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Howard’s record

December 21st, 2004

So, John Howard has beaten Bob Hawke and is now Australia’s second-longest-serving PM, after Menzies. Sometimes it seems longer. On the other hand, when I look at the whole eight or nine years, the thing that strikes me most immediately is how little difference this government has made. In terms of domestic policy, it’s biggest single initiative has been the GST, a third-order reform if ever there was one. The abolition of the CES in favor of the Jobs Network schemozzle is probably the next. And Telstra has been half-privatised. No doubt there will be more now that the Senate isn’t an obstacle, but the government has done nothing to build up a popular demand for radical reform in most areas.

On foreign policy, it’s hard to think of a specific issue (except maybe Kyoto and the FTA, which aren’t strictly foreign policy) where Labor under Hawke, Keating or Beazley would have acted much differently. There’s been a substantial rhetorical difference, more pro-American and less focused on Asia, but in practical terms this doesn’t seem to have made much difference: Asian countries don’t seem to have treated us much worse and the US certainly hasn’t treated us any better.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a government not to do very much, but it means, I think, that Howard’s historical position will depend very much on the performance of the economy in this (presumably) final term in office. If the economy remains strong, the Howard government will have strong claims to have based its success on more than luck. Lots of economists, including me, have argued that prosperity based, in large measure, on favorable terms of trade and unrestrained housing speculation can’t be sustained indefinitely. By contrast, the government and its supporters have argued that the whole thing works because of low interest rates and that they are responsible for this. Another three years of growth would be strong evidence in support of this claim.

added 22/12 The one thing for which I will never forgive Howard, or anyone else involved, is Tampa/children overboard/the Pacific solution. Labor under Beazley was very weak on this, and a Labor government might well have done something similar (they started mandatory detention, after all), but Howard did it. It was wrong in itself, marked by dishonesty and cruelty from beginning to end, and brought out the worst in Australia (notably among bloggers). I don’t believe that there were significant practical benefits, but even if there were, they wouldn’t have justified these actions. In the absence of any big achievements or catastrophes in his remaining time in office, I think this episode will play a major role in historical assessments of Howard.

added 23/12 Some more thoughts on specific points over the page

Looking at some specific decisions, I’ll give a couple of bouquets and a couple of brickbats. Howard was right to tighten up gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre and, while it was popular, it took some courage to override the resistance of the gun lobby on this one. He could easily have waited it out and made only symbolic changes, as Bracks did after the Monash shootings exposed the inadequacy of our current licensing system for pistols, which enabled a nutcase with no legitimate reason for having even one gun to legally own four or five.

On the Solomons, despite the tragic murder of an Australian policeman yesterday, Australia was right to offer support to the re-establishment of civil order, and the whole thing has been handled with appropriate respect for principles of self-determination.

On East Timor, Howard pursued the path of least resistance. As long as Suharto was in office (that is, for the first 25 years of his career in public life) he showed no interest in rocking the boat. Of our leading politicians, only Laurie Brereton shows up with any credit on this score. When Suharto fell, and the Indonesians pulled out of ET, Howard had no alternative, given our long and shameful involvement in the issue, but to act as he did. And as soon as the fuss was over, he turned around and screwed the Timorese over the oil and gas fields.

On Iraq, from the narrowest possible view of Australia’s national interest, given a standing policy of obeying the US in all things (oddly referred to as an ‘alliance’), Howard didn’t too to badly. We satisfied the Americans, and got our troops in and (mostly) out, with no casualties (until very recently) and dodged all the messy business of nation-building, democratic elections, restoring order and so on. From the viewpoint of the world as a whole and the people of Iraq, though, our actions were disgraceful. In government, Labor would probably have gone along in the end, but they would have urged Bush to hold off and go through the UN, rather than acting as cheerleaders for a disastrous policy of unilateralism.

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  1. derrida derider
    December 21st, 2004 at 18:14 | #1

    On foreign policy, it’s hard to think of a specific issue (except maybe Kyoto and the FTA, which aren’t strictly foreign policy)

    I’d like to believe that a Labour government would have respected the wishes of the people, international law and the views of our neighbours and, absent clear UN authorisation, kept us from being complicit in Bush’s criminal adventure in Iraq. They may have made the sort of efforts the Brits did to get their citizens out of Gitmo. And they maybe would have walked away from the FTA if they couldn’t get a better deal than this – actually for better or worse they’d probably have persisited with the multilateral approach to trade policy longer.

    That said, I think that their asylum seeker policy (boo, hiss) and their Timor actions (cheers) would have been similar.

  2. Razor
    December 21st, 2004 at 18:24 | #2

    Keep succking the lemons, John Q (and all other lefties). I’m having my lemons with Corona to celebrate what a good year it has been.

    Cheers

    Merry Christmas

  3. derrida derider
    December 21st, 2004 at 18:29 | #3

    The “unrestrained housing speculation” and the “low interest rates” are not, of course, unrelated.

    While this government has had more than its share of luck, I reckon it’s hard to deny that its combination of union-bashing labour market policy and tight fiscal policy have made it much easier to run low and (much more importantly) stable interest rates. I say that as someone who has opposed both policies.

  4. James Farrell
    December 21st, 2004 at 20:01 | #4

    Union-bashing labour market policy maybe, but no-one has yet explained to my satisfaction how the tight fiscal policy has any impact on the interest rate, except maybe via ‘market sentiment’.

  5. December 21st, 2004 at 20:16 | #5

    Pr Q’s judgement is, as usual, almost spot on. Howard’s government has been steady as she goes for most of the way. Howard’s so-called neo-conservatism actually consolidated a cosmopolitan cultural policy. (Just as Keating’s so called neo-liberalism was enforced to consolidate and entrench an equitable economic policy.)
    I have two large quibbles: Pr Q has left out the two major Howard policies: halving of the CGT rate and the liberation of Timor.

    In terms of domestic policy, it’s biggest single initiative has been the GST, a third-order reform if ever there was one.


