Sinking ships and dirty Labor tricks
24 October 2002
THE Senate inquiry into a certain maritime incident which concluded on July 30 was nothing more than a political picnic staged by a disgruntled Opposition with the assistance of a handful of conspiratorial malcontents of dubious intellectual credentials. PIERS AKERMAN explains why:
That is why the minority report released yesterday provides not only the more succinct, but also the most rational and dispassionate account of the so-called children overboard affair.
Labor's chief senate head-kicker John Faulkner, under challenge for his title from the intemperate Lower House boor Mark Latham, made clear the angry motivation for the inquiry in an unguarded comment quoted at the head of the government senators' report.
Addressing Admiral Chris Barrie, Senator Faulkner explained somewhat petulantly: "... I hope you understand the way some of us on this side of the Parliament feel when we see some of our colleagues who are not returned in a federal election."
Democrat senator Andrew Bartlett, this week's party leader, went even further on the morning the proceedings started, telling the ABC: "The key thing will be whether it [the Opposition controlled committee] will be implicating them [the Government] in terms of greater dishonesty or implicating them in terms of greater incompetence."
The Clerk of the House of Representatives, Ian Harris, a statutorily independent officer of the Parliament, was on the money, telling the committee that "terms stemming from the Tudor monarchy have been used" by independent observers to describe it.
"I would never use those terms," he said, "but I can understand the perception that leads to a description of this kind."
Such delicacy need not be employed here.
The term "star chamber" springs to mind and its obvious target was former defence minister Peter Reith. But, despite permitting the most egregious smears on his reputation and the reputations of members of his staff, the Labor senators failed to call Mr Reith, even after the Government senators advised they would not block his appearance.
What the committee wanted to hear was evidence that Mr Reith and the Government had concocted the children overboard incident to inflame emotions in the lead-up to the election and improve its chances.
The committee abjectly failed to prove this and could do no more than air the nonsensical conspiracy theories propounded by the whackers of the fringe media on various websites.
What the committee did hear, albeit with great reluctance from a number of senior military witnesses, was evidence that there was a pattern of conduct by potential illegal immigrants that endangered their own safety and exposed Australian personnel to both moral blackmail and physical danger.
As the minority report notes: "The peculiarly insidious intellectual dishonesty which corrupts the majority report is particularly manifest in the use of two techniques which could come straight from the pages of George Orwell.
"The first is to assert conclusions about the culpability [or motives] of individuals on the basis of surmise alone or, on occasions, surmise garnished by selective and misleading reference to the evidence. The other technique is the use of 'open findings', in the form of assertions that the committee is unable to determine one way or the other - and thus leaving an air of doubt about whether wrongful conduct was engaged in - in circumstances where there is simply no evidence whatsoever to suggest wrongful conduct occurred."
This technique is a favourite of punchy Labor members, who employ it with relish from the legal sanctuary of parliamentary privilege to smear those who disagree with their views and can credibly demonstrate the intellectually barren nature of the Opposition benches.
The minority report gave examples of both types of smear but any reading of the majority report provides ample documentation of the techniques. As for the line pushed by conspiracist Tony Kevin, a former diplomat with a truly eyebrow-raising regard for Cambodian despot Hun Sen and sometime staffer in Kevin Rudd's office, that the Government knew of and ignored the plight of illegal immigrants on SIEV X - wrong!
The same goes for the committee's view on the highly successful Pacific Solution.
Three strikes and you're out, guys.
What the committee actually revealed is a shamed Labor's failure to cope with dignity after its third loss to the "unelectable" Howard Government following its defeat in the 2001 election.