SS “Lying Rodent” hits a reef

Labor’s “Howard is a lying rodent” campaign has hit a fairly major solid object. Just as many on the right of the blogosphere studiously averted their gaze from earlier stages of the Scrafton affair, so now the left is pretending that yesterday’s resumed “children overboard” Senate inquiry never happened.

It’s hardly surprising, because even if the “lying rodent” campaign isn’t completely overboard and dead in the water, it’s certainly now seriously holed below the waterline*.

* Yes, I know I’m scrambling the metaphor, but it works for me so let’s ignore it and move on.

As this ABC Online story recounts:

Liberal Senator George Brandis made public some details of the Prime Minister’s telephone records.

“Those three topics, as you’ve discussed them, couldn’t possibly have been discussed in 51 seconds could they?” he asked.

“I suspect you’re right,” answered Mr Scrafton.

Labor senators on the committee question the accuracy of the phone records.

The hearing is now adjourned.

You can listen to the ABC audio here (Windows Media) or here (RealMedia), including a substantial extract from Brandis’s elegant cross-examination of Scrafton. Brandis had earlier established that there were actually only two phone calls (rather than three as Scrafton had previously stated). That wasn’t absolutely fatal to Scrafton’s credibility, because he had qualified his original evidence and said he wasn’t completely sure whether there had been two or three calls. But he had strongly and unequivocally committed himself to a version whereby only the video evidence was discussed in the first phone call, which lasted 9 minutes and 36 seconds, and all the other topics (photos, ONA report, and the overall conclusion that no-one now believed that children had been thrown overboard) during the second (and non-existent third) call. Scrafton really had no choice but to concede that it just couldn’t have happened that way i.e. that his recollection was seriously faulty.

It is of course entirely possible that all these topics were discussed in the first very long conversation. In fact that seems quite likely given that it lasted for 9 minutes and 36 seconds. But there’s no avoiding the proposition that the reliability of Scrafton’s recollections (if not his credibility) has been seriously compromised. Brandis hasn’t yet tabled the mobile phone records on which he was relying to cross-examine Scrafton, and Labor and Democrat Senators grasped desperately at that flimsy liferaft before adjourning the hearing. But neither they nor anyone else really believe that the phone records don’t say what Brandis claims, or that they might be fabricated. Bill Heffernan was that stupid; Brandis certainly isn’t.

On the more general front of Labor’s “Howard is a lying rodent” campaign, the ALP also seems to have overreached itself. As I observed in Chris Sheil’s comment box earlier this morning:

I think one needs to narrow the range of utterly unacceptable political lies even further than Scrafton’s words suggest. Not just “misleading for electoral advantage”, because almost any political lie could be characterised that way. It has to be a lie about a currently live and significant election issue, and be told at an electorally critical time (during the election campaign or immediate runup).

Keating’s L-A-W law tax cuts promise well and truly fell into that category; so did all Howard’s 1996 “non-core” promises and his “children overboard” lies**.

On the other hand, many of the “lies” listed in the ALP’s 27 Howard lies document DON’T qualify. In fact quite a few of them don’t even qualify as lies at all except on an extraordinarily loose definition. They’re just common or garden political behaviour that both parties commit every day of the week. Labor’s 27 Howard lies document was a bridge too far in its “Howard’s a lying rodent” campaign, and might well have debased the currency terminally. To the extent that any disengaged voters took any notice, I suspect their reaction would have been the same as mine: if this is what Labor is talking about then the whole thing is bullshit, because all politicians on both sides do this sort of stuff all the time.

**Assuming Howard really did positively know beyond doubt that they were lies, a proposition Scrafton’s evidence yesterday throws into legitimate contention.

Update – Abandoning even a passing pretence of journalistic objectivity, the increasingly self-caricaturing Margo Kingston evaluates yesterday’s Senate hearing:

Yet still Howard’s point man on children overboard, George Brandis, whose own credibility has been shattered this week, put the boot into the truth teller, Mike Scrafton, by foul means, without remorse and contrary to his personal and professional ethics.

Brandis’s credibility shattered? Obviously Margo hasn’t read Al Bundy’s devastating analysis, or the numerous Crikey and other sources on which it was based. And why is it “foul means” to dare to cross-examine Scrafton by reference to the objectively provable facts? Should we just conclusively deem the truth to be whatever Margo chooses? Apparently. That delightful word fucktard may well have been coined with her in mind.

