|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
Has Howard imploded? Not quite, but he's getting there
At a 30th birthday party in Melbourne recently, a Labor man reckoned Howard would implode in week 3 of the campaign. Being superstitious, and respectful of Howard's political skills, I replied that I didn't think so, but that if he did, it would be in week 6. If the polls hadn't given him a shot by then, he'd be staring at the fact that he'd trashed his own legacy.
So we had a bet that if he lost it in week 6 or week 3, the loser would shout lunch.
I reckon he came close yesterday. Real close.
Howard lied to win the 2004 election, as he lied to win the 2001 election. But in 2001, swingers didn't care about lying over children overboard. And since they didn't care, Howard didn't care. Indeed, he even told Geraldine Doogue during the 2004 election that he didn't need to apologise to the parents of the kids he'd demonised in 2001 , because "it was made at the time in good faith".
Now that is ethical bankruptcy - big time. A wrongful accusation, however much the accuser believes it at the time, requires an apology as soon as the mistake is realised. Obviously.
In 2004, the swingers did care about his lie that he'd keep interest rates low. It was the killer message for Latham. It won Howard the election.
So what is Howard to do?
On Wednesday, he said he was sorry: "I would say to the borrowers of Australia who are affected by this change that I’m sorry about that, and I regret the additional burden that will be put upon them as a result."
Yet when the headlines made the most of a rare sorry from the PM, he ran away from the clear implication from that sorry that he had, finally, taken responsibility for neglecting the infrastructure spending and skills training which would have eased the capacity constraints in our economy which are helping drive up inflation, and thus interest rates (see the Reserve Bank statement). Let alone completely ignored the looming crisis in oil supplies feeding oil prices by failing to promote and plan for more public transport and less reliance on oil through subsidies for LPG and renewables.
Because if he did admit some responsibility, of course, his last argument against throwing him out - that he was a better economic manager - was gone.
So this is what he did yesterday:
"I said I was sorry they occurred. I don't think I used the word apology. I think there is a difference between the two things. I think we've been through that debate before in the context of something ."
Indeed we have. Who can forget his insistence that he would not apologise to Aboriginal people as head of the Government because his generation, so he claimed, had not been responsible for the stolen generation. Thus he could be sorry about it, but not apologise, personally or even on behalf of Australia's government, because He wasn't personally to blame and His government wasn't "personally to blame". Got that?
But that distinction doesn't wash here. He was directly responsible, the man in the middle, on interest rates. Unless, of course, he actually has no control over interest rates, in which case his 2004 promise was reprehensible, to say the least. And if that's true, then neither does Kevin Rudd and Labor.
It's a mess he can't escape from.
So much so that when Labor jumped on his nonsense semantic muddle, he rushed out last night to have himself filmed with this (no questions allowed):
"The Labor Party is playing a silly word game. I very much regret the interest rate rise. I’m sorry it’s happened. This word game about apologies and sorry has been invented by the Labor Party to divert attention from the fact they don’t have an economic policy to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates. Instead of playing word games Mr Rudd should tell the Australian people how he intends to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates. That’s the important issue. This is not a semantic word game. This is the future of the Australian economy and I say to Mr Rudd, stop playing your silly word games and tell us how you intend, if you become Prime Minister, to put downward pressure on interest rates and inflation. Thank you."
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
This morning, it got worse: now he won't explain his own distinction between saying sorry and apologising, because 'I'm a prime minister not an english teacher."
I've been worried that Howard would twist the interest rates issue to his own advantage by striking fear, yet again, into swingers, that Labor in office would get it wrong. Now, I'm convinced that won't happen. Howard has nowhere to run, at last.