Malcolm Turnbull, it seems, just can’t help himself. After Question Time yesterday – immediately after – he called a press conference to accuse the Prime Minister of misleading Parliament over whether the Oceanic Viking deal was “preferential treatment”.
You’d think, after THAT business earlier in the year, that Turnbull, or one of his staff, would have thought to themselves that renewing the claim of misleading Parliament was something, generally, to be avoided. But Turnbull, as always, seems to have some difficulty with his impulse control.
The direct result was that it gave Rudd an excuse to duck the genuine question of whether the deal really was preferential. Each time he was asked about the Oceanic Viking today – Question Time began moments after it was revealed the stand-off had ended – he circled back to the accusation of misleading Parliament.
It’s a minor matter. It’s obviously not remotely on the scale of the Grech business, for example. And yet it confirms again what senior Liberals have said about Turnbull – he’s brilliant but too inclined to brainsnaps and misjudgements.
The broader point, though, is: who cares anymore about misleading Parliament? Do voters care? Does anyone outside Parliament and the Press Gallery? Given the way in which Question Time has devolved into a cross between a particularly dire amateur theatre performance and your most boring Economics 1 lecturer’s greatest hits, does the whole supposed sanctity of telling the truth in Parliament mean anything any more?
John Howard didn’t resign after being forced to admit he misled Parliament about his meetings with Dick Honan in 2002. That was an open-and-shut case of misleading Parliament, but hardly the grounds on which any Prime Minister should have had to end their career.
On the other hand, remove Parliamentary accountability and one of the critical bulwarks of accountable government is ostensibly lost. The right of Parliamentary privilege also surely is accompanied by the responsibility of truth-telling. And yet those notions look curiously old-fashioned in an era when the truth is only one available narrative, and not necessarily to be regarded as any more useful than others that may be available.
This is not to say that all politicians are liars. Some are. But the good ones don’t lie – they merely provide those parts of the truth most convenient. Good politicians live in the margin of uncertainty between truth and deception, generally preferring not to be pinned down with too much detail unless it serves their purposes. Misleading Parliament is a quaint concept for such practitioners.