Friday, September 03, 2004

5 Seconds Short

This appeared on the Letters page in this morning's Age. I'd be very pleased if my recollection of events allowed me to claim it as one of mine, but even if my recollection of events were along those lines, I'd come unstuck on the documentary evidence, like the signature on the letter.

All you didn't want to know, in under 51 seconds

At the Senate committee meeting on Wednesday, Liberal Senator George Brandis put it to former federal public servant Michael Scrafton that a second phone call that had lasted only 51 seconds could not have been long enough to cover all the matters Mr Scrafton thought he recalled saying to the PM in it (The Age, 2/9). Mr Scrafton agreed this might be so.

This has been used to raise doubts about the reliability of Mr Scrafton's recall. But neither Senator Brandis nor Mr Scrafton is an expert in timing dialogue; television drama writers are. The following is the script of a hypothetical phone call that might have taken place between the PM and Mr Scrafton:

PM: John Howard again, Mike.

MS: Yes, Prime Minister.

PM: Hope you're not in the middle of dinner?

MS: That's all right.

PM: Just want to get this quite clear. You're sure the video is totally inconclusive?

MS: That's right.

PM: There's no doubt about that?

MS: No.

PM: What about the photos? You can see children in the water. Couldn't they have been thrown in? That's what we've . . . Reith's been out there telling everyone.

MS: The photos were taken when the boat was sinking. Days after . . .

PM: But we were advised by Defence . . .

MS: Well, that's not their view any more. The minister knows that. I told Miles (Jordana) that weeks ago. (Silence from PM.) In fact, no one in Defence that I know of believes that children were thrown overboard at all.

PM: I see. Thanks, Mike.

MS: Prime Minister.

This has been professionally timed on a stopwatch at approximately 46 seconds.
Bill Garner (100 hours of TV drama writing and editing credits), St Kilda

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Talented Mr Howard's Game

Jonathon Trelawney: I know that I should thank you because I wouldn't be alive now if you hadn't helped me but I can't say it. I can't say ... thank you. I know I don't know anything about you. Who are you?

Tom Ripley: I'm a creation. I'm a gifted improviser. I lack your conscience and when I was young that troubled me. It no longer does. I don't worry about being caught because I don't believe anyone is watching ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: ... In Mike Scrafton, you have a former senior Defence official who says he made clear to you at at the time that no children were thrown overboard.

He is backed up by two senior Defence officers, a serving major-general and Navy commander and also another senior Defence official.

They say he told them all at the time that you knew that you had been told that no children had been thrown overboard and yet you continued to tell Australian voters the opposite.

What do their accounts and recollections say about your honesty?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, they're not direct evidence.

There are only two people had that conversation and I dispute his recollection.

This is all known.

People know that I dispute that recollection and I continue to dispute it, but there is really nothing I can add to that and my recollection is consistent with the recollections of my staff, but in the end, people will make a judgment about that.

I don't seek to denigrate Mr Scrafton.

I'm sure he believes what he is saying.

I am simply saying my recall is different and I'm also saying that what people remember about that issue is that we stopped the boats.

We were very strong on border protection and the Labor Party was weak.

7.30 Report (my emphasis)