Tim Blair


New Criterion



Wednesday, September 01, 2004
MIKE SCRAFTON SELF-DESTRUCTS, with a little help from the telephone system and Senator George Brandis, in front of the Senate's Scrafton Select Committee today.

The polygraph is a liar. We know this because it endorses Mr Scrafton's claim that he told John Howard that 'kids overboard' was without foundation, and today it became clear that Mr Scrafton's account of what he told John Howard can not be correct. Mr Scrafton himself is, of course, an honest man, because he is not a politician, unlike John Howard, and lying is the exclusive preserve of politicians in the media's doctrine of common sense.

It boils down to this. According to Scrafton's "clear" recollection, reported publicly in the media, he had three phone conversations with John Howard on the night of November 7th, 2001. In the course of those calls Scrafton claims to have told the PM four things:
*that the video of the sinking of SIEV4 was inconclusive as to whether any children were thrown in the water,
*that the photographs distributed to the media in early October showed SIEV4 sinking, and not children being thrown overboard
*that no-one of his, Scrafton's, acquaintance in Defence believed that children had been thrown overboard, and finally,
*that the ONA report supporting the 'kids overboard' claim was not based on Defence advice.
It was on the basis of this information, passed on to the PM that night, that Scrafton could assert categorically that he 'left the PM in no doubt' as to the facts of the matter, that is, that there was no evidence of children being thrown overboard (as distinct from being sunk), and that, despite this, the PM had repeated the story next day at the National Press Club.

Scrafton further asserted categorically that the second, third and fourth points were made in phone conversations two and three, although he later conceded under questioning from Brandis that there may have been only a second call from the PM.

To the point of the first call, Scrafton's recollection, and those of John Howard and his advisers, were in complete harmony. Scrafton had also recalled that only in the case of the first call did the PM repeat to his advisers what Scrafton was telling him, so endorsing Howard's recollection that he had only been told about the limits of the video evidence.

So, at this point, both sides are in agreement that at the end of the first call Howard was acquainted with Defence's de-bunking of the video evidence, and nothing more.

Under questioning from Brandis, who was assisted by the phone records of the PM, his wife and staff present on the night of November 7th at the Lodge in Canberra, it emerged that
there were only two phone calls, one at about 8.30, of about ten minutes, and a second at about 10.00 pm, of exactly 51 seconds.

This left Scrafton in the position of asserting that he had conveyed points 2 to 4 to the PM in the course of 51 seconds! Totally unbelievable. So Scrafton is left with no option but to retreat to his first call from the Prime Minister, the one account that had been well attested in all evidence, and to try to undermine his first account of it, claiming that he must have made all of his four points in the first ten minute call, in the course of which, he had already said, all of his advice to the PM was repeated by the PM to the assembled advisers.

There is another explanation, of course. Scrafton's memory may be in error, as his earlier written evidence to a public service enquiry conducted by a Ms Bryant was. After much questioning Scrafton conceded the L-word could be applied to that deliberate, and unforced, untruth, when he reported that there were no doubts about 'kids overboard' in Defence in early October.

Scrafton volunteered that the private dinner at which he took the PM's calls, involving one other person, a woman, was a two-bottle affair. He estimated the time between the first and second calls at 15-20 minutes, when it was in fact an hour and a half. Give Uncle a bottle of wine to polish off in an hour and you can still rely totally on the intelligence of my conversation and the accuracy of my memory. Not every duffer of my age is so fortunate, and so, charitably, let us assume that Mike Scrafton was a little the worse for wear by 10.00pm on the night of November 7th, 2001. His righteous pursuit of the PM is certainly in the gutter with the broken glass this afternoon.

It is also certain that this opportunistic enquiry of the senate's is in very bad shape indeed. Senators Faulkner and Ray are exceedingly grumpy, while Senator Brandis's fees for Court appearances in future can be expected to double. The way he led Scrafton into a trap constructed by the faults of his own memory and personality were a copy-book example of forensic interviewing.

Against all odds, this enquiry has served to enlighten us, thanks to modern technology. Wherever the opposition Senators seek to take it now, the Scrafton charges are without credibility, and Scrafton a political casualty for whom it is hard to feel any sympathy.