day. All of them have lost the edge.

The right is the new left.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Speaking for myself Ken, I did not actually read what their concerns were. Here is a brief outline of my involvement with this issue so far;

I heard it on the clock radio this morning (yes it was ABC but the host is an ex Liberal MHR not that you’d know it, he is studiously non partisan and shows it can be done. I believe he is also the highest rating ABC radio announcer in Australia), anyway I heard it on the radio and immediately my knee started jerking. I had no names or details but I smelt post-moral lefty internationalists at work. I arrived at the cafe grabbed the Oz and there was Woolcott holding a very thick book and looking concerned. My first move was to sms a mate whose father went to school/uni with Woolcott and referred to the family friend in terms neither constructive or intelligent, one particular noun was gratuitously sexist. I apologise to all women everywhere but make no apology to my mate or Woolcott.

I then did a quick post on Troppo. That’s about it. As I said I did not bother to inform myself about what the throttlers were actually saying.

Sorry for wasting your bandwidth. I am an RWDB.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

For commenters who might otherwise miss my update to this post, I’ll copy it here as well:

Actually, Currency Lad’s own post on this topic (as opposed to his kneejerk ad hominem comments below) makes some perfectly reasonable points on the substance of the Menadue et al petition e.g. “The statement contains no condemnation of terrorists or terrorism.” It’s a lot more persuasive to a general audience (as opposed to the RWDB Mutual Admiration Society) than simply resorting to gratuitous character assassination, which merely suggests to most people that you have to resort to smear because you don’t have any decent substantive arguments.

If Jesus Christ had signed the petition, you could easily imagine the RWDBs instantly labelling him a leftie moonbat bastard child whose girlfriend was a whore and who consorted with thieves, and therefore should be dismissed by association. And in their own minds they’d be right. No-one could possibly disagree with them who isn’t corrupt, stupid or blindly hypocritical. Many on the left do the same with those who refuse to join unequivocally in their chorus of condemnation of Howard, Bush and the Iraq project. Pity really. Closed minds.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

These 43 eminent persons aren’t saying anything particularly new.

They suggest that the nation was deliberately deceived over Iraqi capabilities when in fact there wasn’t any credible state, institution or eminent persons (including themselves) that was arguing otherwise. They say Australians are more at risk of a terrorist attack after Iraq, yet fail to explain that the risk was already unacceptable before Iraq (Bali) and has been contained since Iraq. These persons also claim that diplomacy has suffered under Howard, yet after East Timor and Iraq we seem to be enjoying excellent relations with both Indonesia and the new Iraqi government, and just this week completed military exercises with France.

The arguments they bring to the table are pretty old and easily refuted. Yet still they made their point this weekend. The weekend before most pundits believe the election will be called. They are relying on the weight of their numbers and their supposed eminence to make their points, rather than the weight of the arguments–those had most probably already been dismissed by their target audience. By my way of thinking, they are engaging in deliberate partisan politics, and that allows for just about any criticism that politics and punditry may provide–including, since time may be short, attacking them personally. As every old soldier, ex-diplomat and politician knows, live by the sword, die by the sword.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Sir Humphrey Appleby himself did once point out that Jesus would have made a lousy Cabinet minister. Meek of the earth stuff rules him out of a Defence portfolio, the Sermon on the Mount would rule him out of a Treasury post, and he wasn’t much cut out for Diplomacy, so you couldn’t put him in at DFAT either.

My question to the petitioners would be this- had you been PM, without the benefit of hindsight, what would you have actually done different?

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

To reply briefly to Sedgwick’s comments about the swift boat guys. At least they have the balls to provide sworn statements that may ultimately be used against them if they lied–all 243 of them.

Lieutenant John Kerry may wish he had not accused his fellow sailors and immediate chain of command of war crimes. That old sword again.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

CL, they didn’t condemn anti-semitism either!

Sedge, re – Christine Keeler – don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Scandal (1969) – Joanne Whalley, playing Ms K, was my adolescent introduction to the Profumo Affair.

Sedgwick
2022 years ago

Saw it, thought it was later than 1969. (Freudian slipped year?)

Whalley also played Mrs. K. for a while. Kilmer that is.

Joanne would have been an excellent introduction to adolescence even without the Profumo element, notwithstanding its traditional nooky in high places values. The halcyon days of British pecadilloes. None of your modern-day Tory troppo pecadilloes, awash with nooses, plastic bags and nappies.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2022 years ago

“I wonder why none of the RWDBs who’ve commented so far has actually engaged with the merits of the petitioners’ concerns, rather than trying to attack their character and integrity?”

