25 October 2003

In mugsville, where payback beats politeness

The shenanigans by the Greens' Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle were obvious kindergarten stuff when it came to the shameless and arrogant stunting carried out, at your cost, by our Prime Minister. Simon Crean might not be much of a leader, but he displayed more dignity and quiet good manners than all that raucous triumphalism orchestrated by the Government for the Government. This had nothing to do with a goodwill visit to the Australian people. This was as blatant a political exercise as ever you will see on the very grandest of grand scales.

Crean was relegated to two minor bit parts in the 20-hour visit. He was included in the small phalanx of political pooh-bahs who welcomed Bush on his arrival Thursday morning at Parliament House. And he was accorded a meeting with Bush and his people in Crean's office as Opposition Leader that was extended from 10 minutes to 'almost 20 minutes', according to the Government. And Bush, would you believe, wanted to know why Howard wasn't going along to the Crean meeting as well!

Otherwise, the Opposition Leader was left out in mugsville. He was not included in the welcome at Canberra airport, in the farewell, in the ceremony at the War Memorial, or in the barbecue at the Lodge, the only social occasion Bush would agree to. Even the press gallery was represented at the lunch by its president, Malcolm Farr of The Daily Telegraph. But not the Leader of the Australian Opposition. If nothing else, you'd have thought protocol if not manners might have extended an invitation to Crean.

Not a bit. When I asked Howard's office why, I got some smart lines about 'so you want to go in to bat for them do you?' and 'we know his office has been trailing its coat around the gallery'. And, most pertinently, 'we don't forget how John Howard was left standing on the tarmac at Canberra airport' in 1995, at the time of Yitzak Rabin's assassination in Israel and prime minister Paul Keating wouldn't take Howard, then Opposition leader.

Don't ever say Howard isn't motivated by payback. He never forgets a bad turn or who did it to him. Neither does his staff. And in my anger I was moved to tell his office I thought it had behaved towards Crean like 'miserable little turds'. After all, who paid for the cosy 'private' barbecue lunch behind the Lodge walls? Not John Howard, rest assured.

We should just have another republic referendum and make an honest president of John Howard.

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