As recently as Tuesday, in fact, John Howard evasively suggested: 'a remarkable similarity between the material that was the subject of Senator MacDonald's question and the material in the interview with Wilkie in The Bulletin [magazine interview] on 18 March.'
The clear inference to be drawn was that Macdonald was informed only by what Wilkie had publicly said. But yesterday, Defence Minister Robert Hill finally admitted in Senate question time that Macdonald had been briefed on Wilkie's report. In effect, ONA material was used politically to try to discredit Wilkie.
No doubt, if Wilkie himself had made use of the same material he would likely have felt the full force of the law. But the law appears not to fall equally on all.
One of the Howard Government's most enthusiastic media barrackers, Melbourne Herald Sun commentator Andrew Bolt, seems to have the same secret ONA material. Forty-eight days ago, Bolt in a column bagged Wilkie, saying at one point, 'when I go through the only secret report that Wilkie ever wrote about Iraq . . .'
If he is telling the truth, the Opposition notes, he is admitting to a breach of the Crimes Act.
The Federal Police are slowly investigating, but the Prime Minister maintains ONA is not concerned because the Bolt column 'did not specifically quote any intelligence material'.
The cynical might assume the Government has reason to want the leak investigation to fail.
Meanwhile, they continue to slander Wilkie. 'Dishonourable, low, flagrant, outrageous, grandiose, incongruous, inconsistent and unreliable, very unstable, flaky and irrational' were just some of the words used by one government attack dog yesterday.
All because a man followed his conscience.
One can imagine what the Howard wolf pack would have to say if an opposition figure quoted classified material in an article critical of their master.