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Back in the box

July 11th, 2006

Unless Costello has another move planned, it looks like we can all turn back to the sports pages. Costello’s called Howard a liar, Howard has returned the compliment in spades (without actually repeating his earlier denials) and now it’s back to business as usual.

The only real interest in all this will be for the history books. Unlike the tangles of Children Overboard and AWB, where plausible deniability has reigned supreme, this is as straightforward a demonstration of the mendacity of Australian politics in the Howard Years as could be imagined.

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  1. peter robertson
    July 11th, 2006 at 20:41 | #1

    certtainly is John – it scares me to think that such egos are allowed to run rampant while we are at war in Iraq and people die ever hour because of our leader’s actions yet they wank on about an “understanding”.

  2. Bring Back EP at LP
    July 11th, 2006 at 21:13 | #2

    Three men are in a room.
    Two agree on what happened. The other says it didn’t happen like that.
    Unfortunately for that man he has a reputation for having a bad memory and being loose with the truth.

    The rest of the team say why in the hell did you talk about the incident.
    I do note no-one yet has said they believe Howard’s version!

  3. July 11th, 2006 at 22:43 | #3

    On balance I find it likely that both versions are true. They differ not in what was said but rather in what was understood. Howard said that he would not be around for ever. No doubt he said it deliberately to set Costellos mind at ease with relation to Costellos leadership ambitions. He went on to say he made no guarantees. Howard promised nothing but did allowed Costello to form a view about how things might pan out. A vision that obviouly never did pan out.

    What Howard did seems to me to be little different to what every real estate agent in the country does. They say “Look at this beautiful house, just imagine the possibilities. Can’t you see yourself living in this wonderful community with this great outlook. And when the neighbourhood gets a little more established in a few years and if the government finally builds that new train line they have been talking about just think how prestigious this suburb will be.” Assuming you buy the house then ten years later it’s your problem if things didn’t pan out that way.

  4. July 11th, 2006 at 23:50 | #4

    wellll BBEP, I will probably regret saying this for ever, but I think I sort of feel that John Howard’s account is more likely to be on the postive side of the truth-lie contimuum – (that’s as close as I’ll go to saying I think he is telling the truth about anything.)

    Seriously, given the wider context and all the other information which has come to light, I think Mr Howard’s interpretation and explanation is much more plausible and much more in line with common sense. It looks to me like Mr Costello has slowly convinced himself over the years that the discussion was more singularly significant than it really was, or was willing to let this extra spin be put on it as part of the orchestrated tactic we have seen over the last couple of days.

    Just imagine yourself in any sort of comparable real world set of circumstances. Terje’s real estate example is a good one. Journalists and politicians alike like to portray communications and discussion between politicians as being somehow different to everybody else, but this is mostly just self-serving mystique making. It’s still just people exchanging words – the same sort of rules and (mis)understandings apply to politicians as it does to other people.

    Remeber we now have public confirmation that people like Tim Fischer were told about this incident years ago by the ‘straight as a die’ Ian McLachlan, and shown the ‘bombshell’ note recording the details meeting, and still didn’t think it was overly significant. It also now clear that Ian McLachlan carries around a note about a meeting in his wallet for 12 years, and apparently liked to take it out frm time to time to show (off) to people. I’m not sure I’d want to go with his assessment of what a ‘normal’ understanding might be.

  5. July 12th, 2006 at 00:21 | #5

    The “note in the wallet” aspect of this sideshow says more about Ian McLachlan than it does about a few fellers having a yarn 12 years ago.

    Wonder did any butterflys pop out when he opened it?

  6. July 12th, 2006 at 06:32 | #6

    ‘the powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity’ wafts across the nation.

  7. July 12th, 2006 at 10:56 | #7

    Look. McLachlan’s note clearly says that he gives no guarantees. I think this is two people agreeing on the content with the third going on to be Treasurer. Costello would also know that it is not for Howard to anoint his successor – but that he does have a big say.
    I differ frequently on what was said in a conversation between someone else and me. Granted, none of them have yet discussed who is to be PM and when, but I would think that two people can legitimately differ on what was said and what angle was put on it.
    It is nothing like the (more) formal Kirribili accord between Hawke and Keating, with chosen witnesses etc. I somehow doubt the PrQ was making the same call back when this came to light (but I am happy to be corrected).
    Storm in a tea cup.

