This article by Paul Kelly in today’s Oz provides the best short summary I’ve seen so far of the whole “children overboard” saga and the dilemma Howard faced on election eve:
Howard is right to argue that the “children overboard” story did not win him the election. It was a sub-plot of the larger border protection issue. If there had been no such story, Howard would still have won.
But there can be no denying that the events of November 7 created a potential crisis for Howard on election eve. If Scrafton’s version is accurate then what were Howard’s options? He could admit the entire story was wrong and risk his re-election. He could make a qualification that would still throw the story into doubt. Or he could stick by his original position and tough it out.
In other words, he could lie. Kelly suggests that Howard needs to produce some evidence that his version of the Scrafton conversations is to be believed. In other words, in the current state of play Kelly (hardly a communard) thinks people would be justified in concluding that Howard lied. So do I.
Contrary to the story RWDBs like Professor Bunyip are trying to spin (when not trying desperately to smear Scrafton), this wasn’t a case of one adviser telling Howard (and Reith) one thing and others contradicting it. The entire substratum of support for “children overboard” had evaporated by November 7 2001 and Howard knew it. The only shred of support remaining for it was the ONA report, and Scrafton told him it was probably just echoing back false Ministerial statements and he should check that before standing by his story. He didn’t. Res ipsa loquitur.
As I observed in the comment box to my previous post on this topic (while discussing my daughter’s attitude towards it): But I didn’t try to disabuse [Rebecca] of the notion that Howard was lying through his teeth to win an election, because that’s what the evidence irresistably shows, however much RWDBs might twist and turn or hope that it’s already yesterday’s news and that no-one’s really interested except the luvvies/communards/similar term of abuse. It remains to be seen whether the latter (rather desperate) hopes will prove to be the case; the next Newspoll will tell us. But one thing’s for certain: Howard lied blatantly to win an election, just like Keating did in 1996, and democratic hygeine requires his removal.
It’s quite true that all politicians lie, but some lies are more corrosive to the democratic process than others. Ones that politicians make central to their re-election (by calculatedly repeating them to avoid risking defeat when specifically challenged about the story’s truth on election eve) are in a far different category to everyday political lies. It actually is critically important that politicians are held accountable in that situation, especially when that lie was later repeated and compounded in Parliament, and public servants and staffers blocked from testifying before a Senate committee to prevent its exposure. If ministerial responsibility (the linchpin of Australia’s constitutional system, something you’d expect RWDBs to respect) is to have any meaning whatsoever, this lying turd has to go. And I’m no more a “communard” than Paul Kelly.
PS – And, as the embittered but still occasionally coherent Alan Ramsey points out in today’s SMH, Howard has a prior conviction for effectively identical conduct: calculated lying about an important election issue to save an impending but suddenly imperilled victory at the polls. His “never ever” lie about the GST in 1996 was just as blatant. He got away with that one, because most people (including me) felt it just redressed the balance for Keating’s “L-A-W law” tax cuts lie at the previous election. But Howard has played his “get out of gaol” card.
Update – This SMH article about a Neilsen poll on people’s attitudes towards whether Howard misled them about Iraq also comes into play given the Scrafton revelations:
The Herald Poll, conducted by ACNielsen at the weekend, reveals that 74 per cent say they were misled by the Prime Minister over the reasons for going to war, an increase of 6 percentage points since last September.
However, 47 per cent of those polled believe he did not intentionally mislead. They say he was misled on the issue by others.
Will this remarkable public generosity, in giving Howard the benefit of the doubt on Iraq, survive Scrafton’s revelations? Although Howard’s habit of insulating himself behind a wall of plausible deniability, and then blaming public servants when the shit hits the fan, was equally present in the Iraq saga, you have to examine the story quite closely to see the pattern (as I did in this post). With Scrafton and “children overboard”, by contrast, Howard’s conduct is now nakedly obvious to everyone (except those determined not to see). How many disengaged voters will now join the dots and re-evaluate their assumption of honest misleading by Howard over Iraq? That will play a large part in determining how big an impact this story has electorally. Iraq and its aftermath remains very much a live popular concern, whereas “children overboard” per se may well be a dead issue for disengaged voters (or so RWDBs are fondly hoping).