    CGT: The CGT was slashed from 48% to 24% which sparked a housing price bubble and consumer spending boom. This may land softly, but it has certainly diverted investment from tradeable to non-tradeables, which is the single worst thing that AUS policy could have encouraged given the recent resurgence in economic importance of sci-tech based productivty.

    On foreign policy, it’s hard to think of a specific issue (except maybe Kyoto and the FTA, which aren’t strictly foreign policy) where Labor under Hawke, Keating or Beazley would have acted much differently.

    TIMOR: The Liberation of Timor was the single greatest achievement of JWH’s reign. The ALP, given its historic cosiness with Jakarta and preference for welfare over warfare, probably would have bungled the Timor crisis, leading to a human rights atrocity, the humiliation of the ADF and the consolidation of militarist control of INDON. History will remember, and thank, JWH for his decisive action in preventing these awful events.
    No offence to Pr Q but all the rest of the Howard retrospectives, either pro- and con-, are hardly fit to wrap tomorrows fish in, being “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; Signifying nothing.”

  6. Uncle Milton
    December 21st, 2004 at 20:18 | #6

    “the GST, a third-order reform if ever there was one.”

    True, but it sure generated a lot of heated debate at the time: one the one hand, from welfare groups, it would be devastating for the poor; on the other hand, from business groups, it would miraculously transform the Australian economy into the Switzerland of the southern hemisphere.

    And then everyone woke up on July 1 2001 and found nothing had changed. All we had done had swapped one set of indirect taxes for another set of indirect taxes.

    But I disagree that Howard has done nothing. He has politically exploited the outsourcing and privatisation wave that has created a little army of contractors who used to be employees and taught them to think of themselves as capitalists rather than workers. That is a profound change.

  7. John Quiggin
    December 21st, 2004 at 20:24 | #7

    Uncle Milton, I can claim to have pointed out the modest significance of the GST well in advance. You may be right on the contractor stuff, and I’ve been planning a post on this for a long time.

    Jack, I implicitly alluded to both the CGT (as a driver of housing speculation) and East Timor (in my judgement, echoed by DD) that Labor would have done the same as Howard.

    DD, I think Labor would have been less enthusiastic about Iraq, but we would have ended up there anyway, possibly during the occupation rather than the invasion.

  8. December 21st, 2004 at 21:23 | #8

    uncle milton – our perception that there are more contractors out there may not match reality.

    Looking at the latest OPEC figures there has been a steady decline of about 4% in self employment since 1996. For the few well educated and well connected that can demand excellent contracting conditions things have never been rosier. But for the average working aussie, Casualisation has been the major change. Sure Canberra may now be full of well paid Consultants (spin doctors) instead of Public Servants these days, but i’d hardly call them aspirational.

  9. December 21st, 2004 at 22:23 | #9

    Today is the longest bloody day of the year.

  10. MichaelH
    December 22nd, 2004 at 00:59 | #10

    I continue to be surprised that people see Australian intervention in ET as some kind of miraculous “liberation” and a personal triumph for JH. The Indonesian forces had their way with ET, then left and told us we could clean up the mess.

    I’m unaware of any signifcant difference between Labor/Liberal policy on ET in the previous 25 years and I don’t imagine there would have been any on this ocassion.

    Australians generally look with some pride on our role, but really, could we have done much less?

    And on JH, I think his greatest achievement has been a personal one. I still vividly remember one his first overseas engagements – I think it was the Pacific Islands Forum(?). He seemed terribly awkward and appeared to have great difficulty engaging with the other leaders. He’s come a long way since then.

  11. observa
    December 22nd, 2004 at 01:40 | #11

    I’d credit Howard with dealing the final blow to old labour on the waterfront who would prefer to wallow in the protectionist ways of the past. Howard has steered the economic ship of state straight and true through the troubled waters of Asian meltdown, drought, SARS and the purported threat from a stormy GST introduction. This third order reform was of course something that Costello could brag about in parliament recently, as having a likely positive impact on equality. After birthday cakes and candles got Hewson’s GST, it was a brave move by Howard and does show that the electorate is amenable to well argued reform and leaps of faith into the unknown.

    The economy has easily handled an Aussie dollar moving between high 40s to 80 cents to the USD with little impact other than the lowest unemployment rate in a generation. Running budget surpluses, low inflation and targetting stable interest rates does seem to be associated with good job data. It does have the tradeoff of RE speculation which I doubt could be pricked earlier by anything less than recessions we have to have. A cautious, steady as she goes Reserve, now has the luxury of lowering interest rates and allowing our $ to sink, after resisting the temptation to knee jerk against rising RE values. This shift could turn around the CAD fairly quickly in the new year.

    Selecting some textile as well as Ansett workers for special treatment for redundancy had to be one of the worst decisions. Real Pandora’s Box stuff.

  12. John Quiggin
    December 22nd, 2004 at 05:51 | #12

    If the GST was third order, the waterfront was fifth-order. A huge expenditure of money and civil strife to transfer a relatively small amount of monopoly rent from the waterside workers to the duopoly owners.

    And even if it had been a success, it would have made our trade problems worse not better.

  13. still working it out
    December 22nd, 2004 at 07:34 | #13

    “army of contractors who used to be employees and taught them to think of themselves as capitalists rather than workers”

    As someone who was on contract for just over three years and works in an IT environment that is 70% contractor as well having the majority of my friends at other workplaces being contractors I have to say that I cannot see where you are coming from with that statement. In my experience it is simply untrue.

    Most contractors I know have found the benefits of contracting to be outweighed by the many downsides such as getting messed around by contracting agencies, difficulties with mortgages and general uncertainty about the future. Almost all the contractors I know would prefer to employed as permanent full timers but are unable to find suitable permanent positions.

  14. December 22nd, 2004 at 08:28 | #14

    I agree – JWH has done next to nothing. In good economic times such as these, doing nothing is seemingly good enough to get any idiot (even him) elected.

    Paul Kelly and other journalists who like to talk up Howard’s electoral longevity are overstating the point. He is certainly no political dynamo.

    Luckiest prime minister ever.

  15. MB
    December 22nd, 2004 at 08:35 | #15

    Would Labor have acted much differently on economic policy than the government? Apart from some (minor) concessions to the unions, and a supposedly “better” deal with the United States, would they have been much different?

