On Wednesday, we witnessed one of the best Parliamentary slug fests for years. But who won?


All guns blazing in Federal Parliament

Sealed section March 31



John
Howard has today gone to enormous lengths to discredit Mark Latham over
his policy to bring Australia’s troops home by Christmas, appearing on
The Today Show and AM this morning and then delaying Question Time for
more than two hours this afternoon to bring on a specific debate to
censure the Opposition leader.

In a motion calling on
Latham to withdraw his statements about his “secret” intelligence
agencies meetings, a well-briefed and well-equipped Howard launched
into a 25-minute attack in which he produced several pieces of
“evidence” that suggested that Latham did not have “lengthy
discussions” on Iraq with intelligence agencies and that the Shadow
Cabinet did not decide a over a year ago to withdraw the troops from
Iraq.

Howard was also able to produce letters from various
defence and intelligence agencies (was that you again Arthur?), all of
whom claimed never to have spoken to Latham on numerous aspects
concerning Australia’s involvement in Iraq.

Finally, a very
pumped up Howard concluded that Latham had misled the parliament and
the people and was compounding bad policy with deceptive public
statements to justify his policy formulated on the run during an
interview with Mike Carlton last Tuesday.

We thought that
Latham was in serious trouble after the PM’s attack but then the
Opposition Leader stood up and delivered a powerful deconstruction of
the argument which left the government looking a little obsessed with
the Opposition leader.

Latham turned the tables on Howard,
claiming that Howard had misled the House with his allegations and he
called on the House to censure the PM. He said that the reason Howard
didn’t find any minutes of his meetings with the intelligence officials
was because it was just two people talking for an hour with no notes
being taken. Who do you believe?

Even stronger was Latham
producing the minutes from four separate Labor Caucus and shadow
cabinet meetings last March (before the war) calling on the Australian
troops to be withdrawn. “Where was our little mate the minute taker?”
asked Latham.

How could Howard possibly know when he wasn’t there?

And
as a final jibe he remarked that it was always sad to see a politician
at the end of his career thrashing around for an issue.

Peter
Costello had the tough gig of following Latham’s powerful
counter-attack and wasn’t particularly inspiring. A visibly angry Julia
Gillard then got up and attacked Costello for his own lack of
credibility. Gillard suggested he must have been going though a crisis
of masculinity considering he thought he would make a better leader
than Howard, but couldn’t even do anything about it.

But
Gillard’s most salient points were how the letters from the various
intelligence agencies came into existence? And whether they were
pressured into writing them? She linked it back to the Mick Keelty
affair and the government’s ability to coerce statements out of key
intelligence officials for their own political ends.

Devoting
so much time and effort to a few comments by the Opposition Leader
certainly is very unusual. Shouldn’t the PM be more statesmanlilke and
get on with running the country?

In reply to Gillard, John
Anderson said he had never heard a weaker defence of a political leader
and that spending the first third of the defence in a personal attack
on the Treasurer was a smokescreen for Gillard’s inability to defend
Latham.

Simon Crean followed Anderson, and his approach to
the microphone seemed to provoke a mass walkout from the Government.
But maybe this was understandable given the debate had been going for
almost two hours with little sign of slowing. Crean looked like a
dinosaur, yelling out “you fool” on numerous occasions and then banging
on for about 20 seconds after his time had expired and the microphone
turned off.

Tony Abbott followed Crean, picking up on
Anderson’s “smokescreen” argument and claiming that Latham was loose
with the truth and was in fact a liar, which he quickly corrected to
“told untruths” at the insistence of the Chair.

Kevin Rudd
was the main person that the Government used to try and claim there
were divisions and inconsistencies in Labor’s stance and it was
interesting that he was relegated to number four in the batting order,
taking to the microphone at 4pm.

After two hours the debate was still going strong and this is how the speakers lined up:

GOVERNMENT: John Howard, Peter Costello, John Anderson Tony Abbot.

OPPOSITION: Mark Latham, Julia Gillard, Simon Crean, Kevin Rudd

Crikey’s
conclusion was that the government is looking a little desperate in
throwing everything they’ve got at Latham who is suffering some damage
but giving as good as he’s getting.

Latham also exacted
some revenge on Ron Bonighton, the deputy secretary of intelligence and
security in the Defence Department who briefed him and then wrote to
the government denying Iraq was discussed. Latham told Parliament the
Bonighton briefing left him with the clear impression that the
government’s Iraq strategy was fatally flawed and the WMD claims a
furphy.

Hmmm, there’s plenty of legs in this one.

Experts score Latham the winner on points
Sealed section April 1

Crikey
loves a good fight and yesterday was the best Parliamentary boxing
match we’ve seen in ages, but the question still remains, who was the
winner?

In the aftermath, Crikey has gathered together a
group of judges from both sides of the boxing ring to see how they line
up. Who laid the best blows, who lasted longest, who had the best
defence and whether either side managed to land a true knockout punch.

Check out how our 10 judges scored the bout:

The No Winner Camp

Louise Dodson – The Age
Called it a draw. No one won in the character stakes and no one landed the political king hit they wanted, either.

Kerry O’Brien 7.30 Report
Called it a draw, with Howard failing to land a knockout punch and Latham hitting back with at least equal effect.

Mike Seccombe – SMH
Suggested the whole thing was pointless

Dennis Shanahan – The Australian
Said the loser was the intelligence community’s standing

Matt Price – The Australian
Scored it a win for Peter Costello and Bob McMullan, which puts him in the middle/draw camp

The Latham on points Camp

Denis Atkins – Courier Mail
Latham has stood his ground, not giving an inch. In the face of attack, Latham stares back, hard.

Barry Cassidy – speaking to Jon Faine on 774 ABC
Latham winner on the process rather than the substance.

Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus – Herald Sun
Latham withstood Howard’s attack and that Howard failed to hammer home his claims.

Laura Tingle – The Fin Review
Latham fought back in devastating form after Howard misused the public service, and truth one time too many.

Malcolm Farr – Daily Tele
Latham might have attracted some questions about his credibility but none about his determination to face down John Howard.

The Howard Winner Camp

None found.

Peter Fray

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