Because the character and integrity of the 43 is the only issue, here, Ken. The statement is just a tired old rehash of mainly discredited leftist cant that’s been rattling around the media, the blogosphere and the Letters to the Editors for many, many months now. The only thing new is the identity of the tired old former identities signing the damned thing. THEY made themselves the issue. Why should anyone who’s been answering these substantive issues repeatedly over this long period of time feel impelled to respond to such repetition.

As John Howard said today, anyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Having held what were once important non-elected positions doesn’t enhance their credibility any more than if Paul Roos, Kylie Minogue or Barry Humphries had made similar comments.

Of course the RWDB arguments are ad hominem. They are so legitimately because the motivation of the issuers is to use their own imagined credibility to attack the PM. They are not interested in furthering the Iraq issue, or the so-called honesty in government issue. They have chosen their own battleground – their own credibility of lack of it. That is the issue and the sole issue here.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

oops, Sedge – yes – 1989. Typo! Joanne Whalley (minus the Kilmer) was also the sexy nurse in the BBC version of ‘The Singing Detective’. Unfortunately, btw, Joanne didn’t introduce me to adolescence personally. Weren’t there a few nooses and leather hoods in ‘Scandal’ though among the Tory pollies? I think I’ll have to go rent it!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Stan, the Air Vice Marshal made the point on lateline tonight that the statement doesn’t refer to “flawed intelligence” or WMDs. The deception the signatories refer to is Howard’s concealing of our intention to go to war – that is to say, his claims that we were working through the UN process, nonsense about “pre-deployment” etc. which I agree treated all Australians with utter contempt. It was massively clear – as is now documented in Blair’s case – that he had decided to go along with Bush long before the “debate” had run its course. Thus, all that stuff about WMDs was a smokescreen – as it was for Bush I think (I’m prepared to be a bit more charitable with Blair’s motivation). As it is now – Howard and his minions are engaging in their usual practice of deliberately obscuring the real issue to shift the grounds of the debate. The real issue – contra True RWDB – is the failure of our government to treat the decision to go to war as one warranting genuine and open democratic and public debate – and the political rather than strategic calculations on which it actually rested. That’s the double deception.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

There is a fairly strong point that our eminent 43, didn’t exactly take up the higher moral stance over ET, that Andrew Wilkie took over Iraq. Also they don’t have so much as one dissenting Anglo enquiry into respective govts’ deliberate deceit over WMD on which to hang an accusatory hat. It does appear to be a case of the older we get the more morally righteous we all were.

Now as to the Howard govt lying about children overboard and Tampa, let’s get a couple of things straight. It didn’t deliberately lie about the kids overboard but it was complicit in not rushing out the truth. That’ll do me as an accessory after the fact, but in any case this was fairly obvious to any reasonable observer before election day. As far as the Tampa goes, I didn’t see any lie in a clear and deliberate policy of- no you lot are not landing in Oz. Now you mightn’t like what became bipartisan policy for the majors, but there was no disputing what the govt was saying at the time- We’ll decide who comes here.

The plain truth at present, is that the longer the Howard govt runs, with no end in sight for those who vehemently disagree with certain policies like immigration and Iraq, etc, the more desperate they become to unseat their liar, His Darkness, Hitler, etc. The fact that the govt has run the economy well and many voters agree with his policies, doesn’t deter them. The problem with this increasingly desperate ‘anyone but Howard’ approach is, they have picked an untried backbencher in Latham to be our saviour.

This is the crux of the problem for any potential swinging voter now and on election day. Ideally, you might like to leave this choice for about 18 months or so until things settle down a bit. See how free elections in Iraq pans out next Jan and whether that country settles down to a more peacable existence. In other words, has the intervention in Iraq been worth the sacrifice? Will there be a terrorist attack on the Olympics or have the Arab League the power of their call to have a peaceful games eventuate? How will the operation of FTA with the US pan out for us? Lastly you might like to see how a Latham Opposition handles itself for a more assessable period. The problem is you’re being asked to decide all these things shortly, with a fairly green Opposition Leader. Perhaps the progress in Iraq is the factor that tips you toward Latham, but his inexperience leaves you with some nagging doubts. Tough call and the polls show it. In the meantime the mantra from the ABH crowd, gets increasingly frenetic.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Observa, you may be to young to appreciate the fact but this happens to every Government which has been in for a period of time. They lie more often and caught out and at some time people have a gutful of it.

Has everyone forgotten what was said about Keating indeed that small man before him.