  16. Fyodor
    December 22nd, 2004 at 08:39 | #16

    Guy is right: luckiest PM, ever.

  17. Geoff Robinson
    December 22nd, 2004 at 08:51 | #17

    Disposable income trends before after 1996 suggest that if Labor had remained in power low income earners would have been better off. Their freedom would have increased as a result. The shift by Asian-Australians towards Labor since 1996 suggests that Howard has made them feel less secure, their freedom and sense of safety has been reduced.

  18. December 22nd, 2004 at 09:13 | #18

    “when I look at the whole eight or nine years, the thing that strikes me most immediately is how little difference this government has made…On foreign policy, it’s hard to think of a specific issue…where Labor under Hawke, Keating or Beazley would have acted much differently.”

    All of which makes the intensity of much anti-Howard sentiment look rather silly (John at least has a sense of perspective)

  19. Paul Norton
    December 22nd, 2004 at 09:17 | #19

    A Federal Labor government *may* have been more interested in good environmental policy, perhaps more at the level of institutional initiatives such as a Sustainable Development Commissioner and “whole-of-government” approaches to environmental policy than in terms of Hawke/Richardson era nature conservation initiatives. On the other hand it would still have had to contend with the strong residual influence of anti-environmental traditionalists in both the right and soft left of the party, and the continuing influence of the fossil fuel lobby (especially coal), evidenced in the energy policies of State Labor governments which have been reasonably good in other respects.

    Certainly a Federal Labor government would not have been obstructionist (as the Howard government has been) towards the Queensland Labor government’s good initiatives on bushland protection and restructuring of forestry in south-east Queensland. And a Labor government would have had a stronger hand than a Labor opposition to face down the Hansonite fifth column in the Tasmanian government and the forestry unions over Tasmanian forests.

    The other question is whether a Federal Labor Government would have been less enthusiastic than the Coalition has been about punishing, straightening and demonising the unemployed and other welfare recipients under the rubric of “Mutual Obligation” and the like. Recent Howard government initiatives in this area have widened the net of compulsory finger-painting and sandpit games for grown-ups on pain of destitution, to the great vexation both of the unemployed and of Job Network agencies who are frustrated at having to waste time and resources being cops and babysitters for the government rather than doing things which actually help people find work and/or become more employable.

  20. Paul Norton
    December 22nd, 2004 at 09:37 | #20

    Two other issues worth mentioning are Howard’s repsonse to the Port Arthur massacre and his handling of the republic question. Both these issues were able to become political positives for Howard because of Labor errors.

    The Port Arthur massacre was the culmination of a series of tragedies (Hoddle Street, etc.) arising from previously liberal (in the worst sense) gun laws. This, in turn, was largely due to the acceptance – nay, the active promotion – by the Labor Right of the myth that the gun lobby was an immensely powerful and popular electoral force which governments opposed at their peril. This myth had its origins in the NSW Right’s need to explain away its own culpability for the Unsworth Government’s disastrous defeat in the 1988 NSW State election. The long result of all this was that it was left to Howard to do the right thing (and be politically rewarded for it) after Port Arthur.

    As for the republic, it is now standard fare to claim that Howard underhandedly finessed the conduct of the 1998 Constitutional Convention and 1999 referendum to achieve the survival of the monarchy despite popular support for a republic in some form. What this overlooks is that the minimalist/insider republican camp (including many in the ALP) were quite happy to go along with Howard’s conduct of the Constitutional Convention and related processes as long as they thought it helped them to fark over the direct election/outsider republicans. In particular the minimalist/insider republicans were quite pleased to go along with Howard’s insistence that the ConCon come up with a specific model to be put to referendum rather than a more democratic process which allowed the generic issue of a republic to be voted on separately from the question of the preferred republican model, because it was their model that came through at the ConCon. For reasons I have written about elsewhere (at http://www.workers.labor.net.au/50/c_historicalfeature_repub.html), the long result of both Howard’s cunning and the minimalist/insiders’ ineptitude was that the most conservative elements of the Coalition Government were able to manage the republic issue to present themselves convincingly as champions of popular-democratic virtue against elitist vice, and notch up a symbolically significant victory.

  21. December 22nd, 2004 at 09:55 | #21

    Taking up Strephen Kirchner’s point about making the intensity of much anti-Howard sentiment look rather silly, I really want to see some serious research to find out why so many ostensibly sane and reasonable people turn into gibbering maniacs at the sight, sound or mention of John Howard.

    It was much the same with Malcolm Fraser, I always wondered if he would ever be given credit if he did what the critics thought he really ought to do. Then it transpired that he was doing what they wanted most of the time.

  22. Fyodor
    December 22nd, 2004 at 11:30 | #22

    Rafe,

    I won’t claim to any degree of sanity or reasonableness, but nor will I admit to be a gibbering maniac. I do admit to hating Howard, however, for the following reasons:

    1. He’s a narrow-minded mediocrity who’s gotten to the top of the political tree through sheer pig-headed determination and adroit opportunism. If he had more imagination and integrity he would have made a passable auditor.

    2. He’s a man of closely limited vision. His “vision” for Australia is tinged with 1950s sepia and bordered by a white-picket fence guarded by rabid dogs. Economically, his reign had no coherence, other than to prolong the boom created under the Hawke/Keating governments. His foreign policy has likewise been bankrupt of vision: he has no appreciation for the culture of our neighbours and has taken the dangerous view that we don’t need to worry about what’s North of us so long as we continue paying our feudal dues to the sheriff. We don’t have an independent foreign policy.

    3. He’s a grossly illiberal head of the Liberal party. As noted elsewhere, his defining feature is a conservative streak that reeks of paternalist statism and cultural chauvinism. He’s presided over an ever-expanding barrel of middle-class welfare funded by increasing taxes.

    4. His political morality is shameful and a disgrace to our country. Exploiting the plight of refugees for electoral gain and passing the buck to the (politicised) bureaucracy are just two of his more flagrant abuses. Threatening to bomb the neighbours to win electoral points on fighting the “War on Terror” was more of the same.

