John Howard has made an art form of patronage. He micromanages
everything he can, and the result is a politicised public service where
the ambitious or the survivor knows what they must do to thrive.

The Howard modus operandi is on show throughout Parliament. Last
night, his office called Network Ten’s press gallery bureau and gave
them the word: The PM will be available downstairs for a comment
on Beazley’s Budget in reply. But don’t bother sending a reporter, just
a camera crew – Howard will not be taking questions.

After completing his sneaky side deal, the PM jumped in his ComCar and
headed back to The Lodge, driving past Peter Costello as he conducted a
doorstop media conference on the Budget-in-reply. Ten made its footage available to the other networks, but the bad taste
lingers. By playing favourites, Howard’s minders slide a little wedge
into the gallery, and encourage journalists to accept the soft option.

If the PM wants to comment on matters of significance, why should he be
allowed to pick and choose his platform – and why should he be allowed
to hide from questions?