  8. StephenL
    July 12th, 2006 at 11:39 | #8

    Its quite legitimate for people to differ in their memories of what happened 12 years ago. Doesn’t make either of them a lier. The only thing that, for me, makes this more than a storm in a teacup is that Howard must have become aware over the years of how Costello, and indeed Mclaughlan, saw this. We know he is selectively deaf, but I can’t believe he never heard of the basis for Costello’s building resentment. To then trot around saying “there is no deal”, rather than to make some attempt to thrash out differing recollections, is weaselly in the extreem. It’s still trivial compared to Children Overboard, AWB etc, but it indicates his bad faith extends to his colleagues as well as those he despises. Still it doesn’t seem to me to justify all the attention is has received.

  9. jquiggin
    July 12th, 2006 at 13:52 | #9

    “I somehow doubt the PrQ was making the same call back when this came to light (but I am happy to be corrected).’

    Would you like to spell out the basis for your doubts, AR?

    Maybe you should reread the previous post before you do so.

  10. July 12th, 2006 at 15:16 | #10

    It was mere speculation on my part, PrQ – what position did you take on the Kiribilli “pact” when it came to light? Did you believe that this indicated a “…mendacity of Australian politics…” in the Hawke years?
    To me, the failure to act on the Kiribilli “pact” was more mendacious than the failure to act on a discussion that carried, explicitly, no guarantees.

  11. O6
    July 12th, 2006 at 16:46 | #11

    No disputing that they both reflected contempt for the electorate?

  12. jquiggin
    July 12th, 2006 at 17:55 | #12

    AR, what I posted recently, is pretty much what I thought at the time.

    I doubt that my comments on this particular issue are on record anywhere, but my comments on the dishonesty of the Hawke-Keating government were every bit as strongly worded as anything I’ve ever said about Howard and Costello. Here for example, I wrote

    Over this period, the Labor leadership displayed almost unparalleled hypocrisy; attacking the coalition’s proposals to privatise the Commonwealth Bank in the election campaign of early 1990, but making a decision in favour of partial privatisation later in the same year. At each stage in the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank, solemn assurances were given that this sale would be the last.

  13. rog
    July 12th, 2006 at 18:44 | #13

    Yes but..such machinations are hardly novel or determined by political ideology, Mao made a nice mess when felt that his position was challenged and the massacre(s) would have done the greek gods proud.

    The discussion by JH, Costello and Maclachlan over who would stand for party leader 12 years ago is hardly on par with your view on the alleged hypocrisy of the Hawke-Keating Govt.

  14. July 12th, 2006 at 19:17 | #14

    My apologies – I withdraw any possible imputation of a stain on your character. I would say, though, that perhaps you could expand your statement about mendacity to cover politics in general rather than the Harward government specifically.
    Mao at least had the benefit of consistency – he was lying to and slaughtering people for a long time before he got to power. I do not think even the Greek Gods would have contemplated becoming the single biggest mass murderer (hopefully there will be no greater ones in the future) of all time.

  15. jquiggin
    July 12th, 2006 at 22:13 | #15

    AR, I am making a statement about the Howard government specifically. It’s more mendacious than Hawke-Keating which in turn was more so than Fraser’s, Whitlam’s or the preceding Liberal governments.

    This particular instance is significant only because the simplicity of the case makes the dishonesty so clear-cut. As I mentioned AWB, Children Overrboard and so on were far worse, and implicated the government’s supporters (most of whom went along happily with both), but they are more complicated, making it easy to play the kind of postmodernist games which are now standard practice for the political right.

  16. Ros
    July 13th, 2006 at 12:16 | #16

    Interesting claim of PrQ. I wonder how to measure the mendacity of particular political entities and organisations. Or is it an apparent increase in mendacity.

    Jay Rosen in one of his posts quotes from Timothy Bewes’s book “Cynicism and Postmodernity

    “The paranoia of the internet, directed towards structures of signification, including the institutions of communication, is the same as that political paranoia – also called “cynicism” – towards all politicians (as a type) [i.e., as symbols] – the view according to which politicians are “all liars.””

