John Quiggin blogged yesterday on the fact that John Howard manifestly lied to Parliament over the Manildra/ethanol issue, and the equally manifest prospect that he’ll get away with it. John also pointed out in a post-script that a former Howard Chief of Staff is now a Manildra employee!
It provides an opportune moment to clarify my personal attitude towards the Howard government (to the extent anyone cares).
As regular Troppo Armadillo readers will know, I supported (albeit cautiously and with serious reservations) Australia’s Iraq involvement. I also endorse generally the so-called Pacific solution for offshore processing of asylum seekers, although I deplore detention of children and dislike the mandatory detention regime in general (I would prefer open accommodation on Christmas Island and/or permitting asylum seekers to remain at large , with the system being supported by an effective national photo ID system).
In addition to those two areas of agreement with Howard government policies, I also acknowledge that it has generally been a prudent and competent economic manager. However, despite those significant items of approval, I regard the Howard government as possibly the worst Australia has ever seen, certainly since the Second World War. On second thoughts, the economic incompetence of the first Whitlam government (but not the second, when Bill Hayden became Treasurer) would also make it a strong contender for the title. The reasons I rate the Howard government so poorly are almost wholly moral/ethical ones:
- Howard pursues an unremitting continuous campaigning strategy of creating social division for political advantage, and it’s made Australia a much more hateful, intolerant and divided society than we previously were;
- The standards of probity, honesty and personal integrity demanded (and practised) by Howard are almost non-existent. Conflicts of interest, lying and deceit at all levels are now the norm.
Although such things were certainly not unheard of under previous Prime Ministers, there’s simply no doubt that Ministerial (and Ministerial staff) behaviour that would previously have meant instant resignation or dismissal now seems to be regarded by media and public alike as unremarkable and even acceptable.
One can only hope that this resigned acceptance of endemic sleaze is solely a consequence of the perilous times in which we live. Many people are prepared to trade off sleaze for strong, decisive leadership during such times, especially when the current ALP alternative is so utterly uninspiring. As the terrorism threat eventually recedes (or we learn to live with it and Howard’s tactic of regularly ramping up fear levels becomes steadily less effective through repetition), Australians will hopefully manifest a renewed interest in honest, open, decent government. Observing and writing about federal and international politics at the moment often feels like bathing in raw sewage. I grew up in Manly before they built the deep offshore effluent pipe, so I know what I’m talking about.
Update – Margo Kingston’s story this morning titled Brendan Nelson hides behind Sir Humphrey provides a further illustration of what I’m talking about. She may be a shrill, silly harpy, but it doesn’t mean she’s always wrong, and in this case I agree one hundred percent.
Update 2 – John Quiggin picks up and further fleshes out this post and discussion.