It is a Government thing. People hated Hawke and Keating with equal intensity if not more than Howard.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Observa is not quite geriatric but he’s definately an old fart.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Mark, I think it being taken in by the good Air Vice Marshal. He knows as well as I, that the military makes plans so that politicians may have options. It was no secret that detailed plans to kick Saddam out of Iraq if necessary were devised, practised, and updated repeatedly through the Clinton and Bush administrations (and the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments). If the military had not done so, it would not have been doing its job. The Air Vice Marshal also knows that the Howard government sent a SAS squadron out to the Gulf during the Clinton administration (circa 1998 I recall), only to bring them back when Saddam complied with certain UN demands. On the basis of that, I’m guessing that our part in the military plan to get rid of Saddam has probably been around since the Clinton years.

Now if Hawke, Keating, Howard, Clinton and Bush made strategic calculations that Saddam might have to go one-day, and then doubled the importance of those considerations post September 11, and I have no problem with that.

You might say it’s a deception that John Howard pre-deployed troops once under Clinton then pulled back, only to pre-deploy again under Bush when the same circumstances arrived, but I wouldn’t.

Either you’ve been taken in by a partisan Air Vice Marshal, or you’ve just believing what you want to hear. (PS. I’ve worked with and flown with a few AVMs in my time, and they come in all flavours. They play office politics like maestros and this is not beneath them).

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Mark, further to my last, here is the sequence of events to the episode in 1998 including this little excerpt:

7 Feb 98 PM Howard confirms that the United States is seeking assistance from Australia in the event of renewed conflict with Iraq.
8 Feb 98 Mr Howard and Opposition Leader Beazley ‘”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I actually think the emphasis the 43 worthies placed on lies and deception per se has detracted from the force of their intervention.

As I tried to argue (but apparently too obliquely) in the main post, I don’t think we can just simplistically label what occurred as “lies” or “deception”. Doing that simply lays them open to the predictable (and not unreasonable) response that a range of reports (Flood, Butler etc) found that there hadn’t been any lies or deception as such. And that applies even if you limit the accusation to the “pre-deployment” decision.

Of course, I suppose one could simply dismiss those reports as dishonest whitewashes, and that’s no doubt what many on the left (and maybe some of the 43 worthies) have done. However, I think it’s more productive (and accurate) to focus on the longterm undermining of proper accountability procedures, checks and balances, an independent public service etc. It’s those quite deliberate strategies that allow politicians like Howard to ensure that they’re not told things they might find politically inconvenient, so that they always enjoy “plausible deniability” and can never be nailed for “lying”.

If we had an old-style public service that DID give government fearless, impartial and complete advice, then responsibility (and responsible government is supposed to be the core of our constitutional system) would be restored to exactly where it belongs – with the politicians who make the decisions. At the moment, they can ensure that if anything goes wrong they’ll be able to blame public servants, the military or the intelligence community for failing to give them complete and accurate advice.

I have no real doubt Flood, Butler et al were quite right in concluding that Howard, Blair etc were given incomplete advice (even though they clearly deliberately removed qualifications and uncertainties from that advice, and substituted exclamation marks, when releasing it to the public). But what Flood and Butler failed to do (no doubt partly because their terms of reference were deliberately kept narrow enough to ensure that they couldn’t) was to join the dots and conclude that the reason why the politicians weren’t given complete advice and facts is because that’s the way the politicians have carefully designed the system to work over the last 25 years or so. They’ve gradually replaced the old impartial public service ethic with a new “responsive”, “flexible” politicised public service run along quasi private sector lines. It’s that which is at the root of the problem, and it’s that we should be focusing on rather than a simplistic squabble about whether politicians lied or not.

You can understand why retired senior military officers and public servants are so concerned, and why they’re certainly telling the truth when they say they’re reflecting the views of many of their currently-serving colleagues who are unable to speak out. The public servants, military and intelligence officers are being cynically used by the politicians as fall guys and scapegoats in this brave new world of politicisation and private sector-style managerialism. But the worthies just invite a dismissive response from Tory apologists when they couch the problem in such simplistic terms as “truth-telling” and “deception”.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

See the thing is Ken, these retired military officers can say they’re speaking on behalf of serving members who can’t speak, knowing full well that serving members can’t speak to correct them.

I too am well acquainted with some serving members, though perhaps not as highly placed, and I would disagree with the AVM. That’s why I said that these guys come in all flavours.

Cosgrove for example, has about 10 months to go on his contract and has publicly stated he intends to retire at that time (he has been extended once already). Now I know guys who have worked directly for him in East Timor who think he wouldn’t be too shy to resign on a matter of principle, and with his public profile that would mean a lot more than a letter in the Canberra Times by these 43 bozos. What these 43 guys are in effect saying is that the current leadership don’t have the balls to resign over a matter of principle which they believe has been compromised during Howard’s government. Either they are wrong, or Cosgrove and his pals are ALL partisan hacks or cowards.

