Three and a half things to like about John Winston Howard

Courtesy of Crikey!, here’s a list of five things to like about JWH. I completely disagree with the fourth point, and the first is at best half a thing to like about Howard – I’d argue that a great weakness of his reign is a basic lack of interest in policy (as opposed to the culture wars).  Anyway, with some editorialising I couldn’t resist, here is the list.

1) In an era when style usually triumphs over substance, Howard has preferred the latter. He has been at the forefront of debates over taxation, privatisation and labour market reform for three decades. He knows that the perfect is the enemy of the good. While he prefers live radio to get his message out, he doesn’t shirk the big interviews with the likes of Kerry O’Brien (or Barry Cassidy).

2) He has been a tireless campaigner for the things he believes in. In last nights two for the price of one interview on Today Tonight, Peter Costello came very close last night to admitting that he is lazy by comparison with his boss. For those of us who carry a little bit of padding around the waist, Howards morning walks are a constant reminder that the world is run by those who turn up.

3) Howard has restored public confidence in the immigration program [via a – shall we say an anti-Asian detour]. Even with 300,000 extra bods among us this year, immigration has been the dog that didnt bark. Howard put the sword to One Nation. Pauline Hanson has been reduced to permanent Senate candidacy to earn her pocket money a kind of three-yearly work for the dole program.

4) With so much tragedy on his watch, Howard has been outstanding in finding the right words to comfort the families of the victims and the survivors of tragedies such as Port Arthur and Bali. When words were not enough, there was always a hug. [The first sentence maybe – but what polly misses an opportunity like that. The second sentence – a hug from the emotionally robotic PM. So far I have escaped and I am grateful for that mercy].

5) It was Howard who finally repaid Australias debt to the East Timorese by guaranteeing their transition to independence. Howard can be proud of his record on an issue where Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating can only hang their heads in shame. [Hear, hear].

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David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

He has been at the forefront of debates over taxation, privatisation and labour market reform for three decades.

Every time, doing things without asking, understanding or flagging beforehand he was going to do them. See waterfront, the never ever GST, WorkChoices. He’s been anything but transparent on these issues because he knows his implementations of them are electoral poison. Strike one.

He has been a tireless campaigner for the things he believes in.

And we should applaud people like (say) the tobacco industry for being tireless. His tireless campaigning gives us stupidity like chaplains and flags for schools instead of concentrating on education. Tireless campaigning that means instead of 6 weeks out of a term of spinning and twisting, we get 156. Strike two.

Howard has restored public confidence in the immigration program

The whole time with a wink and a nod to Pauline’s supporters via a rewriting of immigration laws to favour candidates on a basis of prejudice. He is shameless and the whole “we will decide” speech ought to be on his political gravestone as the nastiest bit of political pandering in our history. Letting Kevin Andrews off the leash over swarthy foreign Doctors was the final straw. Strike three.

Bugger, the baseball analogy ran out, however:

Shameless political opportunism colours everything he tried to do with (4).

(5), well, I would guess that if nobody discovered a gas and oil field close to East Timor, they’d still be hard under the Indonesian heel. As Austin Powers might say, “Yay Capitalism”. Australia’s dealings with East Timor will always be coloured by the awful way successive governments here have treated them. Howard’s sudden conversion on their usefulness is no exception and the desperate carve up of the spoils which denied the East Timorese a full share of their natural resources via dodgy map manipulation was despicable.

I give him 0 out of 5. Next contestant please.

Roger Migently
14 years ago

It is hard to believe anyone could write this stuff with a straight face. “He is stupid and has totally stuffed the country, but he was sincerely stupid and therefore he and his stuff-ups ought to be praised?”

His morning walks are a triumph of style over substance, merely part of his image. Why not get a bloody treadmill and save us the sight of his vanity?

Far from restoring faith in the immigration system he has inspired shame in ordinary Australians. Why do you think he is about to lose an election?

Howard “put the sword” to One Nation only in order to steal their policies and make them his own. They are now Australian Government policy.

Please help us to understand how “our hearts go out to you”, or “our prayers are with you”, or a physical hug from the creepy guy is supposed to comfort anyone? And how is it “outstanding”? Every western leader who has declared war on innocent people, like Bush, Blair and Howard, always says exactly these words. They are, in fact, only a “form of words”, uttered entirely ritualistically and without emotion. What has their use actually cost Howard? Nothing. How much effort has it taken? None. What effect do prayers actually have anyway? None at all. Do these people actually utter the prayers they claim to? How precisely are our hearts with them? And when our hearts “go out”, how do they travel? And how come they remain simultaneously inside our chests? What weasely, cheap, cynical guff!

