Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flies about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Where the truth lies

Little Winston Howard, former PM and leader of the War Party, has been out on the hustings insisting everything was above board with the invasion of Iraq.  

“There were errors in intelligence but there was no lie,” Little Winston told a press conference, and in one of the finest sentences ever to disappear up its own fundament, he added: “I believe that the decision to go into Iraq was justified at the time and I don’t resile from that because I thought it was the right decision.”  

He knew that intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was not always “beyond doubt”, because he has said so. Further, even if the intel was wrong that should not hold back a full-blooded warmonger.  

“Sometimes if you wait for advice that is beyond doubt you can end up with very disastrous consequences.”  

These must be different disastrous consequences from the ones that follow from acting on dud intelligence.  

However, to pretend that the Iraq debacle was a lie-free zone is a little hard to swallow. There is strong evidence that Howard didn’t tell the parliament or the people of his prior intentions to be part of the Coalition of the Willing Dupes even before the neocons in the US were sending him dodgy intelligence dossiers.  

Richard Dearlove, then head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, told Wendi Deng Murdoch’s friend Tony Blair in mid-2002, eight months before the invasion, that US “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.  

While over-egged reports in favour of invasion were being promoted, ones that cautioned against war were being suppressed.  

1 . Wilkie leaks

In Australia there was an exception to that rule, because Andrew Wilkie’s critical assessment of the invasion was leaked to a Howard government patsy in the media. At the time his report was prepared, Wilkie was an analyst with the Office of National Assessments. He resigned from ONA in March 2003, in protest against Australia signing up for the war. 

Three months after the invasion got under way, Wilkie gave evidence to the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, where he was critical of the Australian government’s involvement in the Iraqi “cakewalk”. 

The Australian government was anxious to discredit Wilkie and, hey presto, four days after his evidence to the commons committee a nasty article appeared under the name of A. Bolt in the Herald Sun quoting extensively from Wilkie’s top secret report on possible humanitarian consequences of a war. 

Bolt argued that the ONA dossier in fact supported the government’s case for war because it showed what dangers Saddam might pose to his own population.   

On at least five occasions Joshua Frydenberg, who at the time was a functionary in the office of foreign minister Fishnets Downer, has been named in parliament and in the media as the suspected source of the leak to Bolt. Those occasions are set out in a submission to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh. Needless to say, it is a serious criminal offence for anyone to leak top-secret intelligence.  

Leigh has been seeking a copy of the AFP investigation into the leak, but sadly Sgt Plod in Canberra cannot find any fingerprints anywhere and the police report that has been released is heavily redacted, on “privacy” grounds. His submission to the AAT ends by saying:  

“The public interest in verifying whether Mr Frydenberg was involved in the handling of the ONA document in Mr Downer’s office in 2003, is highly significant, and becomes more significant with every decision the minister oversees.”  

And what of Fishnet’s claim in 2004 that North Korea could launch a Taepodong ballistic missile that could hit Sydney? How’s that one coming along, and what has happened to the plans to invade Pyongyang?   

2 . The Godwin king 

To the defamation courts, where I find John O’Sullivan, Credit Suisse bigwig, leading money man for M. Turnbull and former husband of Janet “The Planet” Albrechtsen, suing Louise Adler’s Melbourne University Press.  

Paddy Manning’s unauthorised biography of Turnbull, Born to Rule, has got on O’Sullivan’s wick and he’s commenced proceedings in the Federal Court over a chapter that deals with
the antics of former Treasury mole Godwin Grech.  

Godwin played a memorable part in unstitching Malcolm’s leadership of the Liberal Party in 2009 by manufacturing the Utegate email. 

The bogus email suggested Kevin from Heaven’s office had been lobbying on behalf of a Queensland car dealership for OzCar funding during the GFC. Turnbull portrayed this as a conflict because the dealer, John Grant Motors, had supplied by way of a gift a 1996 Mazda Bravo ute for use by the then PM’s electoral office.  

It’s amazing now to think that Malcolm’s impeccable political judgement deserted him, insisting that Rudd had lied to parliament and should resign. By the end of 2009 it was Turnbull who was out of a job. 

The crisis flushed out a whole pile of emails from Godwin, who was a Liberal Party stooge in Treasury and prone to firing off gushing missives to party faithful such as O’Sullivan and Arfur Sinodinos. O’Sullivan had graduated from selling his lecture notes to Turnbull at university to being head of his fundraising outfit, the Wentworth Forum.  

Credit Suisse was an adviser on the OzCar scheme, which provided floor-plan finance to car dealers who were suffering as a result of the global crash. One of Godwin’s emails to O’Sullivan, tabled by the senate privileges committee in November 2009, said:   

“Re fees – what I have in mind is that once Rudd and his hacks sign off on Ford Credit, you and I can change the contract to reflect your preferred fee arrangement and push that through quickly next week. I will not be running it past [Treasury Secretary] Henry and co.”  

O’Sullivan replied: “Thanks Godwin. Sounds sensible” – although we do not know if the contract ultimately did reflect a “preferred fee arrangement”.  

Anyway, O’Sullivan has taken exception to certain inferences drawn from the emails and is dragging Louise and Paddy into court, seeking damages and aggravated damages. 

3 . Glenn livid  

Still in the defamatorium, where Bart Cummings’ son, Anthony, is suing Fairfax Media over a report about pleadings in another court case involving boganaire Nathan Tinkler.  

Seasoned observers were delighted to see old Fairfax hand Glenn Burge in the courtroom. He had been in receipt of large amounts of Fairfax coin for many years, as editor of The Australian Financial Review and executive editor of the metro media division, where he was engaged in “a range of projects in terms of cost reductions”.  

In January this year, the NSW horse trainers association announced that Burge was to be its new CEO, claiming that he “is well known and respected in the boardrooms and halls of power in Australia”.  

He told some in the court that he was there to hold Cummings’ hand. However, the next day he was in the witness box giving evidence for Cummings and then cross-examined by Tom Blackburn, counsel for his former paymasters.  

Maybe some thought that was unusual, until they were reminded that in March, Burge had a real spray at Fairfax’s “strategic direction” and company boss Greg Hywood

He told a hack at The Catholic Boys Daily that Fairfax needed renewal at the senior executive level. Indeed, a bit of renewal did take place when, as a Fairfax spokesman put it, Glenn was “displaced”. 

I hope the judge wasn’t put off by this witness’s strange neck movements, as though he wanted to escape from his collar.  

4 . O brother 

What with Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, wanting to take the Sydney mayoral crown from Clover Moore, things are on high alert.  

Tony is to stump up the funds for Christine’s campaign, tapping into the business types he knows and schmoozes so well.  

So far Christine’s policy announcements are real crowd-pleasers: the removal of large sculptures planned for George Street and Belmore Park, and a moratorium on new bike paths and carshare spaces.  

This sounds right up Tone’s alley. He’s a car man, greeting the WestConnex project with the claim that “every day motorists will be rejoicing ... they’ll be singing in their cars”.  

The former PM’s other contributions to urban life included the abolition of the Major Cities Unit and ignoring calls for the appointment of a cities minister.  

Tone and Chris – the dream team for Sydney.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 16, 2016 as "Gadfly: Where the truth lies".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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