Tim Blair


New Criterion



Thursday, August 19, 2004

For one thing, what do you do to refresh the relentless focus on personality? Policies are boring, your own side doesn't have any you would want to admit to, and the stunt-a-day program is on sick leave.

With an election campaign under way only a fool could wish up a Costello leadership challenge to keep the anti-Howard pot boiling.

Undaunted, Auntie led her commentary yesterday with a re-run of Tuesday's news. Henny Herald buried it on an inside left page, at the bottom.

Last night, on PM, Auntie led with the same story, although absolutely nothing had happened during the day. This perhaps is Auntie's contribution to re-cycling our scarce resources.

Auntie's best efforts weren't able to produce this gem, the late-arriving duffer, Mike Scrafton's taste for down-loading pornography to the Defence Department's computers. Scrafton's defenders say that's irrelevant, and they're probably right.

They also point out he was copped before his secondment to Peter Reith's staff. None has yet, to my knowledge, checked whether Reith was informed that his departmental liaison person was carrying this embarrassing baggage. It was later used against Reith by the Herald Sun.

Perhaps Mark Latham's illness has been a blessing for the Opposition, on this issue at least. Labor was pushing the issue close to three hazards.

With enough attention to the 2001 influx of illegal entrants, the electorate will be reminded that the children overboard incident that didn't happen was the exception, and that it was general practice at that time to create risks to men, women and children to put moral pressure on the Australian navy. Some of these incidents are catalogued here.

Senate leader John Faulkner is rushing towards a new Senate enquiry for the purpose of compelling evidence from Ministerial advisers. In the previous enquiry Labor was prudent enough to resist making both governing parties hostage to such a disruptive intrusion that will greatly advantage the permanent opposition parties, the Dems and the Greens.

Laurie Oakes's use of the polygraph on his protegee Mike Scrafton, not reported in Oakes's column in The Bulletin, was perhaps the cheapest media media stunt in the current Parliamentary session. While Mark Latham was on his feet there was always the danger he would impulsively adopt polygraph testing as an instrument of public accountability, and challenge John Howard to do the same.

The truly stunning thing about the polygraph stunt is that it reveals the infantile character of both Scrafton's and Oakes's concept of what policy-making is about. A policy is a construct, not a belief or an observation, and a politician who can believe sincerely in his simplified policy positions as categoric truths is a hazard to the country. It may not be good scholarship, but if politicians were not allowed to ignore inconvenient truths in putting forward their views, Parliament would be much less noisy, and political debate as lively as soggy biscuits.

Do you think that Mark Latham doesn't know that his industrial relations policies will destroy jobs? Would you be more comfortable with the idea of Latham PM if he were able to convince a polygraph to the contrary?

We'll see what Mark Latham makes of it when he leaves hospital. In the meantime, we here at ABCwatch wish him a speedy recovery, and hope that he lies comfortably, and straight, in his bed.

It seems to me the 44 duffers have done enough damage to the principles of Parliamentary government, by behaving like people loyal to a previous President. Ministers will find it even harder to trust any but their closest political appointments in future.

The two major parties should refrain from making the situation worse.