Here’s a lesson on what happens to politicians who try to be ironic in public.

At his press conference last Friday, when John Howard announced that
changes to the mandatory detention policy were “long overdue,” he
didn’t mean those words the way they sounded. He acknowledged this in
an interview with Kerry O’Brien on last night’s 7.30 Report:

Well, Kerry, I think I was being rather ironic when I made that statement, and some media outlets have picked the irony wrongly.

“Some media outlets” being code for The Sydney Morning Herald, which as Tim Blair’s blog reports, failed to detect the irony. Here’s the exchange at the press conference:

JOURNALIST: If they’re long overdue Mr Howard, why weren’t they done before?

PRIME MINISTER:Well that’s a fair question. I thought you would ask it, but I suppose
with the benefit of hindsight we have to confess that that’s one of the
many failings of this government of which you’ve written frequently.

And, as Blair reports, here’s how Louise Dodson and Joseph Kerr incorporated that remark in their SMH news piece on Saturday:

John Howard has agreed to dramatically liberalise the
immigration detention system, admitting it is “one of the many failings
of this government.”

to pressure from Liberal MPs, Mr Howard has agreed to release families
with children and to offer a new deal to long-term detainees and
refugees on temporary visas…

Mr Howard described the changes
as “significant pieces of liberalisation” and “a good outcome for the
Liberal Party,” while admitting that with hindsight the government
could have acted sooner.

“We have to confess that was one of the many failings of this government,” he said.

CRIKEY: We’re awaiting the Herald’s correction – with interest.