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.