But this may be the non sequituur of the year: “For those of us who carry a little bit of padding around the waist, Howards morning walks are a constant reminder that the world is run by those who turn up.” How does being overweight or not have anything to do with “showing up”? This is a line recycled direct from the latest in-house motivational course.

Please, this whole thing is mythology, hagiography and nonsense.

Ken Parish
Admin
14 years ago

“if nobody discovered a gas and oil field close to East Timor, theyd still be hard under the Indonesian heel.”

Err, Australia had a much more favourable oil and gas treaty with the Indonesians (courtesy Keating and Gareth Evans) than Howard was forced to conceded to the new East Timorese nation, so this argument just doesn’t wash. Otherwise my reaction to the Crikey piece is pretty much like David and Roger.

P
P
14 years ago

On the first four
1) style usually triumphs over substance, Howard has preferred the latter [He perfected the dog whistle]
2) a tireless campaigner for the things he believes in [destroy unions, destroy land rights, what did Pauline say that he had not already said?]
3) Howard has restored public confidence in the immigration program [457 visas interacting with the IR changes, “We will decide who comes here”, the Pacific Solution]
4) With so much tragedy on his watch, Howard has been outstanding in finding the right words to comfort the families of the victims and the survivors of tragedies such as Port Arthur and Bali. When words were not enough, there was always a hug. [The warm hug of John and Mal seen in the NT Emergency Intervention]

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

On point 1. Let’s remember Howard uses the “big interviews” to run his agenda, dog whistle, and dumb the debate. Why would he miss that opportunity? That’s been his style, and it could equally be argued it’s triumphed over substance. In terms of substance, Howard has cleverly dumped ten buckets of change onto the electorate, expecting only to get eight of them up. There’s an outcry, he negotiates the eight and relinquishes the other two in full public view over the course of the issue, resulting in two types of headlines: Howard gets a substantive result his way, and Howard is reasonable/non-idealistic/pragmatic/listens. It’s been a while since he’s done it, but this is partly how he introduced his agenda incrementally, using the media cycle to his benefit. That’s at his best. Otherwise, substance has been a hotchpotch, but without doubt he has exercised excellent negotiating skills. Then, substance has been a concoction of words to appear as such. At worst, substance has been of extreme party- self-interest. “He knows the perfect is the enemy of the good” – definitely. Though it would be better thought of this way: to know perfect as the ideal and then retreat from that the to point of practical achievement. However, let’s qualify that, because Howard, I believe, works the other way too: he looks at other regimes for instance around the world, sees them as abhorrent, and sees his crock as nowhere near as bad as that, thereby justifying the horror of it.

On point 2. Absolutely. Unreal. Mad and manic, but respected – hence no baseball bats. Though what he believes in could be troublesome. A champion of the work ethic, but this throws up the question of his life balance. All dues to him for mine on this – to achieve (even something) remarkably something has to suffer. An awesome achievement, daily, without doubt. On morning walks – more below.

On point 3. Bizarre rationale above.

On point 4. Agree with Nicholas on this, with an added thought. I don’t think Howard is lacking emotional honesty – he does feel for people, I believe, and the cruelty of his reign is that he chose against this part of himself. Purely conjecture for sure. But the man does have a heart, and at times I believe this lived through him. Poor bastard. We’ll not really know, because of the lack of humanity in so much of his action. It’s there somewhere, and I don’t believe he’s immune to people suffering – actually, far from it. I think his great sadness and misfortune is an inability for whatever reason for him not to have more of this part of him live. But it could be argued, successfully, that overall he sold it out for political end.

On point 5. Don’t know enough about it.

One thing I hope lives on, after him, and that is The Morning Walk. It’s easy to run this down, but it really is a fabulous statement made to the Australian people, if only it could be seen in singular clarity. It doesn’t have to be a walk per se, but that discipline by which to start the day, to refresh or if sleep has achieved it that refreshment is brought onboard through ceremonial enforcement and reinforcement; even be physical a moment, get the blood moving and clear the head; or simply to find the space to allow the day to have your best given it, every day – this is his greatest achievement.

The Worst of Perth
14 years ago

The only good thing about the ridiculous walk is that is shows Australia is still a country where an arsehole like that can walk around without being shot. The Rest? What Roger said.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

Ken Parish wrote:

if nobody discovered a gas and oil field close to East Timor, theyd still be hard under the Indonesian heel.