    Maybe the paranoia of the internet inflates the political paranoia.

    A study by Pippa Norris found that internet users are more politically knowledgeable than non internet users. So could it be that with the growth of the internet there has come a greater knowledge of the untruths of politicians, rather than they are more mendacious than in the past.

    We currently (SA) have a Premier who appears to me to be more mendacious than his predecessors, (when he is not feuding with all branches of the judiciary and legal fraternity). This doesn’t seem to perturb the public unduly. So I wonder is it because I am measuring him inaccurately, (as my memory fades so my memory of previous lies fades) because his confabulations aren’t about important matters, because there is not the same internet focus on SA’s body politic, or he is acceptable to those who are heard most on the mendacity of politicians.

    I am not persuaded that postmodernist games, if that is what is occurring, are now standard practice for the political right alone. My conclusion about relative mendacities would be that it’s just that in Australia we have been so long without a federal Labour government in a time of, to state the bleeding, astronomical increases in the role of the internet in particular, in politics. So as the dissemination of knowledge about the body politic and its players increases and lead time to exposure becomes almost real time, so the sense of greater mendacity is created. If so it might explain why the Howard is a liar never really bites, because the Australian population is seemingly quite adaptable to the changing society of the global and instant communication world and its emergent elements.

    No doubt there is work I am not familiar with on the issue of “mendacity” as there is on trust.

    Or maybe it is that they are no longer “honest liars� like Stephen Fry (Absolute Power) claimed to be.

    For those who haven’t caught the adverts, Catalyst tonight looks at research on how to catch a liar.

  17. July 15th, 2006 at 15:29 | #17

    The only real interest in all this will be for the history books. Unlike the tangles of Children Overboard and AWB, where plausible deniability has reigned supreme, this is as straightforward a demonstration of the mendacity of Australian politics in the Howard Years as could be imagined.


    All of Howard’s core lies have one thing in common: they have been “In The National Interest� (ITNI) and have, for the most part, saved the lives of little children. One would hope that social democrats would give him brownie points for this.

    Howard’s lie about “Beazley’s Black Hole� was ITNI because the government needed to put a lid on the budget deficit and expenditure blow-outs. Governments have an inexorable tendency to grow and every once in a while one has to take the axe to superfluous branches.

    Howard’s lie about “children overboard� was ITNI because the LN/P were the best party to protect borders and stop people smuggling. This practice is deadly to children onboard the SIEV’s.

    Howard’s lies about immigration have been ITNI because they have debunked the phoney identity between multiculturalism and multiracialism. He has put the kibosh on the former whilst encouraging the later.

    Howard’s lies about cutting taxes and benefits have been ITNI because he helped the Right to use Big Government for conservative, rather than constructivist, purposes. The New Right needed a wake up call since the era of “the Era of Big Government is Over” was over. Howard gave it to them.

    Howard’s lie about “Iraq’s WMDs� was INTNI as it helped to consolidate the AUS-US alliance in a crisis. This is Australia’s most important national security relationship and vital to maintain in an era of failing states, rogue states and stateless terrorists. The ADF’s presence in Southern Iraq has probably improved personal security in that region and saved lives.

    Howard’s lie about “Oil for Food� AWB bribery was ITNI as it helped us to sell wheat to Iraq. This fed Iraqi children starving due to sanctions, no bad thing.

    Howard’s lies about leadership handovers to Costello were ITNI as they have kept Costello cooling his heels in Treasury for a decade, where he can do the least harm. The last thing the country needs right now is a crypto-Wet like Costello undoing all the good done by unreconstructed Dries like Howard.

  18. Bemused
    July 18th, 2006 at 23:39 | #18

    A fatal flaw Jack, it all rests on the assumption that Howard’s interests coincide with the National Interest.
    Simply your opinion and not shared by a great many.
    Kind of reminds me of the old line in L’il Abner … “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA.” .. and about as credible.

  19. Terje
    July 19th, 2006 at 18:49 | #19


    You are the ultimate pragmatist. No doubt you would be happy for Howard to lock up the alp and rig elections in the national interest.


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