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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John
John
2022 years ago

I’m underwhelmed by this, Ken. Can you give a plausible account of how Howard could talk to Scrafton for 9:36 seconds, and receive no information other than that the video was inconclusive?

And given the confirmation that Scrafton told the military inquiry in December 2001 the same thing he told Jenny McKenry the day after the phone call, that he’d informed Howard of the facts, you have to assume he was deliberately fabricating from day 1. If so, why would he mis-state an unimportant issue like the order and number of phone calls?

yobbo
2022 years ago

And meanwhile, the vast majority of the Australian voting public still don’t give a shit.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

John

I’m not saying I personally think Scrafton is lying. I don’t. I’m simply reflecting on the impression these events are probably leaving on the average uncommitted voter who follows these things with any level of attention at all. The accuracy of Scrafton’s recollection has clearly been seriously dented. The conversations clearly can’t have happened in the manner and sequence Scrafton initially claimed. If you were a jury member in a courtroom, you couldn’t convict Howard beyond reasonable doubt on Scrafton’s evidence. You probably still could do so on the balance of probabilities.

mark
2022 years ago

I s’spect you’re right, Sam. But I suspect just as strongly that, were it Latham (or — OMFG!11!!111 — Kerry) under the blowtorch, you wouldn’t be saying that; you’d be going in two-footed with studs up.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

I’ve got some more on Scrafton’s endlessly faulty recollection of events.

FX
FX
2022 years ago

If I was PM I’d often be borrowing my staffers’ phones to make calls and I’d have more than one mobile.

John Humphreys
2022 years ago

There were six mobile phones there at the time, apparently all of them checked. Though I believe these aren’t in the public record. I guess this is… wait for it… a matter of trust.

akman
akman
2022 years ago

Al, I’m not sure how calling Scrafton a drunken slut does much to undermine his recollections.

As for the rest of this stuff: who knows how much is getting through to the “average uncommitted voter”, but I trust most will see a pretty big difference between forgetting where you left your car keys, and forgetting that you own a car. If you follow me.

Tim Lambert
2022 years ago

Al, you are hardly in a position to cast doubts about others recollections when you maanaged to recall being taught about new ice ages from science books in spite of the fact that no such science books exist.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

On ya Tim Tam…

Akman, I don’t give a lovely shit if Scrafton was screwing around. Don’t be obtuse, the issue is whether the guy is a serial fabricator of convenient ‘facts’.

He wakes up one morning and decides to blame the breakup of his marriage (de facto?) on ‘overboard’. The Canberra Times take the hook, the line and the sinker – as usual. Sorry, like his phone conversations, it doesn’t fit with the record.

Of course, his ‘female companion’ could have been the ‘mother of his children’, but I don’t think anybody’s buying that.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Tim, go easy on the ad hominen attacks. They are one of the most annoying features of the blogosphere, in my opinion.

John quiggin
John quiggin
2022 years ago

On Brandis’ credibility have you read today’s papers?

Apparently his defence, reported second-hand unlike his official denial, is that he routinely refers to Howard as “the rodent” and would never vary this to “a rodent” let alone “a lying rodent”. The fact that, as noted by AL, Galt has no more credibility than Brandis does not change the fact that his story appears to check out. I think an apology to Margo is in order here.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Oh come on John. Your biases are showing.

yobbo
2022 years ago

Not really mark, I was similarly nonplussed when all the crap about Latham’s alleged affairs came out. Like most voters, who said what or did what 5 years ago isn’t really important to me. What’s important is what they’re going to do as a government.

Alex White
2022 years ago

My understanding was that Brandis did not release the phone records. While I am sure he quoted them accurately, I’d be more impressed and sceptical if he’d released them for general consumption.

The general )perceived) atmosphere of cloak-and-dagger continues.

Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Scott, I’m not sure if it’s really an ad hominen to point out that Al while accusing Scrafton of making up memories, has been guilty of the exactly the same offensive in the past.

akman
akman
2022 years ago

Al, that’s all very nice, but the impact of work-related stress on the break-up of his marriage is hardly implausible, if completely irrelevant, to the rather more substantive matter of what Scrafton told Howard.

Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Sorry Al, but last night I was out with a female companion and some not so expensive bottles of wine, so I’m not 100%.

Is your post really trying to say that because;

a) Scrafton thinks that the stresses of the children overboard affair help kill his relationship, and

b) Scrafton had dinner with a woman

then this is evidence of a discrepancy in his stories.

If so, that has to have been the stupidest blog post that I’ve read (and I sometimes read the ALS blog).

