Yesterday was the first opportunity to debate the Cole Report properly in Parliament, and… “Yesterday the two sides were debating in parallel,” Phil Coorey comments in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Their arguments, full of umbrage, confected and otherwise, never quite met.”

Indeed. What the Government celebrates as blissful, blameless ignorance, the Opposition calls negligence. The two sides were speaking at cross-purposes.

The Government’s demands that Labor apologise for allegations of corruption, complicity and dishonesty and lying – none of which Cole found the Government guilty – were absurd.

As were Opposition questions such as: “How do you sleep at night after your neglect meant Australian money bought the bullets fired at our brave soldiers on your incompetent watch?”

Wednesday night is party night in Canberra – but this week Wednesday came early. Whether it was euphoria on the part of government MPs and staff, despair on the part of the ALP or just something to do with the hot weather, last night the bars and restaurants of Kingston were jammed.

Cole found no smoking gun. The Prime Minister is clearly banking on the short attention span of the public to clear his Government of any other business left over from the wheat for weapons scandal.

It’s a shrewd move. If the media does not pursue this matter with vigour, it will quickly become nothing but a vague memory.

Yesterday was the time for Labor to make its mark. It didn’t. The Prime Minister will not be in Question Time today. Instead, he is travelling to Malaysia.

The Adjournment debate collapsed in the House last night. Speaker David Hawker proposed the adjournment right on time at 9:00 pm, looked around – and saw no speaker except him. So he put the question. The ayes had it.

As Labor Whip Roger Price fumbled, flubbed and flustered, Hawker walked out – only to be greeted by Simon Crean hurrying into the chamber exclaiming “I’m here, I’m here!” It was all too late.

As it may well be for Labor on this issue. And Kim Beazley’s leadership.

Peter Fray

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