John Howard had a lot to say on Thursday night 5 August about Julia Gillard sending a junior staffer along to meetings of the National Security Committee of Cabinet in her stead, saying inter alia that it is not a discretionary activity.
I agree with him. It is not a discretionary activity. Nor is it any ordinary committee meeting. While it is notionally a sub-committee of Cabinet, it is in fact the final decision-making body for national security matters, for the very good reason that the number of people who are party to its deliberations and aware of its decisions is kept to a minimum.
Accordingly, NSC meetings should be seen as Cabinet meetings with a restricted membership, rather than meetings of a committee. They are chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by the holders of the nation’s most senior and sensitive portfolios.
So Julia Gillard’s statements to the effect that she attended NSC meetings whenever she could leave me scratching my head. What alternative commitments were allowed to stand in the way of her attendance? Were there occasions when Mr Rudd was represented by his 31-year old Chief of Staff and Ms Gillard was represented by her ex-policeman?
But to put all this in perspective, it must be remembered that turning up to the meetings is not the only thing – what they do when they get there is the most important thing. Mr Howard committed us to a dumb war (Afghanistan) and a war that was both illegal and dumb (Iraq).