Err, Australia had a much more favourable oil and gas treaty with the Indonesians (courtesy Keating and Gareth Evans) than Howard was forced to conceded to the new East Timorese nation,

It’s a fair cop Ken, I will admit ignorance about the original deal. I think we could have easily afforded to be more generous to a country that we were supposed to be bootstrapping though.

rog
rog
14 years ago

On probably their last interview together Kerry O Brien thanked JH for availing himself so often, even during difficult times. Kind words were exchanged and a glimmer of genuine feeling. JH has never used invective or used the adhominen which was a refreshing change after Keating

The Worst of Perth
14 years ago

A refreshing change after Keating rog? Really?

Armagnac Esq
14 years ago

Had Indonesia been under Suharto on his watch I would be astonished if East Timor would have even come up as anything more than a way to bait the old warhorse.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
14 years ago

Roger Migently [2] and P [4]:
Have to agree with you.

Robert [5] and TheWorstInPerth [6]:
And a platoon of security wallahs off-camera. Spontaneous brisk walks? Yeah, just like Shakespeare plays perhaps?

Nicholas Gruen:
1. It has been an eleven year long hiatus. All Show and No Go.

2. In a word: obsessional.

3. ” “Howard has restored public confidence in the immigration program. ” ” Quite the oppoaite. So depriving the most vulnerable workers in the economy of their jobs through blatant abuses of the 457 racket is going to make everyone lovey-dovey, is it?

4. Port Arthur massacre …. and the incredible delays and loop-holes in the so-called gun buy-back afterwards? Sooner or later, all those buried automatic military weapons will leap out of their polypipe and return to trouble us. As for the Bali bombings: I have a very strong opinion about what incited the terrorists to commit those atrocities when they did. Howard has turned military funerals into photo-ops …. whilst stabbing war veterans, widows and their families in the back. Never mind the mournful words, it was wise actions that were lacking.

5. Howard can hang his head in shame too over Timor Leste. The curtain has yet to rise on the Third Act of that tragedy.

Howard may have had tenacity and dominance and cunning in spades …. but what we needed – and he failed to deliver – was leadership.

Welcome to 1996. The world has moved on and we have a hell of a lot of catching up to do.

wilful
wilful
14 years ago

And Howard was entirely honest about the GST. OK so he should have lost the 1998 election, and those unchain my heart ads still rankle, but no one can complain that was done undemocratically.

Kymbos
Kymbos
14 years ago

His refugee policy is his largest moral black hole for me, and that has to sit within immigration (#4). That said, I respect that he has never run from Kerry O’Brien and I defend to the hilt his right to… go for a walk. Shame about the rest of his legacy.

Patrick
Patrick
14 years ago

His refugee policy is his largest moral black hole for me

Whose black hole? Howard’s? Beazley’s? Keating’s? Peacock’s? Hewson’s? Hawke’s? Fraser’s? Barton’s perhaps?

If I compare JWH to my ideal PM, I am left far far short of the mark. If I compare him to any other politician, I think he’s been pretty good.

And what NG said about the walking.

Tim Dymond
Tim Dymond
14 years ago

5) It was Howard who finally repaid Australias debt to the East Timorese by guaranteeing their transition to independence. Howard can be proud of his record on an issue where Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating can only hang their heads in shame. [Hear, hear].

Only in the face of relentless popular pressure by the people of Australia, and only after he made the situation worse by styming a Clinton Administration suggestion that a peace keeping force go in before the ballot. With all due respect to the ADF soldiers who did their job – the Australians only went in AFTER the worst killing was over. Howard was 100% in lockstep with Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating policies on East Timor. He just adapted when the circumstance changed like any politician.

Roger Migently
14 years ago

Nicholas, we concede that our automatic animus towards Howard spilled thoughtlessly over into the morning walk and we agree that some people, including those whom a regular morning walk would greatly benefit, have probably been inspired by Howard to exercise in a similar way. Lives may have been saved, improved or extended. We acknowledge that in this sense Howard is a good role model. We are not certain that this makes him likeable. On the other hand there is cost/benefit to consider. Were Iraq, the treatment of refugees and WorkChoices, for example, a fair price to pay for the difference Howard’s morning walks may have made?

Tim Dymond
Tim Dymond
14 years ago

Oops – I should really check before I post from memory. It was the UN rather than the Clinton Administration that the Howard govt convinced to leave the security to Indonesia. See:

http://www.atns.net.au/papers/Balthasar%20Essay.pdf

The rest of my comment stands though. Howard and Downer’s record on East Timor is over-rated at best.