Richard Farmer writes:

The Australian press should be up in
arms about the suggestion that Prime Minister John Howard be punished for
contempt because he has dared to give his version of what has been disclosed
before the Royal Commission of Terence Cole. If Mr Howard is somehow guilty for
prejudging the Commissioner’s finding, there will be a lot of journalists in
Goulburn jail with him.

Thankfully the Prime Minister has defended freedom
of speech by ignoring the pedantic points of lawyers and gone on giving his
version of what happened when AWB paid kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Imagine how much trouble publications like Crikey would be in if instead of
writing a defence for the Wall Street Journal, the Government agreed with the
lawyers that prejudgement was a crime that should be punished.

The full text of Mr Howard’s Wall
Street Journal
defence is not yet available among the press releases and
transcripts on his website so I am relying on the
lengthy extract published this morning on The Australian’s leader page, but if it
was not for the defiance of the lawyers and Bob Carr who are calling for him to
be disciplined, Mr Howard’s words would be unremarkable. He merely restates his
case that “public evidence suggests behaviour by some within AWB appears to have
been designed to mislead not only my Government but the UN as well”.

Mr Howard
concedes his government gave “a very high priority” to defending the interests
of Australian wheat growers against fierce rivals “but this competitive
determination did not come, to our knowledge or with any sense of deliberation,
at the cost of principle. And never at the cost, to our knowledge, of
undermining the sanctions regime.”

You can believe Mr Howard is telling porkies if
you like but political debate would be in a sorry state if he was
unable to defend himself against the non-stop claims that he was
fibbing or that he, along with Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile, were
the three monkeys seeing, hearing and speaking no evil.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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