Labor thinks it is on a winner with its attack this morning on John Howard for having to go back in to Parliament to correct an answer on climate change, but in truth the Labor spokespeople are showing appalling taste in attacking a man with a hearing disability.

The Prime Minister told the House of Representatives in Question Time yesterday that the “jury was out” when asked about the connection between emissions and climate change.

He went back later to explain he had misheard the question, which he had thought was about the connection between climate change and drought.

“Just for the record I do believe there is a connection between climate change and emissions, I don’t really think the jury’s out on that,” Mr Howard said.

Labor’s immigration spokesman Tony Burke and shadow Attorney-General Kelvin Thomson were reported this morning ignoring the Prime Minister’s explanation with Thompson chuckling about Howard being like the character, The Fonz, from the television show Happy Days.

In truth Mr Howard is hard of hearing, although he rarely talks about it and when he does it tends to be in the past tense as in this reference during a February 2000 speech when opening the Child Deafness Research Laboratories at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital:

I have a particular interest in this project. Whilst I am happy to say that I was never afflicted in the way that so many that have been helped here were, hearing impairment is something that affected me as a child and as a young person.

And I can well remember my teenage years wearing one of those then not so invisible hearing aids and I wondered at the time of the extraordinary difficulty and challenge in life of children who are born profoundly deaf or for some other combination of reasons such as meningitis or otherwise and that was the very familiar childhood affliction and disease that caused the total or near total deafness.

And I have watched with more than just a passing interest and having had the acquaintance over the years of some of the more eminent surgeons in this area who have made such a contribution to improving the enjoyment of life of so many Australians.

Whatever else he might be, John Howard is no fool. In recent months he has been carefully repositioning himself on the question of climate change.

He has clearly stated that he understands there is a connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change and it is ridiculous to think he would return to believing “the jury is out” with a throwaway line in answer to a parliamentary question.

For the doubters, here is what Mr Howard said on the subject as recently as last Saturday:

Well ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations report on climate change is the latest and strongest confirmation of something we’ve known for a long time and that greenhouse gas emissions are doing damage to the earth’s environment. And what it tells all governments including the Australian Government is that we must continue measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Prime Minister deserves an apology from Messrs Burke and Thompson for their gross insensitivity.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey