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Nov 27, 2012

Howard, Honan and myth of parliamentary accountability

Julia Gillard is now under fire for taking questions on the AWU issue at a press conference -- apparently she's avoiding Parliament. That argument is nonsense: John Howard misled Parliament and got away with it.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

The claim that the Prime Minister is somehow being less accountable or subjecting herself to less scrutiny by standing and taking media questions rather than giving a parliamentary statement or using question time to do so is, in short, bollocks.

The line from diehard opponents of the Prime Minister, and the opposition, is that Julia Gillard is taking the easy way out by holding press conferences rather than facing scrutiny in Parliament. One particularly rabid enemy of the PM insisted in August that the PM’s “marathon press conference” (as she now calls it) meant nothing because press gallery journalists didn’t have time to prepare properly. Given a number arrived yesterday clutching sheaves of documents and lists of questions, it’s a line that’s hard to maintain.

And let’s be serious: after yesterday’s insipid “grilling” by Julie Bishop, which alternated between arcane questions about trivia and unsubstantiated accusations of egregious illegality, does anyone seriously think forensic examination will be provided by the opposition, especially when the PM — not that she needed them — has the speaker, standing orders and, if necessary, Anthony Albanese to shield her?

But the stakes are higher in Parliament, they maintain, if she is shown to have misled the House. That, after all, is a hanging offence politically.


John Howard lied to Parliament in 2002. It wasn’t over something that happened in 1986, but over his meetings with his good friend, ethanol millionaire Dick Honan, about a jolly little arrangement in which a competitor was slapped with punitive excise fees to stop them from importing ethanol. Honan was a major donor to the Liberal Party as well as to the NSW Labor Party, now a byword for incompetence and corruption. In Parliament, Howard specifically denied meeting Honan on that issue, until Labor used FOI to obtain details of exactly such a meeting.

But there were no consequences for Howard. Fairfax’s papers pursued the issue (good luck finding any coverage by The Australian) but Howard plainly wasn’t forced to resign.

To repeat, this wasn’t about events 17 years earlier, or before Howard was in Parliament; it wasn’t a question that dealt with his work as a suburban solicitor in the early 1970s, it was about a shameless favour for a mate and donor extended by the Prime Minister himself a couple of months earlier.

If caught out over something that happened in 1993, Gillard could simply follow the example of Howard and ignore calls to resign for what used to be considered the gravest possible breach of political propriety.

Then again, this illustrates one of the key, and entirely overlooked, problems in the entire smear campaign against Gillard. At no time have any of her accusers or pursuers offered one word of explanation as to how these events in the early 1990s have contemporary relevance. Apart from an exercise in trade union history, what is the public interest relevance here? This point has vanished in the acres of coverage today, even from those who think the PM performed well yesterday. This issue has not been demonstrated to have any contemporary relevance.

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7 thoughts on “Howard, Honan and myth of parliamentary accountability

  1. geomac62

    Good point Bernard about relevance . Reith with his numerous misdeeds is apparently now a respected commentator on the Drum . Downer is suggested as a possible Newman type for SA despite the 300 million that went to Saddam . Both of these men among many others of a similar stripe failed the test of propriety while sitting members . Not some action that occurred twenty years ago but while performing duties for the government in office . Where was the scrutiny of Abetz in the Greche email sham ? I find it incredible that that ham actor continues to sit on senate inquiries after he demonstrated complete contempt for the process . He was an active participant in a fraud ! Any excuse can be made for lacking due diligence but none can be found for impersonating a responsible senator whilst acting out a fraud .

  2. Paddy Forsayeth

    Listening to Banana B Joyce on Q&A last night he exemplified what the Opposition is all about…the destruction of Gillard. It reminded me of the pugillistic tactic that, lacking the ability to deliver a lethal blow, the opponent repeatedly hits a percieved vulnerable spot to distract and wear down the other. Abbott and Co. have been unable to find and/or amass the facts and evidence to destroy Gillard in one go, so to speak, so they resort to the yapping and nipping in the hopes that Gillard will give up and retreat. Abbott, if he ever held to it, has long abandoned the essential principle of our parliamentry system that he and his elected members are PART of the Government and has a duty to ensure that the whole Parliament gets on with the job of providing solutions to national problems and rationally disects and discusses proposals and policy introduced into the Parliament. Because of his rancid lust for power he is incapable of behaving in a rational and dispassionate manner. I despise the p..k! Along with the yipyapping Hyena Pyne and the insipid and splenetic Talking head Bishop.

  3. klewso

    There’s a surprise, suddenly the Coal-ition want others to abide by rules they themselves couldn’t abide, again?
    Which sounds like the Limited News m.o. too.

  4. klewso

    “Cereal offenders” (speaking of Honan) – then there was AWB and Iraq (war and wheat)?
    Not to mention their lying about Children Overboard.

  5. klewso

    And there’s something else you wouldn’t read about (in a Murdochracy anyway) – here was Limited News protecting the poor dumb voters from exposure to negative PR about Howard and his government (dealing with Dick Honan) because if those poor dumb punters (who wouldn’t know their arse from their elbow) got wind of that sort of embarrassing negative publicity sort of stuff they might form the wrong opinion and think their government was just as “ordinary” as Labor – and might vote to give them a run instead?
    Very pubic spirited?

  6. cairns50

    john howard told a lie in parliament ?

    i dont beleive you

    liars dont tell lies

  7. Merve

    If only Headly had been around in Howard’s time, he would have been the star reporter on all Howard’s transgressions.