A cynic might suggest that the News
Limited press largely overlooked the resounding humiliation of John Howard in
his party room on refugees because the visiting Rupert Murdoch wanted to remind the Prime
Minister how valuable it is to have him on side. The more charitable would put
it down to the journalists being at home putting on their dinner suits to attend
the Press Gallery Ball when the statement about the outcome in the joint party
meeting was finally made on Wednesday night.

You can make your own choice but I’m
in the stuff-up rather than the conspiracy camp. The story did not make page one
of the Sydney Morning Herald either. Only The Age and The Australian had it on
the front and there it was in a secondary position.

All in all, it was hardly the
treatment one would expect for the first occasion in a decade that John Howard
failed to carry the day in his own party room. Perhaps the true believers in
conspiracy theories will suggest that the Fairfax management
is playing the same game as Rupert! We all know that changes to media policy are
currently before the Cabinet.

No real attempt at redressing the
balance in this morning’s papers either. The Prime Minister is getting off
lightly for what is a severe fracturing of his Party. The changes to legislation
dealing with asylum seekers are well and truly blocked by a determined minority
of Liberal backbenchers. The reason the Prime Minister has postponed debate on
them is that he does not have the numbers to succeed.

In the House of Representatives
enough Liberals would cross the floor to embarrass him. In the Senate enough
would do so to defeat the bill that a few weeks ago he was insisting had to be
made law before Parliament adjourns for the winter and he heads off to a meeting
with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Now the final decision day has been
postponed until August. Twixt now and then there will be arm twisting of a kind
that would do the old style heavies of the NSW Labor Party

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey