Who heard a punchy PM ripping into the ALP’s “Truth Overboard” dossier with Perth ABC host Liam Bartlett on Wednesday.

It was a strong performance – and an interesting one, too. Why did he feel obliged to do it? Why did he feel obliged to issue such a lengthy written response, too: http://www.pm.gov.au/news/interviews/Interview1095.html?

John Howard’s “detailed rebuttal of each of these false claims” from the ALP is up on his website – http://www.pm.gov.au/news/media_releases/media_Release1094.html – but shouldn’t these sorts of charges be water of a duck’s back for the PM?

Has he finally realised just how shaky his credibility is – but does he really think rhetoric will save the day now? Just listen to the sound and fury in this grab:

BARTLETT: You seem to be building a bit of a head of steam. Do you think your personal credibility has become a big issue in the electorate?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Labor Party is trying to make it an issue.

BARTLETT: Well, Labor’s released the document claiming that you lied 27 times. In response to that you release a 12-page document defending yourself?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, why shouldn’t I defend myself? If you were accused falsely of telling lies – would you remain silent?

BARTLETT: Why respond so robustly if you don’t think it’s an issue?

PRIME MINISTER: Because if I don’t respond some people will believe it. I’m not going to have my reputation which I have fought very hard to protect and defend and build over 30 years in public life. I’m not going to have my reputation dented by scurrilous accusations and false accusations that I’ve told lies and that is why I respond robustly…

Prime Minister, if you want to convince voters that you’re fair dinkum – to use a term you like – how about a bit of action rather than words.

Margo Kingston has been off quoting Menzies a lot lately with the Not Happy John campaign.

Here are some words the PM might like to look at from another, largely ignored, predecessor – John Gorton – from 1946 on what Liberals aim to do:

“We must remove from the minds of men the fear of poverty as a result of illness, or accident or old age. We must turn our schools into institutions which will produce young men and women avid for further education and increased knowledge. We must raise the material standard of living so that all children can grow up with sufficient space and light and proper nourishment, so that women may be freed from domestic drudgery; and so that those scientific inventions which are conducive to a more gracious life may be brought within the means of all. We must raise the spiritual standard of living so that we may get a spirit of service to the community, and so that we may live together without hate, even though we differ on the best road to reach our objectives. And we must do all this without losing that political freedom which has cost us so dearly, and without which these tasks cannot be accomplished.”

Telling half-truths and repeating them for year after year don’t fit into this.

PS. Crikey hears that Liberals in the Prime Minister’s own electorate of Bennelong had a street stall set up in Ryde recently one weekend. Very fifties – or very desperate?

John Howard – a tale of two tales

Why hasn’t this been picked up in all the Scrafton coverage? The Prime Minister seemed to switch from talking of being “advised” to being “informed” while talking with the Parrot on Monday.

Oddly, there is no transcript on the PM’s site – but here are two interesting items from the archives. First, here’s Paul Kelly quoting the PM February from 19 2002:

“At no stage was I told by my department or was I told by any member of my staff or was I told by any minister or was I told by any official in any other department that the original advice was wrong.”

And here’s the Labor Party quoting the PM from Sunrise, Channel 7 on 9 November 2001:

“The Government’s position remains that we were advised by Defence that children were thrown overboard, we made those allegations on the basis of that advice, and until I get Defence advice to the contrary I will maintain that position.”

Howard’s talk with the Parrot is the only interview he has conducted this week that is not available at www.pm.gov.au

Maybe this switch is accidental, but you can never be sure with this Prime Minister.

Is this because the Prime Minister defence habitually falls back on whether “advice”‘ was given, where advice almost always ends up being written material? Yet when the government originally leapt all over the children overboard claims, it was simply a matter of phone calls informing of the situation, so it was never “advice” at all.

Better to switch words about originally being informed, then defending his behaviour in the last week of the 2001 election can always fall back on the issue being one of “advice”, which of course precludes anything Mike Scrafton might have said to him by phone.