Sly defensive. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies
The mirror cracked from side to side.
The intense strain on the two people in Senate Committee room 2S1 today, who had – by very difficult choice – propped up the credibility of a cowardly and bullying Prime Minister for nearly three years, was palpable. Yet still Howard’s point man on children overboard, George Brandis, whose own credibility has been questioned this week, put the boot into the truth teller, Mike Scrafton.
Yesterday’s resumed children overboard inquiry produced the most dramatic, and painful, human drama I have seen in Parliament or on the stage.
Mike Scrafton has turned his life upside down to have his very belated say (for his own account of how he came to the decision, and the never-before-heard perspective of the ethical public servant, see The catharsis of Mike Scrafton).
There’s never been commercial sponsorship for a whistleblower. He’s lost his very precious anonymity and privacy, and he knew his life would be trawled over by the man whose image he threatened and that anything would be used, completely out of context if necessary, to destroy his reputation to save the reputation of John Howard.
Mike Scrafton, after correcting the record, signed a statutory declaration swearing on oath that he was telling the truth, took the most credible lie detector test available, and submitted himself to scrutiny by the people of Australia through the resumed Senate children overboard inquiry. He knew that would mean brutal cross examination by Howard’s de facto barrister George Brandis, the most brilliant legal mind in the Parliament.
Queensland Senator George Brandis had yesterday been accused by a former senior Liberal Party official in that state, by statutory declaration, of calling Howard a “lying rodent” in relation to the children overboard scandal, and of complaining:
Last night, Brandis countered this with his own statutory declaration denying that he had said these or similar words on the occasion alleged or at all, either in public or private.
The significance of signing a statutory declaration is that you swear an oath that what you are saying is true. If it is not, then criminal charges can be brought against you. You are putting your personal integrity on the line.
Brandis did this in the knowledge that many people in Parliament House and beyond know that he does call Howard “the rodent” privately.
Brandis deliberately sought to destroy Scrafton’s reputation through the use of untested, unsworn assertions of fact based on “evidence” he insisted be kept confidential and the source for which he refused to reveal. He also refused to take the stand to be questioned as a witness.
And who was that source? The Prime Minister. And who backed his version? The four Howard political staffers who signed statements backing Howard’s denial of Scrafton’s claim, but all of whom followed the PM’s lead in NOT signing statutory declarations and all of whom refused to appear before the committee. Their motivations are, quite simply, blindingly obvious.
Thus, to get cheap headlines designed to destroy the reputation of the man in the dock – on behalf of the man who refused to subject himself to the same scrutiny yet triumphantly beamed on national TV tonight that Brandis must be telling the truth because he WAS prepared to sign a statutory declaration – Brandis stooped to the following:
He claimed, feigning shock that he might not be believed, that:
1. Howard was in the Lodge at all times on the night when Scrafton testified he told him there was no truth in the children overboard claims;
2. There were only eight phones at the Lodge – two landlines, Mr and Mrs Howard’s mobiles, and the four mobiles of the Howard “team”;
3. Phone records he happened to have before him but which he steadfastly refused to release, or to say from whom he got them, showed that Howard made two phone calls, not three as recollected by Scrafton, and that Scrafton could not possibly have communicated his advice on the veracity of the children overboard claims in the 51 seconds Brandis said the second call took.
This sounds complicated, I know, and I’ll try to put the full transcript up tomorrow. But consider this: Howard fled to the polls at least a week earlier than he had planned to avoid Question Time in the House of Representatives, the now inaptly named “People’s House.” This is proved by tonight’s TV news showing both Howard and Latham welcoming home our Olympic athletes and sending off new troops to Iraq. What a perfect pre-election schedule for Howard!
Australian has a long campaign, quite simply, because John Howard needed to avoid accountability for misleading the Australian people in the last week of the 2001 election. And George Brandis is abetting him with no regard for the “little person”, Mike Scrafton, who he has chosen to attempt to unfairly destroy to protect a man he despises, John Howard.
You could see from George Brandis’s face that today’s performance in Senate Committee room 2S1 was destroying him.
The question is why? Watch this space.