Ashley Manicaros, former Press Secretary to the
Minister for Communications Richard Alston, writes


If there’s one thing about John Howard to which few people have twigged it’s that he just doesn’t do jokes. Take for instance
an innocent joke during a function at The Lodge. The Liberal Party Director at
the time Lynton Crosby and I were sharing a laugh about some trees planted in
the grassed area near the main structure.

The trees were
apparently planted by the previous Prime Minister, and as a result were
immediate heritage status which means they cannot be removed without a
Order. The issue with the
trees is that their location made it impossible for a function to be
held at The Lodge involving a decent sized marquee. For anyone who has
been fortunate
enough to visit The Lodge, while its name sounds grandiose, it is
quite small in size. Far smaller than you would expect for the leader
of a nation.

How a man the size
of Menzies, and even Gough Whitlam managed to squeeze between the bed and the
wall of the main bedroom is anyone’s guess. Crosby and I were
jokingly conspiring to rid the area of the trees. My suggestion was for the
caterer to accidentally back into the trees causing damage beyond repair and
then my boss of the time who happened to be the Arts and Heritage Minister,
Senator Richard Alston, could approve their removal. Crosby’s
was far less creative. His suggestion involved copper nails.

Seeing us laughing
the Prime Minister approached to join the fun. We relayed the joke to Howard
including the options from which he could choose. His eyes widened in horror. He
shook his head and politely said this was not a conversation he could be part
of and walked away.

The warning signs
about sharing a joke with the Prime Minister should have been apparent earlier
when, during a tour of The Lodge, I described the master bedroom as the “sin
pit”. The group chuckled in slight shock, but the joke went unacknowledged by
the Prime Minister. It was either beneath him or he did not hear me. Howard has
a hearing problem and I like to think he didn’t hear me. Surely even he could see
the humour in that.