It takes a big issue to get John
Howard up early on a Sunday morning to face The Sphere of Influence.
Yesterday, the London bombings was the hot topic. But as the PM faced
Laurie Oakes for the first time in five months, he had a body to bury
and some important housekeeping to attend.

The government has
been dragging the chain filling some crucial long-standing national
security posts; chief among them, head of ASIO, and Ambassador to
Indonesia. Thursday’s London bombing meant the government could wait no
longer.

Faced with the urgent need to fill his top spy post,
Howard plucked an adviser from his own office, Paul O’Sullivan, to take
over as head of ASIO. Foreign affairs trouble-shooter Nick Warner will
replace O’Sullivan as his international adviser, the SMH reports here.

Howard’s
“victim” in the national security makeover is Bill Farmer – thrown
overboard from his job as head of the poisonous Immigration Department,
and into the challenging job of Ambassador to Indonesia. It’s typical
handling by Howard of his damaged bureaucratic and political goods;
decorate them and promote them.

It happened to Jane “Children
Overboard” Halton; it happened to Miles “Children Overboard” Jordana.
And now Farmer gets his OA medal and a posting to Jakarta the week
before the damning Palmer Report officially highlights the department’s
cavalier disregard for human rights.

Andrew Metcalfe, deputy
secretary of Howard’s department, will take over DIMIA with a mandate
to change the attack-dog culture that’s cruelled the department under
Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone.

Cabinet’s national security committee meets tomorrow and will, reports today’s Australian,
consider a request by Britain to take over its military command role in
southern Iraq. That could mean an extra 300 troops and – more
significantly – putting personnel in actual harm’s way in a combat zone.

The
clever, almost cynical, deployment of our troops in Afghanistan and
Iraq has kept them largely out of reach of enemy fire in the war on
terror. This fresh deployment would be well outside any safe green
zone, but Howard would find it hard to refuse Tony Blair’s request.

“We of course know each other well,” Howard told Oakes.
“He was on the phone to me very quickly after the Bali attack and we
have shared some of these very difficult experiences over the past few
years. There will be no wavering in his resolve; nor will there be any
wavering in our resolve.”

Soldiers, of course, are trained for
combat. Not so the inevitable victims of a terror war – civilians.
Michelle Grattan noted yesterday (“Spying the error in terror“)
that the multimillion dollar security grid of concrete around
Parliament House is nearly complete. Not that Parliament is likely to
be where terror hits Australia:

That attack is more likely to
be on a train or a bus, or some other public place thinly frequented by
politicians. Commenting on the PM’s performance yesterday, Tom
McLouglin writes in Indymedia:
“Howard took a realpolitik geo-political stance on terror, but you can
be sure he and his ministers won’t be riding public transport.”

It’s
a jarring anomaly we can expect the PM’s spin doctors to be mulling
over. How long before we see the PM following the lead of his wartime
hero, Churchill, and get on the frontline of this war – the buses,
trams, trains and ferries?

Peter Fray

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