11 October 2003

Labor as much at sea as the sheep

The sheep, the war and the White House. The phrase has rhythm but the story is a pretty shabby one. It is about political priorities these days and the spineless people who shape them. On Tuesday, in your national Parliament, the Senate debated John Howard's deceit and the worthlessness of his word on Iraq, before voting 33 to 30 to censure him. Parliamentary censure of a prime minister rarely happens. Yet it has happened twice in six months to this Prime Minister. The issue both times has been Iraq. And public reaction? Zilch. This newspaper covered the censure in three sentences. Most newspapers ignored it.

Nobody cares, it seems. In Britain and the US, government verbal 'enrichment' (as the White House has conceded) and/or intelligence failures involving the invasion of Iraq have badly damaged Tony Blair's and George Bush's leadership credibility, and continue to be a live issue of the gravest consequence. Yet in this country Iraq and the deception that justified Australia's involvement has all but faded completely.

Britain's Hutton inquiry ended its sensational public hearings during the fortnight's adjournment before the Australian Parliament resumed sitting on Tuesday. So, too, in that fortnight the interim report of the five-month search to date by 1200 US-led scientists for Iraq's mythical stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction was released. Conclusion: no WMD of any sort. Not one. Some weasel words interpreted as planned WMD programs, but they were little more than attempted face-savers. And did our Parliament take up either issue this week? Did the Labor Opposition ask even one question, make even one speech?

Not in the House, it didn't. Simon Crean and his band of lemmings stayed well away from Iraq all week. In the Senate, nobody raised Iraq during any of the three days of parliamentary questions, but the Greens' Bob Brown initiated the two-hour debate on Tuesday that ended by censuring Howard. Eight senators spoke, among them Labor's Senate leader, John Faulkner, and its defence spokesman, Chris Evans. Remarkably, only a single Government speaker defended the Prime Minister.

I'm confused. Does Alan Ramsey expect parliament to debate the great issues of the day or something?

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