Howard Grilled At Lively Press Conference; Tense Mood In Question Time

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has this afternoon been interrogated about the two crises besetting his government: the allegations and revelations about the “children overboard” story, and the allegations confronting the Governor-General.

For more than 30 minutes, Howard took a series of often aggressive questions from the Canberra press gallery. He refused to say he would seek the resignations of members of his staff, and defended the actions of his foreign policy advisor, Miles Jordana.

Last night, it was revealed that prior to last year’s election Mr. Jordana was in receipt of advice from the Defence Department that there were doubts about allegations of children thrown overboard from a refugee vessel.

Children Overboard

Howard also maintained his defence of Dr. Peter Hollingworth, but his statements were carefully couched to take allowance of new developments following the release later today of a statement from the Governor-General.

Question Time was noticably more tense today as the Opposition maintained its questioning of the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock. The Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, directed nearly every question at Howard. Howard, in turn, went on the attack, likening the ALP’s attitude to that of Dr. Evatt, the former ALP leader, following the 1954 elections. Evatt’s election campaign was derailed by the Petrov defection and the hearings of the Royal Commission established by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies.

During Question Time, the Government orchestrated a number of Dorothy Dix questions from its own members about people smuggling, asylum seekers, union power and economic management, designed to promote its record in government and to attack the Opposition. Government backbenchers could be seen watching the Prime Minister intently throughout Question Time. Ministers such as Tony Abbott were clearly aware of the importance of striking an appropriately confident tone.

The Treasurer, Peter Costello, who has remained silent throughout the controversy over the past ten days, appeared wary. The Speaker, Neil Andrew, ponderous even at the best of times, was on edge throughout the 90-minute Question Time.

 

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