Oh, the irony. Just as John Howard jets into Malaysia to push Australia’s credentials as a friendly Asian neighbour, race riots erupt on Sydney’s iconic beaches.

for the PM, Mohamed Mahathir is no longer in charge over there, and his
successor Abdullah Badawi is a diplomat. Still, Malaysia’s foreign
minister Syed Hamid Alba didn’t miss the chance to welcome Howard with
a patronising homily about the need for racial harmony.

Howard had reassured the nation before jetting off: “I do not accept
there is underlying racism in this country.” These comforting words
came as he broke his silence on the weekend violence, choosing a
familiar forum, A Current Affair.

But stand-in host Ellen Fanning wasn’t giving the PM the usual Ray Martin easy run last night, forcing Howard to squirm in his seat
as she confronted him with the dark side of “Howard’s battlers”: images
of tattooed neo-Nazis roaming the beach, beer in one hand and baseball
bat in the other.

And check out the PM’s first comments on the riots, in a Sydney media conference which featured this exchange:

PM: …first and foremost this does involve a challenge to
the maintenance of law and order. I don’t think we should begin to
categorise it at this stage as anything other than that.

JOURNALIST: So you’re saying there was no element of race or racism in the riots on the weekend?

MINISTER: No, I said what I said. I do not believe Australians are
racist. I thought the behaviour yesterday was quite unacceptable and I
said that attacking anybody on the basis of their race or their colour
or their appearance is quite unacceptable.

JOURNALIST: Do you think anything the Government said over the last few years has set the tone for the actions on the weekend?

PRIME MINISTER: Which Government?

JOURNALIST: Your Government.

PRIME MINISTER: My Government? No certainly not.

There you have it, we’re not racist and the government’s got nothing to do with it.