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I agree with Ken Miles that attempts to character-assassinate Scrafton because of his alleged porn-viewing and/or his marriage breakup are both irrelevant and odious, and say more about the people doing the mud throwing than about Scrafton. But I also agree with Scott that Tim Lambert’s slagging of Al Bundy was an unncessary low blow.

Niall
Niall
2022 years ago

More big calls in that post than Ray Warren makes on a Sunday arvo. I’m on the ‘Left’ and I reckon the Scrafton v Brandis bout was fairly successful….for Scrafton. As for Lying Rodents, I’d say the G.G. sums it up succinctly. Tell the truth in the Liberal Party and you get the royal order of the pork stalk.

What’s on for tomorrow? More doom & gloom?

John quiggin
John quiggin
2022 years ago

Do you have a more substantive response, Ken? As I read the sequence

1. Galt asserts that Brandis described Howard as “a lying rodent”
2. Brandis denies this without qualification
3. It emerges that Brandis routinely describes Howard as “the rodent”
4. Kingston says Brandis credibility has been shattered
5. Parish describes Kingston as a ‘fucktard’, essentially on the basis of evidence that neither Galt nor Brandis is trustworthy

It seems to me pretty obvious whose biases are showing here

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

John

(a) The addition of “lying” is a rather significant one in the circumstances, especially given that Howard has (apparently) been widely referred to as “the rodent” since the 1980s. The only basis for believing that Brandis added “lying” to Howard’s traditional (and eminently appropriate) nickname is the unsupported assertion of a man who has every motive to lie (as Al Bundy’s post compellingly showed). Only a journalist with a spectacularly complete lack of objectivity could regard this as “shattering” to Brandis’s credibility, and only an equally biased blogger could not only agree but believe that anyone who thinks otherwise should apologise!!

(b) My remarks about Margo referred not only to her reference to Brandis being “shattered”, but also to her absurdly hyperbolic claims that Brandis cross-examined Scrafton “by foul means, without remorse and contrary to his personal and professional ethics”. I note that you carefully avoided discussing those aspects of Margo’s remarks. I therefore assume that you’re wisely not attempting to defend them. On their own they justify the “fucktard” epithet.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

Parish

Admit it Mr I agree with you and you and you and you.
You just want to say ‘fucktard’ as many times as you can and Germaine Greer hasn’t said anything about rodents or babies so its Margo who gets it – and you stay happily and ever so smugly on the fence. Faker!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jen

Without wanting to overreact (because I know you’re just stirring the pot), I can’t state too strongly how much I object to being labelled as “sitting on the fence” in this situation, whether “smugly” or otherwise. It really pisses me off when otherwise intelligent people like Margo and John Quiggin act as autopilot cheersquads for anyone who shitcans Howard or his supporters. I’ve made it perfectly clear that I reckon Howard lied, that he deserves to be booted out, that I’ll be voting Labor, and that I think (on balance) Scrafton is probably telling the truth. So I’m hardly sitting on the fence.

But I’m equally not going to prostitute my intellectual integrity by doing anything other than continuing to evaluate all the evidence on both sides with equally rigorous scepticism. Neither side has a monopoly on truth or dodginess. In fact long experience of politics has led me to the unavoidable conclusion that both sides are full of expedient lying arseholes, and it’s wise to doubt the truth of most things you’re told by any of them. I may not always succeed in maintaining that degree of objective, evaluative scepticism, but that’s my aim. It has nothing to do with sitting on any fence, and it’s the very antithesis of bias. I refer you (and others) to the final quote in this post.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

What is it with this willingness to suspend disbelief when it comes to the wounded dignity of Mike Scrafton?

Despite his present sinecure with the Bracks ALP government.

Despite the just so slightly suspect timing of his set-the-record-straight epiphany.

Despite the fact that no-one believes his lame “I done it for my daughters’ sakes” excuse for downloading all the porn at work.

Despite his own admission to mislead when it suits his purposes.

Mr Scrafton acknowledged he had been misleading in telling the internal Bryant inquiry the “whole story” in December 2001 that “he had never had the sense the original advice was wrong…

(Geez, that’s nice. What happened to the old ‘it may harm your case if you fail to mention something, when questioned, that you later rely on in court’. Whoops, I forgot, Scraffo’s a prosecution witness against Howard, so these standards don’t apply to him, hey?)

Despite the way his sanctimonious confidence with…

What would I have told the Senate committee? On the evening of November 7, 2001, after having viewed the tape from the HMAS Adelaide at Maritime HQ in Sydney, I spoke to the Prime Minister by mobile phone on three occasions.

