Michael Pascoe writes:

How close is the 20-year relationship
between Kevin Rudd and ASIO boss Paul O’Sullivan? Or is Kruddy scared of what
the spooks might do to him if he puts them offside?

They’re not unreasonable questions given
the way the opposition foreign affairs spokesman ducked, weaved, dodged and
refused to answer a simple question twice last night on Lateline.

Rudd was doing his best to accuse John
Howard of covering up the government’s role in the AWB scandal, zeroing in on
the notes an AWB executive took of a briefing by another AWB executive about a
meeting the second executive had with Paul O’Sullivan when he was working in
Howard’s department. Less than conclusive notes of a meeting of a meeting are
hardly DNA-quality evidence, but Labor nonetheless is accusing O’Sullivan of
coaching AWB to avoid full co-operation with the Volcker inquiry.

That’s a serious allegation, an allegation
which, if proven, could have dire consequences for Mr O’Sullivan’s career – but
Kevin Rudd ran away from that suggestion as fast as he could:

TONY JONES: Alright. Finally, because
we don’t have a lot of time tonight, the director-general of ASIO, Paul
O’Sullivan, has now been dragged into the scandal – though the Prime Minister
says the evidence against him is hearsay with a capital H – but if that
evidence were corroborated, would you be calling for Mr O’Sullivan to stand
down?

KEVIN RUDD: I’ve known Mr O’Sullivan for about 20 years and my experience of
him to date he’s been a professional public servant. What I’ve seen in terms of
this evidence to the Cole inquiry, however, demands immediate clarification.
John Howard said tonight on national television that he wasn’t about to clarify
whether, in fact, this report of what Mr O’Sullivan has said was true or not.
Well, this, is John Howard who can’t recall, therefore, what happened nine
months ago. The same John Howard who could tell you what Bradman scored at
Lord’s in 1938. All John Howard has to do is pick up the telephone and ring
Paul O’Sullivan and say, “Is this true or not?” And, I’ve got to say,
if that is true, it reflects the core culture about John Howard’s office, a
culture driven by cover-up, a cover-up driven in turn by John Howard’s desire
to protect…

TONY JONES: I will repeat my earlier question. If it is corroborated, if it
proves to be true, would you be calling for Paul O’Sullivan to stand down as
director-general of ASIO? If it’s exactly as you’ve just stated?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Tony, that’s a most serious matter and we’ll take it one step
at a time. The job now to be done is by the Prime Minister to confirm whether
it’s accurate or not, not to consign it to the by and by. Because John
Howard’s cover-up is this: protect John Howard’s short-term political
interests, not guarantee the nation’s long-term interests by getting to the end
of this.

Say what you like about the Prime Minister,
but leave the spooks alone. I can almost hear someone whispering “national
security” in right-wing Labor ears.

Peter Fray

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