Howard's son in election spamming row

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Speculation is mounting that the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, will call an election for October, despite being beset by scandal and trailing in the polls.

Speculation is mounting that the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, will call an election for October, despite being beset by scandal and trailing in the polls.

The latest bad news for Mr Howard is the revelation this week that he commissioned his son Tim to bombard voters in his Sydney constituency with unsolicited e-mails. Earlier this year the government passed a law banning commercial spamming, although political parties and charities are exempt.

The opposition Labor Party was quick to condemn the e-mails as hypocritical. Mr Howard defended them, saying that he paid for his son's services out of his own pocket.

He was also planning to spend the weekend in the capital, Canberra, which many are taking as a veiled hint that he is planning to call an election for October. Traditionally, prime ministers have their main residence in Canberra, but Mr Howard broke that trend when he was elected, preferring to live in Sydney. To call an election the constitution requires that he seek permission from the Governor-General, the Queen's representative in Australia, who lives in Canberra.

Mr Howard has until November to call an election. A fourth term would make him Australia's second longest- serving prime minister behind his hero, Sir Robert Menzies, who led the country for nearly two decades after the Second World War.

However, a revitalised Labor opposition under Mark Latham has taken a 54 to 46 per cent lead in the opinion polls. Some pundits are predicting that this will mean a lengthy election campaign as Mr Howard uses his campaigning experience to try to wear down his opponent.

It is shaping to be one of the most vitriolic election campaigns in memory. Recent changes to the laws governing election adverts will no longer require them to be vetted for accuracy before broadcast.

Labor has hinted that it will home in on the "children overboard" scandal, which has dogged Mr Howard in the past fortnight. The episode dates back to the last election, in 2001, when Mr Howard told voters that asylum-seekers were throwing their children off a boat that had been stopped while trying to land on Australian territory.

The claim was proven to be false, but Mr Howard maintained he had based his assertion on advice from the Department of Defence. That was contradicted two weeks ago when a former senior official said he had spoken to Mr Howard three times before he made the claim, each time stressing there was no evidence to back it up.

Polls show that an increasing majority of Australians believe that the Prime Minister, who glories in the nickname "Honest John", deliberately misled them.

Comments