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Monday, May 01, 2006

Private Kovco: A Tragedy of Errors

I've tried to refrain from commenting on this fiasco. A young man has died, leaving behind two small children. This, leaving aside any issues regarding the circumstances (and I certainly don't want to add to the speculation over this), is a tragedy that belongs to his family, and his family alone. However, the death of Private Jake Kovco's is a tragedy which has become a political issue of some deep import. It shows the way the personal becomes political, and why certain issues touch the public while others just don't seem to engage. The Howard Government has expended a great deal of energy building up the fanfare of the ANZAC myth and glorifying the idea of serving your country. All this has come back to bite them, and it is not just the usual commentators crying foul, but some of the Government's greatest apologists and supporters, such as Alan Jones and John Laws.

The series of monumental blunders and yes, possible cover ups, demonstrate all the worst aspects of the Howard Government that critics have attempted to highlight over the past few years: incompetence, untrustworthiness; even the folly of privatisation, in that the trend towards selling public assets and using the excuse that they will be governed through regulation makes it easy for the Government to distance itself from service providers that are inefficient, ineffective, or corrupt - for example, AWB - but not to assume responsibility for essential services that fulfil the responsibilities every one of us should expect of governments. Such as repatriating the bodies of their dead servicemen.

No doubt there will be no sackings over this disaster, but only because there never is. For Brendan Nelson, the newly enstated Defence Minister, to speculate on the nature of Private Kovco's death before any details were confirmed, was gravely remiss, but to use the phrase `cleaning his gun' was sheer, face-slapping dreadfulness, for anyone who knows what can be read into such a phrase. But this was only topped by the jaw-dropping step of superceding this version of events by a second, different story, sparking off the myriad speculative stories that are now circulating. Nothing could be more hurtful for Kovco's family and colleagues.

It's difficult to say, as some are implying, that the fact that the Government colluded with military media spokespeople over the Children Overboard affair led the public to instantly mistrust initial reports over Private Kovco's death, but I would suggest is overstating the matter. However, it cannot be doubted that the seeds of mistrust are there, if they can spring into life so easily, and Children Overboard is just one of the incidents during which they were planted. AWB is another. We often say that people have resigned themselves to being lied to by the Howard Government, but do the passionate outcry against the events surrounding the death of Private Kovco represent a bridge too far?

It will be some time before we know the truth - perhaps never. But again, a man is dead, and two children have been left fatherless. The least he and his family are owed is the truth.

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