Saturday, July 05, 2008

Downer : Recoil At The Recall

Looking through these blog archives of the past two years so as to put together an appropriately glowing tribute to Australia's longest serving foreign minister, Alexander Downer, (I am a professional, after all) I've found an abundance of posts that really capture the elements of his character that we enjoyed the most : the prissy, the sooky, the evasive, the abusive, the casual teller of appalling lies, and the just plain hysterical.

The following was posted on the Your New Reality back on April 12, 2006. Alexander Downer had been called to answer questions in front of the Cole Commission :

How To Dodge Embarrassing Questions Like A Professional - Downer's Sensational Secrets Revealed

For the purpose of this training session, imagine you are the Foreign Minister of Australia, and you have been for almost a decade.

Now, imagine that you’re caught up in....oh, let’s say, a massive bribery and corruption scandal where an Australian company you’re very fond of slatheringly greased the already greasy palms of one of the world’s worst dictators, with $290 million of pure cash, so much cash they had to use forklifts to move it around, and now imagine you’ve pretty much known all about it for getting onto six, maybe even seven years. Imagine, too, that a lot of memos came over your desk from Iraq, where Australians were telling you what was going on and asking why you were allowing such corruption, such funding of a fucking dictator, to continue.

Today, you’re fronting an inquiry into the scandal, and it’s all a bit heavy. After all, you’ve practically been colluding with the enemy, even if that collusion only involved you turning many a blind eye to what was going down. There's no doubt far much worse, but they don't know that right now. So don't panic.

The questions will be tough, but your Prime Minister set up this inquiry, he set the terms of reference, so you haven’t got too much to worry about. The commissioner in charge can’t prosecute you. All he can do is allow you to be questioned for a few hours by teams of lawyers and QCs.

Okay. Now this might only be an exercise, but this is big league stuff. A major lesson. Now it might seem like you're being thrown in the deep end, but you’re tutor today is the very master blaster of obfuscation and raw deceit, the Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer.

Every quote used below is a real quote from Downer's appearance on April 10, 2006, at the Cole Inquiry into the corruption of the UN Oil For Food program.

Now, once the questions start rolling your way, try to avoid the simple and boring “No” answer. That kind of response quickly gives QCs the shits.

Saying “No” repeatedly makes it sound like you might be hiding something, or give the appearance that you don’t want to answer the questions honestly. After all, you’re under oath here.

Choose a favourite phrase of negative response and make good use of it.

“I don't recall.”

“I don’t recall.”

“I don’t recall.”

Three times in a row is plenty. You’ll start to look dodgy if you keep it up.

Now it’s time to shift gear. You’re still going to answer in the negative, you’re still going to avoid the question, but you’re going to alter your favourite response, oh so slightly.

“I just don’t recall.”


“No, not that I can recall at all.”


“I can't recall my state of mind when I read the document...”


“I don't recall being given that information.”

Very good.

Throw in a “wells” here and there, it makes you sound like you’re really trying to remember what you really don’t want to remember.

“Well, I simply do not recall.”


“Well, I can only tell you what I can recall...”

Okay, don’t overdo it with the “wells”.

“If he had told me that, I would have thought I'd have remembered it, but I don't recall.”


Now, when the questions get too close for comfort, when they’re honing in on information there is absolutely no way in the world you could possibly not be aware of, it’s time to get cute and cagey.

“Yes, it could be.”

“It may have been.”

“It could have been.”

“It might have been..”

A few “bes” and “beens” is enough. You’ve still got a couple of hours of questioning ahead. Shift back to the old favourite for a while.

“I don’t recall.”

“No, I don’t recall that.”

Careful, you’re almost repeating yourself.

“I don't recall them saying that.”

“I don't recall them saying that to me.”

“I could have done, but I don't recall it.”

“No, not that I can recall at all.”

The key is in variations.

“I can't, of course, recall.”


Next, you want to give the same response, but it’s time to take the attention off yourself and start directing it elsewhere.

“I don't recall him saying that.”


"I don't recall him saying that in the conversation.”

Too many short responses, it’s time for a bit of waffle.

“I am only in a position to tell you what I recall of the conversation, which is very sketchy....”

Good, that actually sounded like you were being honest.

“I don't recall it being brought to my attention, but it is possible it could have been.”

That made too much sense. Throw the bastards off their guard by saying something that is near on incomprehensible.

“Yes, I don't recall that being discussed, but I simply do not recall it is all I can say.”


Remember to point out the time that has elapsed since the events in question took place.

“I have only a very distant recollection, surprisingly. It's a long time ago.”


If they give you a hard time, don’t be afraid to get all poopsy about it.

“Well, my recollection is consistent with the statement that I made. I don't really have anything to add to it.”

And when they try and crank up the pressure, stick to your last answer.

“I stand by my statement.”

“Yes, I stand by my statement.”

“I still stand by my statement.”

What about when you’re specifically asked what you remember?

“I don't remember precisely...”

What if they keep pushing?

“My recollection is of a much more general nature.”

And if they keep insisting on a straight answer?

"I can’t answer that question.”

Say it with authority, like you can’t answer for a reason you simply are not going to reveal. Then repeat.

“I can't answer that question.”

And don’t be afraid to then fall back on an old favourite.

“I can’t recall.”

At some point, someone is going to point out that you seem to be having recall problems, even though you’ve said the word ‘recall’ twenty or more times in an hour. Try this to throw them off guard.

“No-one's memory is perfect.”

And do it with a pout.

When you know that they know that you know they know, admit you did it, just not completely.

“I may have done.”

But did you?

“I can't tell you.”

Why not?

“I have no recollection of it.”

What a brilliant student you are! Alexander will be very proud.

And, finally, when you feel as though you’ve exhausted all the variations and alternates, but you know the questioning is drawing to a close, you may choose to go back to your stand-by, but give it some added emphasis.

“I just can't recall it at all.”

And there you have it.

Now you know how to avoid answering the tough questions just like Alexander Downer would.

And did, yesterday.

Your certificate of achievement is in the mail.