Suddenly morphs under the threat of cross examination into an acknowledgement that he may have:

conflated the number of issues discussed with the number of calls”.

along with sudden confusion over what was said during which phone call.

Despite the fact that he claims ‘overboard’ split up his family, yet appears to have been enjoying the company of a ‘female companion’ over ‘expensive’ wine on the night before ‘overboard’ started. Of course, there could be a totally innocent explanation. But I did check with a couple of ‘female companions’ of my own…they agreed this back of the restaurant with multiple bottles of ‘expensive’ wine gig sounded a bit sus.

Yep, yep, yep…We’re supposed to just ignore Scraffo’s proven track record of flexibility with the facts, but take at face value the ‘more substantive matter’ of what Scrafton reckons he told Howard.

This from the same people who reckon Howard’s only lying when his lips are moving.

My view of the incident is less coloured by the party politics involved, and more by my personal assessment of the man.

Scrafton reckons:

“No public servant in their right mind could contemplate making a comment like that to an inquiry.”

Hmm, willing to take SES pay, privileges and conditions, then he ought to be willing to deal with the uncomfortable responsibilities that come with the job. He seems to have played by Defence Public Service rules when it suited him, and it appears he was no benevolent master to work for:

[H]e was always a company man and, as I recall, the sort of bloke who was always happy to kick heads of those lower down the pole, on behalf of senior management.

I’m sure we all know a few people like this. Just because he’s a thorn in Howard’s side shouldn’t give him immunity from suspicion, especially over his motives.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Al

Thanks for the link to the Crikey article by “Des Deskperson”. It makes some fascinating points that mostly accord with what I’d assumed to be the case anyway. I was particularly struck by Des’s substantive evaluation of Scrafton:
I once saw him [Max Moore-Wilton] threaten a Departmental Secretary with the sack at a public function over a minor affront to his dignity. Imagine what he would have done to Scrafton if the latter had told the truth (and I’m sure it is the truth) to the internal inquiry.
Des’s evaluation is the same as mine. With all his human frailties, my gut reaction is that Scrafton is telling the truth. And I reckon you know that too (despite all the sound and fury). Fortunately for you, as a paid-up member of the autopilot cheersquad for Howard (as opposed to JQ and Margo and the rest of the autopilot cheersquad for the ALP mob), you can probably rely on the fact that Brandis has very effectively raised enough dust so that the few punters who are paying attention won’t know who the fuck to believe.

Tim Lambert
2022 years ago

Al Bundy writes:
“My view of the incident is less coloured by the party politics involved, and more by my personal assessment of the man.”

My bullshit meter just exploded.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

you can probably rely on the fact that Brandis has very effectively raised enough dust so that the few punters who are paying attention won’t know who the fuck to believe.

Correct. I’m totally lost.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

On ya, Tim Tam.

yobbo
2022 years ago

MY DAD’S BIGGER THAN YOUR DAD.

Robert
2022 years ago

My conclusion is that while Brandis’s “bombshell” did not disprove Scrafton’s claims, it served its purpose — to cover Howard’s arse on this again.

The TV news (which is where the bulk of the population gets its information) was hardly scrupulous in mentioning the 10 full minutes of conversation, instead going with Brandis’s spin and pretending that there was only one, 50-second conversation.

John quiggin
John quiggin
2022 years ago

Ken, assuming that Brandis referred only to the phone record, I agree that “by foul means” is hyperbole.

But your line on the “rodent” allegations, which supply the headline of your post, doesn’t stand up at all.

Brandis denied Galt’s claim outright. The fact that he routinely used a description very close to that claimed by Galt was only revealed a day later. Given that everybody knew Howard was lying, and that Brandis loathes him but is doing his dirty work, it’s odds on that he used the words “lying” and “rodent” in the same sentence, if not the exact form of words he’s denying.

As regards cheering Galt on, if you look at my website, you’ll see that I posted a link to Al Bundy’s critique, pointed out the involvement of my local member, and only referred to Howard and Brandis in a footnote. (At that stage, I hadn’t seen the evidence confirming Galt’s story),

mark
2022 years ago

Ahh, but Sam, this isn’t a case of something that happened five (or even three) years ago and is best forgotten. Well, maybe it is, but let me explain.

