Howards up to his old tricks

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Journey Man
A cunning PM pulls the wings off St Kevin
Email Print Normal font Large font Peter Hartcher
March 5, 2007

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AdvertisementJOHN HOWARD has succeeded in the politics of muckraking. He has lodged in the public mind a new germ of doubt about Kevin Rudd's judgement.

The Prime Minister has managed to keep alive for four days the story about Kevin Rudd's relationship with the disgraced former premier of Western Australia Brian Burke.

Is Rudd guilty of any crime or misconduct? On the evidence so far, he is not. Is he guilty of an error of political misjudgement? On his own admission, yes he is.

But that is not the point. The point is that we have spent four days asking the questions.

Sure, the Prime Minister did fall into a trap of his own making. In his desperation to rip the halo from St Kevin's head, he and his ministers went too far, too recklessly. By saying that "anyone who deals with Brian Burke is morally and politically compromised", as Peter Costello put it, the Government put one of its own cabinet ministers, Ian Campbell, at risk.

The excess of the charge against Rudd is demonstrated by the unfairness of the treatment of Campbell, whom Howard has forced out of cabinet. Campbell had, in Howard's own words, done nothing more than meet Burke "in the normal course of his portfolio". Yet he was sacked the moment it was revealed he had met Burke, however innocently.

This is not because Campbell misbehaved, but because Howard had set a falsely and impossibly draconian standard for Rudd.

So the silliness of Howard's overcooked accusation against Rudd was exposed.

And sure, the Prime Minister opened himself to the charge of bastardising the principles of ministerial duty. As we have seen, ministers in the Howard Government can preside over just about any act of administrative incompetence, such as the wrongful deportation of Australian citizens, and keep their jobs. They can commit just about any act of policy failure, such as endangering the pacification of Afghanistan by prematurely withdrawing forces against the express wishes of Afghanistan, and keep their jobs.

Ministers can make deeply flawed decisions on the gravest matters of state, such as joining the invasion of a sovereign state based on a false premise, and keep their jobs. And they can preside over major episodes of structural corruption in government-controlled instrumentalities, as the AWB was when it set up its program of bribes for Saddam, and keep their jobs.

It has given rise to the question: is there any outrage serious enough to warrant the sack from the Howard ministry? On Saturday we saw that the answer is yes - the only unpardonable crime for a minister is to slow a prime minister trying to smear his opponent.

Howard has jettisoned any principle that a minister should protect the national interest and has nakedly committed himself to the rule that a minister only has a duty to serve the Prime Minister's political interest.

Howard has been criticised for such tendencies, and more, in the past. But he will brave criticism because what drives him is not the question of his own image but a ruthless determination to degrade Rudd's - to make sure a clean-skinned St Kevin suffers early damage.

And it has worked. By the election, most voters will have a more sceptical view of Rudd than they did when he took the leadership in December. Most won't be sure how they came to that view, or remember many specifics, but it has started now.


Journey Man
i feel sorry for campbell being shat on by his leader

maybe he disagreed with the death threats to jonny's rival at the booth?

Canteen Worker

First Grader
Campbell is very unlucky. In Howard's world as a minister, you can lie, cheat, rort, be incompetent and drag ministerial conduct to a new low but having a 20 minute bona fide meeting (in a group, unknowingly) with a tainted ex-con ex-premier means you are sacked (for a few weeks at least) in order to maintain a cynical attack on a threat to Howard's rule.

Funny that Rudd when accused has a 1 hour meeting with the press, answers all their questions, appears all over the shop to face up to his 'poor judgement' - something Howard and his slime gang have never done.


I heard from someone in the Liberal party yesterday that they have been told that there are tapes of Rudd's meeting with Burke.

They are searching all over for copies of them and if found I would suggest that rudd's career as oppositon leader is as good as over.

The Gronk

Actually there are tapes of Brian Burke talking to someone else ABOUT Kevin Rudd. I can't see how that would affect him too much.


Journey Man
Howard must be really scared this time, he has started his smear campaign a lot earlier, i wonder if he will have enough material to last.


Howard must be really scared this time, he has started his smear campaign a lot earlier, i wonder if he will have enough material to last.

We can expect an early election unless Labour give them some more ammunition to carry on further.

It is a pity neither party can actually discuss the real issues.


Journey Man
your probably right there. but i wouldnt hold your breath expecting howard to duke it out in policies, its not his way.

Beazley and Latham tried the policy thing, Howard just kept shifting the media attention, Rudd is taking him on at his own game this time, probably why he is so scared already


First Grader
CW have the teachers union already began Strike preparations, for after the state election? ;)


UFO Hunter
Rudd is a media figure. He isn't a leader but he looks dam good in front of the camera. The same can be said for Peter Beattie. labor can't get it right in the parliament so they may as well go for the media.

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