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An interesting nondenial

April 28th, 2004

From ABC News (slightly rearranged for readability)

Prime Minister John Howard’s office has denied allegations that he took instructions from broadcaster Alan Jones to reappoint Professor David Flint as head of the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). ..Rival broadcaster John Laws has aired an allegation that Mr Jones told him he had pressured the Prime Minister to have Professor Flint reappointed. John Laws said on Southern Cross radio in Sydney this morning that he was at a dinner party with Mr Jones and others on November 28, 2000, when Mr Jones warned him not to criticise Professor Flint…. “Alan Jones then went on to say in fact, ‘I was so determined to have David Flint reelected that I personally went to Kirribilli House and instructed John Howard to reappoint David Flint or he would not have the support of Alan Jones in the forthcoming election’,”
“The Prime Minister does not take instructions from anybody in the media about appointments or indeed anyone else in the discharge of his responsibilities as Prime Minister,”

the spokeswoman said.

He has no knowledge of any conversation that may have taken place between Mr Laws and Mr Jones at a dinner party.”

Now suppose that (most improbably) a videotape turns up showing Alan Jones telling Howard that he should reappoint Flint or lose his (Jones’) support. Howard could perfectly plausibly say that he doesn’t take orders (instructions) from Jones, and that he was going to reappoint Flint anyway. And of course, there’s no reason to suppose that Howard has any knowledge of what Jones said to Laws. No-one ever suggested he did.

Update 29/4 It didn’t take long for the nondenial quoted above to be subject to the same kind of close reading I offered – people are used to the need for this kind of thing now. After a pointless round of “not to my recollection” and “I don’t recall”, Howard has finally produced a clear denial.

I specifically deny any conversation remotely resembling what has been alleged,” Mr Howard said.

“If somebody approached me, somebody from the media with a threat that they would withdraw support from me if I didn’t do such and such I would to use the Australian vernacular tell them to get lost.”

The only problem is that Laws has witnesses who recall Jones’ statement to him. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Jones lied to Laws when he claimed to have spoken to Howard. Equally, it’s possible that Jones and Howard are both lying now. In the light of his thirty years in political life, are there any readers who have sufficient faith in Mr Howard’s word that they are willing to dismiss out of hand a second-hand report from a dinner party three years ago?

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  1. Homer Paxton
    April 28th, 2004 at 14:40 | #1

    Another interesting development down here in Sydanee is that 2GB will not take calls on this topic.

    This has legs as LAWSYY said there were guests at the dinner party who heard the said comments.

  2. Don Wigan
    April 28th, 2004 at 14:57 | #2

    Judging by the nature of some Howard Govt appointments, I don’t think JWH would have needed a lot of persuading, even from the dreaded Alan Jones, to reappoint Flint.

    Still, it is a murky business, if a little less murky than the intelligence/defence fiasco with Collins and Toohey

  3. April 28th, 2004 at 15:11 | #3

    of course its nonsense. lil johnny only takes orders from Texans!

  4. matt byrne
    April 28th, 2004 at 16:45 | #4

    The word corruption comes to mind. Wouldn’t be the first time the media or a media figure played an unelected hand in creating party policy or decisions

  5. michael
    April 28th, 2004 at 18:06 | #5

    I heard Jones on the radio he sounded SeriouslyHolisiticallyIntrinsicallyTotallySCARED. He made a big deal about the fact that Laws claimed he had talked about an ‘upcoming’ election when the poll was 12 months or more off.
    All he had to do was deny the allegation but he went off the track completely. Maybe Jones really doesn’t have his finger on the pulse if he thinks that people aren’t thinking about the Australian election at the end of the year before it happens. I mean Mark Latham didn’t get his job for no reason.

  6. Jill Rush
    April 28th, 2004 at 23:16 | #6

    It is a most interesting development as it appears that there is a new person showing up the machinations of Howard and his minions on a weekly basis.

    This time however the whistleblower is someone who has real clout and will be far harder to dismiss as he has a date and witnesses prepared to vouch for the accuracy of the statement.

    The Prime Ministerial appointments on “merit” appear to be unravelling. I watched Professor Flint with Kerry O’Brien and he appeared to be floundering for answers to the probing. It seems that the merit found by John Howard in Professor Flint is those same qualities we see in the legalistic use of language employed by Howard himself which is to convey one impression whilst being clever enough to cover the truth if it can no longer be denied.

  7. April 28th, 2004 at 23:24 | #7

    maybe the deep throat is peter costello?

  8. observa
    April 29th, 2004 at 02:04 | #8

    Laws has witnesses to Jones statement and presumably has accurately recounted Jone’s statement. However, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has got pissed at a party and blown his bags about the clout he has in the corridors of power. If Jones knew Flint’s appointment was most likely a goer, then it could have been tempting to big-note himself, as having a hand in the appointment. There is nothing to suggest he had any influence on the Howard government’s reappointment of Flint and Howard has said as much. Indeed, given the accusation that Flint was a Howard man, why would anyone expect him not to be reappointed? All we really have is the spectacle of a couple of cash for comments media jocks, settling some old scores and jockeying for position in the ether.

    As for Peter Costello being a deep throat. What possible advantage would there be for Costello to inherit the Opposition leadership, rather than the reigns of government, by white-anting the Coalition’s electoral chances?

  9. observa
    April 29th, 2004 at 02:09 | #9

    Oops! Freudian slip with the ‘reins’ of govt.

  10. Jill Rush
    April 29th, 2004 at 21:58 | #10

    With friends like Dana the PM has reason to be worried – Alan Jones and Professor Flint too.
    What has been interesting is the admission by the Prime Minister that Alan Jones does visit his house for personal visits.

    One problem for belief is that he said he would use the Australian vernacular to say “get lost”. This is not the vernacular that would be used if a person were offended by a suggestion – it is a mild rebuke which leads on to a discussion of an idea rather than outright dismissal. Outright rejection would require the use of the word “stuffed” at the very least.

    I think however that there are those who have a religious belief in the integrity of the Prime Minister who will believe his denials – something along the lines of My Prime Minister (conservative) right or wrong.

  11. Dave Ricardo
    April 30th, 2004 at 00:23 | #11

    Howard, Jones and Flint have two problems. One, Laws is going to dripfeed new allegations every day. Two, Flint’s enemies in the ABA have got into the archives and are leaking his letters.

    Howard will realise this and cut Flint off at the knees. Because this story involves a feud between two of Australia’s biggest media stars, it will not go away, unless Howard sacrifices Flint, who is merely an ideological spear carrier for Howard. There are plenty of those around, and Flint is expendable.

  12. James Farrell
    April 30th, 2004 at 11:30 | #12

    I wonder, though, if any of this will reduce Howard’s vote. Ninety-nine percent of people who have heard of David Flint only know about him from because of years of diatribes on Media Watch. And I would bet that the number of people who both watch Media Watch and listen (sympathetically) to Alan Jones is exactly zero. There is a separating hyperplane between the two groups. People who listen to Jones, and who vote for Howard because they believe in Jones, will take all of his explanations and denials at face value.

  13. John Quiggin
    April 30th, 2004 at 12:18 | #13

    James, I think the obvious impact is on the people who listen to Laws – I think they’d be much less firmly aligned than either Jones’ or MW’s audiences and they’ve heard their hero present the PM as someone who jumps at Jones’ bidding then lies about it.

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