    Is that enough to start with?

  23. Katz
    December 22nd, 2004 at 11:39 | #23

    Howard’s third resurrection was the Liberals’ last role of the dice. If “Things that Batter” Downer hadn’t revealed himself to be the consummate pratt that he is, then today it’d be “John who?”

    The effects of Howard’s opportunistic subscription to US unilateralism are incalculable. Bush would have invaded Iraq with or without Howard’s support. Indonesia is Australia’s problem. Much depends on the progress of Islamic extremism, which may have been exacerbated by Howard’s policies, but not much. In the meantime, China needs Australian resources and will buy them regardless of Australia’s relations with the US.

    But credit where credit’s due.

    One may debate the significance of tax reform, but Howard is the only Australian prime minister who campaigned on tax reform and won. His impending dismantlement of the industrial relations system also highlights his patience and cunning. These qualities make him a superb political campaigner.

    Howard prepared the ground very carefully and intelligently for this success. This preparation had institutional and cultural facets.

    Howard presided over the professionalisation of the Federal Liberal machine. It is now perhaps the most capable attractor of the marginal vote in the world.

    Howard destroyed the liberal wing of the Liberal Party. The party is no longer Menzian in any meaningful way.

    These institutional changes in the Liberal Party have amplified Howard’s ability to prosper from the most important change he’s made in Australian political culture.

    Howard called this process “feeling relaxed and comfortable”. In operational terms, Howard gave Australians permission not to feel guilty about their narrowness, materialism and willful suspension of disbelief. Marginal voters trusted Howard to lie to them for their own good and to shield them from the conseqences of those lies. Howard has presented Australians with a Hobbesian bargain. Conform to our expectations of you and we will be your benign Leviathan.

    But things will go very bad when all this power is wielded by any of Howard’s less capable successors.

  24. Alan
    December 22nd, 2004 at 11:47 | #24

    He brings out the worst in us — often instinctvely but also tactically.

    1. Tampa / children overboard

    2. Iraq / Guantanamo

    3. “I sympathise fundamentally with those Australians who are insulted when told we have a racist and bigoted past” by jingo.

    4. An anachronistic sense of nationhood. Bradman deified – Republic debate manipulated.

    5. CGT halving & negative gearing retention creating the housing bubble and making (enough of) us captive to interest rate scare tactics.

    6. Asian disengagement (re-engaged kicking and screaming by inevitable circumstance)

    7. Kyoto

    8. “Deputy sheriff”, “pre-emptive strike”.

    9. Let other nations criticise us – we won’t be swayed. (sub-text: at our worst, we’re still better than them, by jingo)

    10. Inequitable education funding.

    11. A chump re the US – FTA, Abrams tanks. A patsy for real strength, be it Bush or Murdoch. A conduit for power aggregation. As his brother once observed, too close to the big end of town. A yank in ocker clothing, a snob in yobbo clothing.

    12. Took insulation by ministerial staff to new depths — hence that open letter from all the notables about honesty and accountability during the last election campaign. (I must admit this is a worldwide cross-party problem, but JWH would be the last to tackle it).

    13. Media. Anti-ABC bollocks. Moves to accommodate the Packer / Murdoch media duopoly.

    Good stuff –

    1. Gun control (but Port Arthur fell into his lap)

    2. Stevedoring microeconomics (if he follows through and does something about the resulting duopoly)

  25. Alan
    December 22nd, 2004 at 12:01 | #25

    Oh yeah, and his self-protective plea for the 3rd-order virtue of politeness — in the face of all his 1st-order crimes and 2nd-order misdemeanours.

    He’s full of 3rd-order virtues.

  26. Paul Norton
    December 22nd, 2004 at 12:01 | #26

    Whilst we’re coming up with negatives, there’s the erosion of democratic rights through “anti-terror” laws, and Tony Abbott’s hole-and-corner try-ons to restrict abortion access on the sly.

  27. stephen
    December 22nd, 2004 at 12:44 | #27

    Fyodor – unkind to auditors!!

  28. Warbo
    December 22nd, 2004 at 12:52 | #28

    “He’s full of 3rd-order virtues”

    That, Alan, is a beautiful way of putting it.

  29. stephen
    December 22nd, 2004 at 12:55 | #29

    on a more serious note, I’d add to the list the erosion of competition in some of the more critical sectors of the economy. Examples: Qantas now has a dominant position, and a monopoly on some routes, due entirely to government inaction (refusal to allow a foreign investor in Ansett prior to collapse, letting Qantas tie up Sydney airport landing rights and gates during the collapse, nothing much to encourage airline competition since). Telstra’s position vis a vis competitors has been strengthened, including under the disguise of better service to the bush, and its accountability to shareholders weakened due to the untenable half-privatised model (it is less accountable to either the government or the private shareholders because it can play one group off against the other).

    there are other examples out there. the australian economy has been allowed to bask in the international sunshine and grow lazy – and if clouds come over, then we will all suffer. sorry to those who think the Howard government has a great economic record, but the reality is that in our new open, globally trading, floating currency world, a government does not do much to either help or hinder the economy through its own spending or saving policies (unless it does something extraordinarily incompetent). however, it can make the economy more or less competitive at the margin through its regulatory policies.

  30. ray
    December 22nd, 2004 at 13:37 | #30

    I almost choked on my dinner when I heard Downer’s comments last night regarding how Howard would be remembered. The winners have been grinning way too much for my liking, but that’s the way things are I guess.

    I think not enough credit has been given to the previous Labor governments and it’s important to keep in mind how policy was used at that time, particularly the emphasis on our current account deficit. At the end of the 80′s the CAD was viewed as a major problem (Prof Pitchford and a few others aside) and high interest rates were the best way to fix this up. It turned out that all that happened was we got the scorched earth which provided the ground zero for what we have now. We have the same issue now and I can remember quite vividly how the Liberals made noises about what was happening and the how this reflected poorly on the Government, but now we can’t pin the same thing on the present incumbents.