Everyone will have their opinion, but if I was one of the 43 bozos, I’d stay out of dark corners at the Commonwealth Club.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

I think Prof Meaney came closest to understanding what the 43 were really about with this in today’s Australian:
In framing the Australian statement, it must have been difficult for this large group to find common ground that would be widely acceptable in the community, and so they began with an affirmation of one of the commonplaces about parliamentary democracy. But it is noticeable that they quickly move from charges of “deception” to a list of policy deficiencies.

Without saying so, it is here that they find the nub of their discontent. They chastise the Government for acting on false assumptions, misconstruing the ANZUS Treaty, helping to weaken the influence of the US, increasing Australia’s exposure to terrorism and contributing to divisions and stress in the region and in the international system. Despite the priority seemingly given to truth in democracy, it appears that these 43 concerned Australians have been impelled to issue this protest out of the wisdom they acquired over a long period in the making of the country’s defence and foreign policies.
I have no problem with public servants disagreeing with the intended policy of an elected government, but in the end, after all the advice is given, they’re paid to just do it. I daresay should Latham get in, he would want the same.

It’s also fine for retired public servants to publicly air their differences with the government, but you’ve got to say none of this is new and terribly partisan one week before possible elections are called. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for those who dress to the right to hold such views.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Stan, isn’t there a difference between the military planning for contingencies such as an invasion of Iraq and Howard taking a political decision to do so and concealing it? Howard correctly perceived that a majority of Australians saw little link between knocking over Saddam and the War on Terror and didn’t want to go to war over the WMDs issue unless with UN endorsement. But his response was not to attempt to persuade people but to lie about the fact that we were intending to go to war no matter what transpired with Hans Blix and the Security Council.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Mark, Howard Bush and Blair made their demands known when they deployed the troops. They certainly were not bluffing. The fact that your demands from Saddam were different from theirs, does not make them deceitful.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Stan, not sure what you mean by “my demands from Saddam”??

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Stan, see Paul Kelly’s column today for a good explanation of why the stuff about WMDs is not the real issue regarding deception but rather the “pre-decision” to go to war. It’s good to see that the group of 43 have re-activated discussion about the more important issue of political deception rather than the minutiae of claims about “flawed intelligence” and WMDs.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Mark, sorry, I was a bit presumptuous when I wrote that last bit.

What I meant was there were those who read the UN’s “serious consequences”

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

My third paragraph is not terribly well-written. Perhaps that should say “…they would only go to war with further UN approval…”

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Mark, I should probably also add that much of the last-minute reluctance on the behalf of the Blair government was probably entirely for show. This was strategically necessary to avoid Saddam launching a pre-emptive attack as just about everyone I know with a military background feared would happen. A large-scale attack with chemical weapons in Kuwait would have been disastrous for the coalition, but not fatally so.

If you can take me at my word, at the time, I thought this was precisely what the Blair government was doing in the week or so before the attack (I had friends and a girlfriend in Riyadh at the time, so I was concentrating). Obviously this may look like the coalition intended to attack all along and was only playacting at the UN. I think you should factor in the necessity of strategic surprise towards the end when you consider exactly what the coalition’s intentions were. I can’t remember the timeline exactly, but I suspect they decided to begin pre-attack deployment about two weeks before kick off, with final authority given 24 hours before actual hostilities. I believe it was something similar in Gulf War I.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Stan, re – the Security Council resolution threatening “serious consequences” – yes, I think you’re right that Blair’s huffing and puffing was for show. I, as you did, interpreted that as meaning war was possible. However, it’s important to remember that there was some legal doubt that that resolution in and of itself provided justification for war (at least on the part of the UK Attorney-General if not the Australian government’s advisors) and the resolution also asked Blix to report back to the Security Council. My problem was that the UK, US and Australia short-circuited Blix and the inspections process and withdrew the second resolution when it became clear it wouldn’t pass the Security Council. No, I wasn’t deceived either, what I’m complaining of is that they purported to be following UN processes but they either manipulated or ignored while still saying a definite decision to go to war had not been taken.

trackback
2022 years ago

I hate your politics

Woman: [weeping] I don’t know Homer Simpson, I — I never met Homer
Simpson or had any contact with him, but — [cries
uncontrollably] — I’m sorry, I can’t go on.
Sally: That’s OK: your tears say more than real evidence _…

trackback
2022 years ago

Is Howard rattled?

The repudiation of the Howard government’s foreign policy, especially the Iraq war, by 43 of Australia’s former military chiefs, department heads and senior diplomats is, perhaps, new in the sense that the range of authority behind the protest has surp…