Senator Johnston has admitted Mr Grill was his boss when he worked at a law firm in Kalgoorlie more than 20 years ago.Bloody hell, does HoWARd think we are all mindless sheep? And here the piece de resistance: this new guy is going to be our Justice and Customs Minister!
It has also emerged that he owns shares in two companies that employ the pair as lobbyists.
One can only assume that this is just routine house-keeping for Howard, and that the Burke connection was just a convenient excuse to dump Campbell. So what was really going on? Did Campbell get too close to the Costello camp, or was he planning to quit anyway? We may never know.
But one thing is all too bloody obvious. As Tanya Plibersek writes in the SMH today, Cynical self-interest is the ruling principle in John HoWARd's life:
What is character? Character is doing the right thing, regardless of reward or approbation. Character means consistency, not convenience. In the past, people have mistaken Howard's stubbornness for character. No one any longer will give him the benefit of the doubt: his stubbornness is cold calculation, not adherence to principle.Of course, Tanya Plibersek would say that, wouldn't she? She is an ALP member of Federal Parliament.
The roll call of Howard ministers who have walked all over the ministerial code of conduct is long: Warwick Parer, the mining minister with $2 million worth of undeclared mining shares; John Moore, another shareholder minister with possible conflicts of interest; Warren Entsch, whose company won a $175,000 RAAF concrete contract without undergoing a tender; Peter Reith and his $50,000 phone card bill and his lies about children overboard; Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone wrongly locking up and deporting Australian citizens; failed ministerial oversight of Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile over the $300 million in AWB bribes paid to Saddam Hussein just before we sent Australian men and women to risk their lives fighting him; allegations Helen Coonan tried to avoid land tax; and Ian Macfarlane trying to avoid paying GST.
Not one of these ministers was held accountable for his or her conduct.
In Howard's Government you are not accountable for your conduct; for conflicts of interest; for dodgy dealing: you are only accountable for the political fortunes of the boss.
Howard realised after sacking six ministers (Jim Short, Brian Gibson, Geoff Prosser, John Sharp, David Jull and Peter McGauran) that sacking a minister was an admission that something was rotten in the Government. From then on, it didn't matter what a minister did, he or she would be protected; it didn't matter what errors of judgement the Prime Minister made, he would deny them.
Leaders need to have confidence in their judgement; uncertainty can be crippling in public life. But leaders also need to be able to admit their mistakes and learn from them.
Will Howard ever admit that taking Australia to war in Iraq was wrong? That there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Howard will never admit this error, because he sees self-reflection as weak, inconvenient and unpopular.