    For the average person, taxation reform has been a crock really, whose life has been truly made better by it (apart from those who live on the outcomes of accounting standards) ? The best move the Government made was the first home owners grant, if you had to pick one measure that saved the Government’s bacon, that coupled with halving CGT has the biggest impact. It gave us the housing boom/bubble which we may or may not have needed and more than likely that has helped them get re-elected, smart politics yes, of long-term benefit to the economy, we’ll get back to you on that.

    It’s no surprise that Governments all over the G20 world are getting re-elected, things are generally okay, the key is not to get too excited about what our Government has done.

    Finally, I find the fact that only religious people, in particular Christians, seem to have a mortgage on morality, is pretty nauseating. These same Christians gave us a white Australia policy, treated post-WW2 migrants like something sub-human and now seem to struggle with the fact that you can’t really be narrowminded anymore, but Howard seems determined to try and give them an out.

    I’m also very upset that elites can only be left-wingers, how can someone called Sir David Flint get away with that stuff.

    regards

    Ray

  31. Fyodor
    December 22nd, 2004 at 14:04 | #31

    Yeah, sorry Stephen. That was a little unkind to auditors, of which there are many decent individuals. I can hear the rattling of abaci as I type!

  32. December 22nd, 2004 at 15:35 | #32

    John Quiggin at December 21, 2004 08:24 PM

    the ALP would have done the same

    I thought this discussion was about factual, not counterfactual. I would have won Tatts too, given enough chances.
    The ALP had 13 years to fix Timor, and went backwards (ie the INDON-AUS security pact.) Keating is still unrepentant in his opposition to the INTERFET mission. So Pr Q’s speculation is groundless and improbable.
    History awards no credits for wannabes only for the doers. Howard did it, and this will forever stick in the craw of the Left. I suggest its time to own up to this fact rather than remain in denial.
    Fyodor at December 22, 2004 11:30 AM prattles on at some length about Howards alleged illiberality without mentioning the increase in NESB immigration under Howard. THis is hardly fair, but then fair & reasonable is not what we expect from Fyodor’s rhetorical style.
    The fact is that Howard-haters supported an idiotic and counterproductive illiberal multi-culti, po-mo pee-cee policies for a generation 1974-1996. Tampa was illiberal and disgraceful alright, but only blow-back for the rorts and follies of the progressive-liberal Left.
    The Wets had it coming to them, its a pity that innocent refugees took the full force of the blow.

  33. DM
    December 22nd, 2004 at 15:40 | #33

    The economy has easily handled an Aussie dollar moving between high 40s to 80 cents to the USD with little impact…

    Perhaps, but as an exporter of high technology to the U.S. I can assure you that 2004 has been a very tough year. The current account deficit is running at 6.5% of GDP but the Aussie dollar is at 8 year highs. Can you say “Banana Republic”?

    Who’d be an exporter? I feeling like giving up and importing plasma screens instead. Gerry Harvey must be grinning from ear to ear.

    As for Howard and Costello’s economic reform legacy, I would volunteer the halving of the CGT rate, the reduction in company tax to 30% and doing absolutely bugger all about personal income tax rates as their biggest mistakes. Kohler’s piece after the May budget is a must read: Treasurer makes a big mess worse

  34. Fyodor
    December 22nd, 2004 at 16:23 | #34

    Jack,

    How do you calculate the ALP had “13 years” to fix the ET problem, given it began with Whitlam, continued under Fraser (a Liberal government, I believe, of which young Johnny Rotten was a member) and was judiciously ignored by Howard until he had to react?

    You continue to make the critical mistake of attributing the independence of ET to action by the Howard government, when Indonesia willingly gave up sovereignty over the territory. UN troops, led by Australia, supervised the transition to independence, they did not enable the independence of ET.

    You accuse me of prattling at length [Pot, meet kettle!], only to accuse me of not mentioning NESB immigration. Why should I? It wasn’t part of the topic, and I was stipulating why I hate Howard. However, since YOU raised it, Howard did no more or less for NESB immigration than the Hawke/Keating governments, so it’s a non-issue.

    The following line shows you at your diversionary best: “…Howard-haters supported an idiotic and counterproductive illiberal multi-culti, po-mo pee-cee policies for a generation 1974-1996.” Did they? How do you know? What was so illiberal about the immigration policy? Why was it idiotic and counterproductive? Your “multi-culti, po-mo pee-cee” strawman needs more work.

    And this:

    “The Wets had it coming to them, its a pity that innocent refugees took the full force of the blow.”

    What, you’re suggesting the Howard government’s treatment of the Tampa was a form of revenge on the “Wets”? Bulldust. It was a disgraceful and opportunistic manipulation of base xenophobia for electoral gain. Hardly a great moment in liberalism. Rather the opposite: a permanent stain on Howard’s character.

  35. tim g
    December 22nd, 2004 at 22:07 | #35

    I would just make what seems to me an obvious point – it’s actually a bit soon for retrospectives, because we don’t yet know the end of the story; the guy’s still securely in the saddle, and looks fitter than Lleyton Hewitt – it’s not a pleasant thought, but we might not yet be at the halfway mark of the Howard era.

    All the would-be hagiographers might stop to consider that if you were to write an account of the Titanic’s journey, and conclude it just before the iceberg intervened, it would read like the story of a successful and uneventful maiden voyage.

  36. December 22nd, 2004 at 23:38 | #36

    Fyodor at December 22, 2004 04:23 PM continues to present a juicy target for historical correctors and satirists alike:

    You continue to make the critical mistake of attributing the independence of ET to action by the Howard government, when Indonesia willingly gave up sovereignty over the territory.

    I have one word for Fyodor: Korpassus. The fact that Fyodor can refer to “Indonesia” as if it was a coherent state with sovereign powers (IMF, Rubin, the Wiranto show) shows how patheticly ignorant he is of the real political state of our northern regions during this critical time. In fact a plausible case can be made for reversing the causal attribution: the Howard-led INTERFET missions forced INDONs national political re-organisation towards coherence.

    What was so illiberal about the immigration policy? Why was it idiotic and counterproductive?

