Overboard official passes lie test

August 17, 2004

THE man at the centre of the children overboard affair, former public servant Mike Scrafton, passed a lie-detector test in Melbourne today.

The news cames after Prime Minister John Howard today turned down a lie detector test to determine if he was telling the truth over the affair.

Mr Howard dismissed as a gimmick the suggestion he follow the lead of Mr Scrafton, who had said he was willing to take a polygraph test over his claims the Prime Minister was told of doubts over key elements of the children overboard affair.

Australian Polygraph Services (APS) carried out the test, which was organised by Channel 9.

"In layman's terms, he passed the test," APS director Steve Van Aperen, who has been trained by the FBI and is a consultant to the Victorian Homicide Squad, told Nine.

"There was no strong responses indicative of concern or fear of being caught in the light.

"It's my opinion, according to these charts, that he's in fact being truthful."

Mr Scrafton said the test made him feel totally vindicated and he had never doubted that he would pass the test.

Asked if he believed Mr Howard should take a similar test, Mr Scrafton replied: "That's the Prime Minister's call, not mine."

Labor and the minor parties have signalled a serious pre-election headache for Mr Howard by backing plans for a Senate inquiry into the whole affair.

Mr Scrafton, who worked for former defence minister Peter Reith, revealed this week that he told Mr Howard neither photographs nor video footage supported claims that children were thrown overboard from the refugee boat, known as SIEV4, just days before the 2001 election.

But Mr Howard then repeated the claim that children had been thrown overboard the day after he talked to Mr Scrafton.

Mr Howard denies he talked to Mr Scrafton about the photographs, prompting the former public servant to say he was willing to take a lie detector test.

The Prime Minister said he would not be taking up the offer.

"I'm not going to get into gimmicks like that," he told ABC radio.

"If people don't believe what I say on the basis of looking at me and listening to my words then going through a mechanical process like that is not going to alter their opinions."

But Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett, who took a lie detector test earlier this year, said by rejecting the offer Mr Howard was admitting to the Australian people he had lied.

"The fact that John Howard has deigned to respond to the challenge indicates that he is rattled and running scared," Senator Bartlett told AAP.

"Enough questions have been raised in the last few days to make even his staunch supporters question his credibility."

Opposition Leader Mark Latham said Mr Howard owed the voters of Australia an apology.

"The Prime Minister ... owes the Australian people a huge apology for the acts of deceit, the acts of deliberate dishonesty, in the days leading up to the last federal election," he said.

"The Prime Minister has shown that he's not fit to hold the high office."

Mr Scrafton stood by his claims, saying his decision to speak out had not been easy.

"Like everybody there are things in my past that people might bring up to use against me and discredit the messenger," he told the John Laws radio program.

"There are risks in this for me rather than benefits."

The issue is now likely to drag into the next parliamentary sitting period, with Labor and the minor parties backing either a reopening of the Senate committee that first investigated the issue or a completely separate inquiry.

That inquiry would be clear to subpoena Mr Scrafton - who was gagged from giving evidence to the original investigation - and also Mr Reith.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown said such an inquiry would highlight to voters Mr Howard's failure to be truthful on the children overboard affair.

"Mr Howard has manipulated this issue to his electoral advantage in the past," he told AAP.

"This time an inquiry will enable the voters of Australia to make up their own mind on Mr Howard."

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