Howard has not been the worst PM we’ve ever had, but he has been the most dishonest. Hell, with the possible exception of Joh Bjelke-Peterson, Howard’s been the least trustworthy leader Australia’s ever seen. Worse than Kennett. Worse than Carr. Worse than Fraser. He has spent the last six years alternating between making promises he doesn’t intend to keep and outright lying. With some minor help from the ALP, he’s utterly destroyed the integrity of the Cth public service for no better reason than to cover his arse.

There are better reasons to want to get rid of Howard, and there are more recent and more relevant issues on which he perhaps should be called. But Howard’s lies about “children overboard”, and the credibility of Brandis, every Liberal’s favourite whorish attack-dog, are the softest targets Latham may ever see during his time in Opposition.

Labor (and the lefty pundits) are using an old example to nail Howard for an ongoing series of incidents. “Children overboard” isn’t an isolated issue that the left has brought up again because they can’t get over themselves.

mark
2022 years ago

“Children overboard” isn’t an isolated issue that the left has brought up again because they can’t get over themselves.
Meant to add that, however, Al’s leaky memory and apparent penchant for making up facts about global warming without even coming close to reality, is an example of “an isolated issue… brought up again because they can’t get over themselves”.

Tim/Ken, it’s a delicious irony, but it’s really not relevant.

Tim Lambert
2022 years ago

mark, of course it’s no more relevant than Bundy attacking Scrafton because he had dinner with a female companion. That was sort of my point.
And remember, my view of Bundy is less coloured by the politics involved, and more by my personal assessment of the man.

Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Mark, I agree.

Al, if your female friends think that “this back of the restaurant with multiple bottles of ‘expensive’ wine gig sounded a bit sus”, then you really need to get out more. The 18th Century is over.

And seriously, even if Scrafton had an affair (not that you have even the slightest bit of credible evidence to suggest that he did), so what? Person doesn’t attribute blame fairly for the breakup of a relationship. Hardly an uncommon event. Nobody is putting his name forward for Sainthood.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

The problem with trying to undermine the character of Scrafton, is that it fits exactly the pattern used previously at other times.

Wilkie was subjected to the same smearing that his marriage had broken up and that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It didn’t work. Nor did it weaken his credibility. In fact the most useful thing we learned from that exercise is that the trail led back to the PM’s minders. Enough said. Looking for someone with a vested interest?

So next classified material was leaked from the Foreign Office to Andrew Bolt, again aimed at destroying Wilkie’s credibility.

As for Brandis, as John said it seems likely that he might’ve said something like Galt claimed. Did you check his line at the earlier Children’s Overboard Enquiry? Looked like just such an arse-covering exercise.

The damning exercise about the number of calls and times would have been more credible if they had been released into the public record. Instead, only Scrafton’s mobile number (twice) was released by Brandis. Hope he’s not hoping to get him a lot of hate calls and SMSs.

mark2
mark2
2022 years ago

Todays column in the Financial Review from Brian Toohey on Scraftons account I found interesting as it details some inconsistencies from Scrafton that I hadn’t seen reported previously. And Toohey can hardly be called any kind of Howard supporter? Actually i would have thought quite the opposite!! I’m not even sure if I would any longer agree with Kens assessment that the ‘balance of probabilities’ lie with Scrafton although not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

Scrafton had previously claimed he had a ‘very clear’ recollection there were 3 calls. Scrafton apparently even told the senate committee that his entree went cold during Howards first call and that the second call was when he was starting his main course. I believe it should be revealed exactly which restuarant this was as obviously it has lousy service given the time revealed between the phone calls? (assuming the call records are correct as Toohey acknowledges)He also testified apparently that his female companion was unimpressed with the interruptions and that she had drunk most of the two ‘very expensive’ bottles of wine because of the interruptions. So I guess we now know whoever the female companion was that she is a bit of a ‘piss head’ who gulped most of 2 ‘very expensive’ bottles of vino during a 10 minute phone call!!! This totally destroys Scrafton’s reputation what sort of utterly naive fool buys expensive wine for a woman who is a gulper with a drinking problem ?? I reckon a savvier man could have easily used a much cheaper ‘leg opener’ ….. Jacobs Creek maybe ….. without affecting the outcome!?!?

More seriously Toohey raises several other inconsistencies and questions including that it isnt clear how Scrafton was in position to know what he said he advised Howard re the ONA report as the security classification of the report implied the source was source was secret intelligence material, and Scrafton said he had been constrained by a Cabinet decision during his initial incomplete evidence to the Bryant Public Service enquiry when in fact this Cabinet decision wasnt until after that enquiry.