    There is nothing at all illiberal with AUS’s NESB immigration policy in the post-Whitlam era, at least until the late seventies. Then the Left started to shift from Old Left class to New Left ethnic policies. There is everything illiberal with Balkan cultural policies – existence proof: the Balkans. This is germane to any discussion of the liberality of the Howard’s cultural policy (Fyodor: meet bleeding obvious)
    Dont pretend that the parties that are the strongest enemies of tribalist politics are the most illiberal. That ideological conjuring trick has been tried numerous times and is looking a little tired and threadbare.
    Only a very stupid person could fail to see that the New Left settlement policy (multiculturalism), which pretends to foster tolerance, has actually wound up creating division and intolerance amongst ethnics and aggravation amongst natives ie. counterproductive to liberalism. Fyodor is not stupid, although I grant he does a very passable imititation of this state in his endless quest to put the glass to his blind eye.

    What, you’re suggesting the Howard government’s treatment of the Tampa was a form of revenge on the “Wets”? Bulldust.

    Fyodor’s characterisation manages to be obtuse and vulgar, which is par for his course.
    Its not Howard, its the voters, stupid! I think “blowback” is the term du jour for this kind of effect. They have been calling the shots on this issue, since Keatings ignominious fall. The bulk of normal political AUS is fed up to the back teeth with progressive-liberals, who pretend to foster civic development and instead sabotage it to professional profit. eg Theophanous et al. The massive Hansonite reaction should have made voter displeasure with this kind of rorting and racketeering obvious to all sentient beings but apparently it will take two, three, many Howard terms in office to hammer the point home.
    Howard’ Tampa diversion did nothing more than set the liberal ship of state back on an conservative even keel, after a bunch of New Leftists suborned the chain of command. He took some, admittedly, unpleasant actions below decks, pour encourage l’autres. But the good Howard effected in Timor outweighs the venal Tampa evils by about three orders of magnitude. The fact that progressiv-liberals would rather die than acknowledge this shows how Howard-hatred has utterly warped their perspective on this score.
    This has ironic political effects. The more the progressive-liberals moan over Howard, and dig their heels in over his policy, the more likely that the voters will continue to punish the progressive-liberals with…more terms of Howard. This is truly the punishment fitting the crime.
    911 showed that the New Left playtime is over. Here are the stark choices: Either we create a settlement policy based on individual citizen loyalty to the state, or we return to tribalism and turf wars. If progressive-liberals are serious about their political ideology they will favour the former. If they are in it for the professional perks, they they will favour the latter. I will watch, with amused interest, their discomfort as they agonise over which prong of this ideological fork they decide to impale themselves on.

  37. December 23rd, 2004 at 00:22 | #37

    Gun control and Timor are probably the only two significant things the Howard government has done right. The rest has either been bungled or downright wrong.

    Cant believe you missed the gun control issue PQ.

  38. MichaelH
    December 23rd, 2004 at 00:33 | #38

    Is it just me, or do others have trouble getting their heads around Jack’s interesting version of events in East Timor. I just can’t remember JH riding his white horse through the streets of Dili. Maybe I missed the news that night.

    What I can remember, is JH (must have been another one) telling us how impossible it was to do anything about the situation in ET. At least until the US finally brought it’s diplomatic weight into the issue resulting in Indonesia acquiesing to the idea of a UN force in ET.

    If Jack’s version more closely resembles reality than my memory credits it, I just wonder why JH’s compassion and concern for ET didn’t find expression in 1996, ’97 or ’98?

  39. December 23rd, 2004 at 00:40 | #39

    Umm people -

    if u want to define john howard – you just have to look up Margaret Thatcher in the encyclopedia.

    Not sure Howard will end the same way – but up till now its been a life copied word for word.

    Who would have thought britain would have matured to Labour while little old Australia suffered the wrath that is economic liberalism crossed with social conservatism.

  40. December 23rd, 2004 at 00:41 | #40

    oh and don’t forget agrarian socialism.

  41. still working it out
    December 23rd, 2004 at 07:00 | #41

    Jack,

    I agree with you on ET. I do not think labour would have done anything.

    But this constant whinging about multi-culturalism from right wingers in general is getting bizarre. Are you really uncomfortable with non-whites or something? Having lived in western Sydney for most of my life, constantly surrounded by every possible nationality and language you could imagine I am going to declare Multi-Culturalism a raving success.

    The fact that people from so many diverse backgrounds are able to live together so peacefully and productively is a triumph of the Australian values of tolerance and “a fair go”, not the beginning of the end of Australian identity.

  42. Fyodor
    December 23rd, 2004 at 08:05 | #42

    Jack,

    You got ET wrong, again. Your one word answer, Korpassus (sic), means precisely Jack. Kopassus [please remember that spelling, it stands for Komando Pasukan Khusus] is an arm of the Indonesian army and thus its sovereign government. The sovereign government of Indonesia invited UN troops into ET. It’s time for you to stop pushing your hackneyed line that it was all Howard’s Way.

    You’ve offered no explanation for your bizarre statement that our immigration policy was “illiberal” in the 1970s and 1980s. You’ve even gone further and called it “Balkan”, which is baffling to the rest of us with even a passing knowledge of history and geography.

    There’d plenty of punters out there who would say that our immigration policy of the 1970s and 1980s was too liberal. For you to argue it was illiberal is simply breathtaking in its audacious stupidity. You clearly don’t understand liberalism.

    I agree with “still working it out” on multiculturalism – it has been a great success, and a triumph of liberalism. The fact that it riles you so much is just a bonus for me.

    Incidentally, I’m still waiting on your response in the “the r-word” thread.

  43. Paul Norton
    December 23rd, 2004 at 09:24 | #43

    In response to Jack’s comments on multiculturalism, I offer an impression rather than an argument, based on having lived for significant periods in the multi-ethnic northern and inner suburbs of Melbourne (1960s and 1970s), the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural inner south-west of Sydney (1980s), and (relatively) whitebread south-east Queensland since 1988. My impression over this period has been that the resentment of non-Anglo “tribes” is far stronger where the tribes *don’t* live (SEQ, especially outer suburban and regional SEQ) than where they do. I recall to this day a forum on population policy in Brisbane in 1999, where a One Nation member who had come in from the Lockyer Valley for the event got up and made an anguished speech about how terrible it was when he was in Marrickville and couldn’t see a single “Australian” face. No such sentiment was ever expressed by Anglo *residents* of Marrickville when I lived there in 1987-88.

