30 October 2003

War widow's long wait for PM's apology

Mr Howard did not invite the widow of SAS officer Andrew Russell, the only Australian to die in combat in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, to a wreath laying ceremony by President Bush in honour of her husband last Thursday. He also failed to invite her to watch the Bush speech thanking Australia for its sacrifice, or as a guest at his barbecue for President Bush. She learned of the ceremony after it had taken place while doing her shopping in Perth.

Mr Howard's office said at first that Mr Howard had not known about the wreath laying ceremony for Mr Russell before Mr Bush mentioned it in his speech to Parliament, then claimed that the omission had been 'an oversight'. Mrs Russell has been a public advocate for better entitlements for the families of SAS officer killed in training or combat.

Asked how the letter would be delivered, Mr Howard's most senior spin doctor Mr Tony O'Leary said: 'We just put it in the mail.' Asked why the letter had been sent by standard post, Mr Tony O'Leary replied: 'What do you suggest?' When I suggested express post, Mr O'Leary replied: 'It will be there shortly.'

For sure. I mean it's not as if Australian officials would not have been over the Bush speech and itinerary wth a fine tooth comb or anything. But then Howard might be more believable on this if so many other people, including the opposition leader and the governor-general, had not been excluded from his excellent adventure with the president.

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