I couldn't possibly comment on that...I'd like to make my first post on a topic which may not at first seem election related. However, I consider that the phenomena I plan to write about will occur quite frequently during the election campaign (once it kicks off).
I’m sure some would class it as somewhat masochistic, but I’ve signed up to receive the PM’s media releases in my inbox.
I am also blessed to receive transcripts of all broadcast media interviews involving the PM. One thing I’ve noticed from perusing these transcripts is the increasing frequency with which the PM seeks to evade answering questions on the basis that the circumstances outlined in the question are “hypothetical”.
Here’s an example, from a Parliament House doorstop (26/5/04):
Mr Howard, the Labor Party is yet to release its tax policy – what would it say about the Labor Party state of readiness for the election if you were to call an election before they released that tax policy?
Well that’s a hypothetical question, Greg.
Well yes, a great deal of questions are.
Here’s an example from a talk-back radio show (10/6/04):
Good morning, John. I’d like to pose a hypothetical question for you regarding interrogation techniques etcetara in a situation. Let’s assume you know that Saddam Hussein and his number two man are sharing a cave or a house together, you capture the number two man, you then say to him where’s Saddam hiding? He says I’m not going to tell you, do you then give him a Shish Kebab with the lot and send him back to his cell?
Well, it’s a hypothetical question and we got Saddam.
... else in that situation.
Well, look, I don’t know. But I’m really, Sir, I know what you’re coming to, but I’m not going to get involved in answering hypothetical questions on a serious issue like that.
I’m sure that no one in this land has had as much media training as Howard, so I’m not sure whether or not this is his idea, or that of a consultant/adviser/Jeanette, but it’s a ridiculously flawed argument and I can’t stand the way no journalist has picked up on it and challenged him.
This technique appears to arise most frequently when the PM is asked if an unpopular, or ‘electorally risky policy’, will be applied again in the future. For example, consider the following exchange between Tony Jones and the PM on the ABC’s Lateline:
If America and the coalition allies do manage to get away with this, if you like, if the project in Iraq works, can you imagine ever again a military invasion of a country on the basis of regime change?
Tony, I think I'd phrase it differently than, "getting away with this". It sounds as though you've furtively like a thief in the night done something that's a bit dodgy. I don't accept it that way. Look, you have to look at each set of circumstances according to those circumstances. I'm not going to give a blanket 'yes' or 'no' to that kind of question, because I don't know what future events in history are going to confront our country with and it's quite foolish of me to try and answer that question either yes or no.
It seems to me as though Tony Jones was asking for the Prime Minister’s opinion on his own policy and the whether or not we are likely to see it applied in future. What could be more appropriate?
To suggest that no consideration can be given to any possible future scenario because we “don’t know what future events in history are going to confront our country” (hang on, that doesn’t even make sense), I hardly know what to say. Taken to its logical extreme, this is an argument against planning of any kind, whatsoever.
So do you imagine that sort of military experiment could happen again?
Well I'm not going to venture a view on that. It's too serious an issue and put in that clinical way, is too hypothetical a question for me to try and answer.
Surely it is the ‘serious’ questions which we expect public figures to debate. If they are so serious, why not lets have a good old fashioned dialogue?
Its just so exasperating! Its just so cowardly! But, I don’t really expect anything else from him. What is more disappointing is that journalists are prepared to let this fly. There is never a challenge to this evasion. They may try to ask the same question again, but guess what? They get the same answer.
Extrapolating his argument, it seems we can’t expect the PM to let us in on the Government’s view on any ‘serious issues’, and we certainly can’t expect the Government to consider possible future scenarios.
Well, that’s reassuring isn’t it. So they’ll just ‘react’ when something happens? Sounds terrific!
Applying this logic, I can only imagine how it may have been when one of George W’s Deputy Assistant Defence Adviser’s work-experience staffers rang Howard at 3.21 in the morning, to inform him that Rummy had decided our troops would be going to Iraq, and would he mind holding off on telling the Australian public for a while, Howard should have simply responded:
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly comment on that. Its far too serious an issue! It’s no use speculating on how the UN will vote, and whether or not Saddam will come to the party on the US’s ultimatum. That’s too hypothetical a question for me to try and answer. And far too serious.”