    This impression finds some resonance in election results. The anti-Keating swings in 1996 were much greater in blue-collar suburban and regional SEQ than in blue-collar areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Similarly, One Nation was (and its remnants remain) strongest in suburban and regional SEQ. The party was an electoral non-event in Melbourne.

    There is another nuance of this discussion which deserves teasing out. In substantive terms, much more of the “pee-cee multi-culti” agenda was implemented under Whitlam and Hawke (and for that matter Fraser) than under Keating. It was Hawke, not Keating, who gave us HREOC, the queer-friendly AIDS strategy, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equal Oppportunity Act – and Hawke won every election he contested whilst overseeing these reforms, notably in 1987 against the cultural conservative hero Howard. It is, to say the least, a contestable reading of history to suggest that Keating’s defeat in 1996, rather than Hawke’s string of victories, is the true reflection of majority public sentiment on this agenda.

    This segues onto another matter which has occupied my mind this morning: why do Labor people accord Keating so much greater homage than Hawke in their party’s hagiography?

  44. Paul Norton
    December 23rd, 2004 at 09:35 | #44

    Another benefit of having grown up in Melbourne is that the exchanges between Jack and Fyodor remind me pleasantly of Jack Dyer and Lou Richards on World of Sport on Sunday afternoons in the 70s and early 80s.

  45. Fyodor
    December 23rd, 2004 at 09:48 | #45

    Paul,

    Good comments on Hawkie and multiculturalism, but I’m really hoping I’m not Lou Richards in your analogy!

  46. Paul Norton
    December 23rd, 2004 at 11:03 | #46

    “Howard was right to tighten up gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre and, while it was popular, it took some courage to override the resistance of the gun lobby on this one.”

    John, just a question of clarification. In what sense do you use the word “courage”? In this instance this could mean physical courage in terms of facing up to a lobby which includes some seriously disturbed and extreme elements, or political courage in terms of taking on a constituency which has certain characteristics in common with the loggers and the right-to-lifers, i.e. whilst not terribly popular in the community at large, it is willing to use such pockets of support as it has in a punitive and unrestrained way against politicians and governments which offend it.

    On this note, I spent last weekend in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, stopping for two nights at Pomona and visiting Kin Kin and Boreen Point. This region has a community newspaper called Hinterland Voice which attracts a range of weird and wacky contributions. The most recent edition contains two articles claiming that the Australian Constitution was invalidated by Australia’s signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and that therefore all Australian governments and all laws passed by them since that date have been illegal. One of these articles claims that there is a conspiracy by Australian and British politicians to prevent the public becoming aware of this fact, amongst other things citing alleged discrepancies in the official statistics for firearms confiscated and/or licensed in the wake of the Port Arthur tragegy, as evidence of such a conspiracy. The author of the article claims to have organised a small guerilla militia to resist the conspiracy in the (unspecified) hinterland village where he lives, and to have learned that every small to medium-sized town in Australia has such a secret militia. QED “seriously disturbed and extreme elements”.

  47. tim g
    December 23rd, 2004 at 11:26 | #47

    Why do Labor people accord Keating so much greater homage than Hawke in their party’s hagiography?

    Yes, an intriguing question. And it’s not just Keating – Chifley and Whitlam are both routinely placed on a higher pedestal than Hawke. It seems that to qualify for a plinth in the Labor pantheon you have to have at least one overwhelming electoral defeat in your CV – a scourging to earn your eternal reward. (Curtin is an interesting exception, although you could argue that dying in office is at least equivalent to an election loss, and perhaps even slightly worse.)

    Perhaps it’s a result of the mentality of a party that has spent the great majority of its life in opposition; unaccustomed to success, it regards it with suspicion and finds comfort in quasi-romantic notions of heroic loss.

    It makes for an interesting contrast with the Libs, who tend to turn on even the most successful leaders the moment they leave office (and, in some cases, before, ie Fraser). BA Santamamria used to claim that even Menzies, in his later years, felt so disrespected by the party he founded that he became a DLP voter. But that’s a whole other discussion.

  48. December 23rd, 2004 at 11:43 | #48

    Are we all cosy with the idea that the ALP would have gone into Iraq?

    If so, I am moving to New Zealand.

    And I am a bit surprised that ALP folk have not come out smiting.

    To me, Iraq is an utterly defining moment. GST, Tampa, waterfront blah blah – oh, and incidentally, invading someone else’s country, pissing on our heritage and the international legal system as we went. It is a quantum leap.,

  49. Malatesta
    December 23rd, 2004 at 15:19 | #49

    Good and bad.
    Would he put his (presumed) popularity to the test, by seeking some sort of public acclamation? Of course not. Putting it another way, would there be weeping throngs in the streets if he had to abandon his ambitions, for, say, a health problem?
    Paul Kelly and other admirers talk him up – what else are they going to do? If Kelly had the interests of the country in mind, he would keep enthusing about Howard, in the hope the successor(s) would put an end to it, by stepping forward. If they let Howard glide into his 11th year, the Libs will be creating a heap of trouble for themselves. Hee-yuh-huh-huh. Hee-YUH-huh-huh. Hee-YUH-HUH-HUH-huh-huh. He’s there by his own rat cunning, and the same combination of powerful forces that kept Bush 43 in the job.

  50. tim g
    December 23rd, 2004 at 15:20 | #50

    Are we all cosy with the idea that the ALP would have gone into Iraq?

    Not cosy, exactly, but I think it’s a pretty safe assumption. Historically, the right-wing of the ALP is more pro-American than the Coalition, and in government the right runs foreign policy. You only need to think back to the days of the Hawke government, and the way it responded to US unilateral action in the 80s – most notably, the invasion of Grenada and the bombing of Tripoli. In each case the left-wing of the party gnashed their teeth, and no doubt there were some willing exchanges in Cabinet. But Hawke and Hayden were always able to finesse a position that Washington was able to interpret as support.

