“The Howard Government’s latest defence
against the allegations of corruption in Australia’s
wheat deals with Iraq is disingenuous,” Dennis Shanahan writes in The Australian today.
“And it continues to avoid the basic question: why the Government failed to
investigate the illegal transactions.”

Oh, what a lovely war! The Australian and
the Government are going at it hammer and tongs. But Shanahan’s called it
right. Later he says: “Simply put, there is clear evidence the Iraqis were
seeking corrupt payments as part of the disgraced oil-for-food program from the
beginning, they were targeting AWB, the payments were illegal, and all relevant
arms of the Government were warned.”

This fight is turning heads – and minds.
This is the paper that virtually created the caricature of “Howard haters” –
scraggly bearded inner city types muttering over soy chai lattes as they read
the Fairfax broadsheets. If The Australian says something stinks in the
government then something stinks. On this issue, it’s leading both media and public
opinion.

It’s a pity, then, that Shanahan and his paper
don’t go the whole way and expose the basic matter of disingenuous definitions.

To John Howard, it seems that Government
means only Cabinet and elected members – not advisors, bureaucrats, diplomats,
intelligence officers, statutory authorities, board members, liaison officials,
agency staff… not anything to do with, er, government.

That’s simply unsustainable – but it’s the
basis of his anger with The Australian‘s headline from yesterday “Everyone in Canberra knew” .

“The Prime Minister is avoiding the issue
over AWB,” The Australian‘s editorial says. They call his response “superior sophistry”.

True. And the Howard Government has made an
art form of avoiding issues. Not just now. Not just over the AWB. It’s been
avoiding issues ever since the PM decided to dump the idea of responsibility
after travel rorts cost him three ministers nine years ago.

If The Australian really wants to tell it
how it is, why doesn’t it tackle the PM over his most disingenuous definition –
the way he has reduced “government” into some sort of entity that only exists
to provide him with a buffer and, when it’s needed, a scapegoat.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW