“Never interrupt your enemy when
he is making a mistake,” Napoleon once said. The Labor Party cannot
believe its luck. At last an issue turning really sour for the
Government and there’s no need to say a word.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and Defence spokesman Robert McClelland
just put on their sad faces, express sympathy for the family of Jake
Kovco and sadly shake their heads as they call for an end to mortuary
outsourcing. All the attacking is being done for them. The dead
Private’s mother Judy is asking the hard questions of Defence Minister
Brendan Nelson. Questions like: “My son is dead and there’s a big
cover-up. What the hell is happening here?”

Mrs Kovco might ask, because if Nelson now knows what is happening he’s
certainly not saying. Not that there’s anything he can do, or could
have done, about the botch-up of bringing the body home. Except kick
some military and departmental backsides, express sincere regret to the
family and promise that things like this will never happen again.

Initially Nelson was performing that role quite well. It was venturing
into the cause of death that’s doing him real damage. Labor’s Beazley
and McClelland are sounding just like a Minister as they responsibly
urge people to await the result of the proper inquiries into how
Private Kovco actually came to be shot. Not that Beazley has missed the
opportunity to concentrate attention on Nelson’s changes in story since
last week when he said he died while cleaning his pistol. “There is a
huge risk here of hurtful things being put about the place and false
speculation just making the life of the family more of an agony”, was
how the Opposition Leader so nicely put it.

reputation started to suffer yesterday morning when he fuelled the
speculation by telling a morning radio host that Private Kovco was not
holding the weapon when he died but “fiddling” with other equipment and
the gun – sitting on a table or bed – went off as a result. There was
no explanation as to why the minister’s story had changed but
presumably it followed inquiries by the military police flown to
Baghdad to investigate.

The huge risk now is that the public
will end up disbelieving what the army finally decides to make known
about the circumstances – something that would certainly put Nelson’s
leadership ambitions very much on hold.

Brigadier Elizabeth
Cosson, CSC, currently serving with the Australian Defence Force as the
Director General Regions and Bases within the area of corporate
services has the unenviable task of preparing a report that satisfies
the public without making her Minister look like a naïve dill for
believing and repeating what he was originally told.