    With Beazley as PM, it may well be that our position would have been more nuanced – more emphasis on taking the Security Council path, less parroting of the neo-conservative line. And I like to think that Beazley would have been more up-front with the Australian people regarding the real consequences of joining the initial deployment, instead of the craven artifice that Howard used – wishful thinking perhaps. In any event, I think the result would have been the same; at the very least, the ships would have stayed in the gulf. Perhaps the best indicator of all is the position of Beazley’s old chum Tony Blair – he would have provided valuable cover for Beazley if the need had arised.

    Of course, since we’re really talking about parallel universes here, perhaps Beazley isn’t the PM. Perhaps it’s Anthony Albanese. Or Peter Garrett. Or Delta Goodrem. Hopefully in all these alernative realities I’m richer, taller and drive a better car.

  51. December 23rd, 2004 at 19:42 | #51

    jquiggin at December 21, 2004 05:22 PM airbrushs out John Howards role in the liberation of East Timor:

    On East Timor, Howard pursued the path of least resistance…[assorted banalities and speculations X 3]…When Suharto fell, and the Indonesians pulled out of ET, Howard had no alternative, given our long and shameful involvement in the issue, but to act as he did.

    No. The “path of least resistance” would have been to do absoulutely nothing and let the INDONs & E.TIMORs sort it out amongst themselves. This was the advice of the most influential sections of DFAT (does the phrase “Jakarta Lobby” ring any bells?).
    JWH chose a risky, but responsible, path of putting AUS troops into harms way, and then taking E TIMOR in as an AUS military protectorate. Anyone who thinks that INTERFET was going to be a piece of cake is being less than candid about the potential for catastrophic flare ups in these situations (Kosovo is a case in point.).
    This potential was evident to any sentient being paying attention to TIMOR at the time. There were two divisions of TNI on the W TIMOR border, the INDON general staff threatening coups in Jakarta, Wiranto going nuts on TV, Kopassus becoming a loose cannon. If Pr Q thinks that this is a “least resistance” path then I’d hate to see his idea of a rocky one.
    I can bat this point to and fro for decades but no one is going to be the wiser if Pr Q is going to use loaded counterfactuals. Two can play at this game eg “Howard saved AUS from a war with INDON because without a sucessful INTERFET the TNI would have staged a coup and commenced a confrontation with AUS” This is certainly a more plausible hypothesis than “least resistance INTERFET” line. It has the merit of actually going through the formality of actually happening (1965) before! But try selling it to a died in the wool Howard-hater.
    Its obvious, from the increasingly strained and implausible constructions that progressive-liberals (eg Fyodor, Pr Q) are placing on events, that they are in some kind of deep pyschological denial over the fact that JWH played a decisive role in the sucessful liberation of ETIMOR. How could this black-hearted reactionary do something so progressive?
    It. Doesn’t. Compute.
    They will just have to grow up and accept that History does not follow their, or any one elses, morality play script. Conservative-liberals often act to effect progressive-liberal change (eg Bismark.) Its tough luck for those ideological cheerleaders committed to blowing rasberries at partisan bogeymen, but there it is.
    I hate to be crude but there needs to be a credible referee. So I will leave the last and decisive word to a Ramos Horta, a man whose ethical and political qualifications no-one on this blog has the right to challenge. Horta, a Nobel prize winning progressive-liberal activist, was quite clear in giving great credit to Howard for liberating ETIMOR.

    [Horta] said it was thanks to Prime Minister John Howard that the United Nations intervention had succeeded, saving thousands of lives.

    So who are you going to believe:
    the progressive activist who has dedicated his life (literally) to saving E TIMOR
    the progressive commentators who seem unhinged in regard to Howard’s military policies.
    One does not have to be Sigmund Freud to suspect that the irony of Howard’s Historical actions speaking louder than his detractors ideological words may be a little too bitter for some tastes.

  52. Peter F
    December 23rd, 2004 at 21:32 | #52

    Re the lesser status of Hawke cfd. Whitlam, Keating, Chifley among Labor enthusiasts:
    Labor Party membership is full of romantics, for whom the touchstones are symbolic issues. My memory goes back far enough to when Whitlam was regarded with great suspicion (if not hostility) because he was seen as a potential back-slider on the Calwell-Cairns position on Vietnam – absolute and prompt withdrawl of troops. Whitlam’s Labor hero status is overwhelmingly a function of the dismissal.
    The problem for Hawke’s standing with Labor people (Party members and active supporters) is that the sorts of measures he (aided and abetted by Keating, Button, Dawkins et.al.) felt compelled to take, were at odds with what a large proportion of the Labor rank and file wanted. Issues like privatisation, media policy and uranium mining (remember Peter Garrett as a Nuclear Disarmament Party candidate narrowly missed a Senate seat in 1984) caused massive disaffection in the ALP. While Hawke kept winning, dissent was muted because enough success-starved Labor supporters kept hanging on to the bandwagon.
    However, when Hawke’s magic was seen to have expired, Keating eased up on the “reforms” and emphasised the symbolic issues like the republic, Mabo, even the anti-GST campaign and others, which struck a chord with Labor supporters; in doing so he antagonised a crucial proportion of the electorate. How much of Keating’s post-1991 emphasis was conviction, and how much was his playing the few cards he had left, is debatable. What is certain is that the growing distance between Labor partisans and the electorate widened the 1996 margin of defeat, just as assuredly as the fact that Keating was the only leader who could have pulled off the victory in 1993. If Keating hadn’t won the leadership, and then subtly changed direction, it’s a fair bet that he would be a greater pariah than Hawke, as he would have been seen exclusively as the architect of the economic “reforms” to which a majority of Labor people were resistant.
    The reluctant/embarrassed ownership by Labor people (including many contemporary Federal MPs) of the Hawke-Keating era economic changes, has made it almost impossible for the post-Keating ALP to develop a plausible story about Labor’s role in the success of the contemporary Oz economy.

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