Lies and more lies

The news of yet another broken promise from the Howard government is notable only for the degree of inflation we’ve seen in these things.

Asked in September last year if the Howard Government was giving a “cast iron” commitment that bills would be rebatable at $300 or $700 after the election, Mr Abbott replied: “That is an absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment.”

It’s hard to see how you could get more emphatic than that, and while the government as a whole has long since lost credibility, Abbott had something of a reputation as a straight-talker[1].

Most politicians lie occasionally and nearly all governments break (or fail to fulfil) some promises, but the Howard government goes well beyond anything in Australian experience. Whatever successes he may achieve, the debasement of the coinage of public honesty is something Howard will never live down.

The result of all this is, I think, a government that can hold on to office as long as it keeps on bringing home the economic bacon, but one that will never earn really strong public support and will leave a poisoned legacy for the Liberal Party in the long run.

fn1. Of course, breaking the promise was not his idea, but if he’d been willing to put his job on the line he could no doubt have faced Costello down.

36 thoughts on “Lies and more lies

  1. “Mr Howard yesterday admitted the cost estimates were wrong because the scheme “turned out to be very popular”. ”

    How stupid is Howard? Is he stupid because he thinks that such a scheme would be unpopular and thus profitable, or stupid for thinking we would buy such an excuse? Personally, I’d go the latter.

  2. Anybody who is naive enough to believe any of John Howard’s promises deserves to be disillusioned.

    John Howard has been economical with the truth since he came to prominence in public life in 1977. It is now 2005. I mean, really, next thing you know, someone will discover that the Easter Bunny does not exist.

  3. Nicely put Kieran.

    So we can’t “afford” a Medicare safety net, but we can presumably afford income tax cuts? How does that compute?

  4. I’m not so much distressed that Howard and the Liberal Party will do this kind of a thing. What I’m distressed by is that the Australian people allow this kind of thing—three times already! When oh when will we learn our lesson?

  5. Howard has lied without electoral consequence for almost a decade.

    In this great democracy of ours the voters have weighed honesty against flattery of their philistinism.

    No guesses which one is heavier.

    Howard can’t be beaten because Australians refuse to confront their own insecurities.

  6. Is this one of those BLACK HOLES, that the ALP would be screaming about, if they had won govt.?

  7. Howard keeps winning because Australian’s dont really believe Labor would be much better, coupled with the fact we collectively believe Labor is the only viable alternative. We will keep being screwed by lying politicians, for another decade and another and another, for as long as we keep falling into this trap.

  8. MickM said: Is this one of those BLACK HOLES, that the ALP would be screaming about, if they had won govt.?

    No, mate. Labor’s policy was that the safety net was bad policy and would be abolished. From memory, the line was that you didn’t need a safety net unless you were doing a high wire act.

  9. On broken promises: “By 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty.”

    The most disgaceful prime ministerial utterance in Australian history.

  10. No wait:

    “I don’t want these fucking Vietnamese Balts coming to this country with their hatreds…”

    – Gough Whitlam gives an old fashioned Labor Mongolian Octopus welcome to war-traumatised boat people and their children.

  11. Nice tries CL, but Howard has thoroughly trumped Gough in the refugee stakes, both in word and deed. And given your own support for Howard on this topic, I’m puzzled to work out how you find Whitlam’s early anticipation of the view that “we will decide who comes here and under what circumstances” to be disgraceful.

    While Hawke was silly to make an unequivocal promise that couldn’t be delivered in full, his government did in fact improve the welfare system in ways that substantially reduced child poverty.

  12. From the evidence of the special pleading of some of the above posts, I guess many Australians prefer to squat in Shitters’ Ditch chucking crap at each other rather then find a way of climbing out.

    We live in a democracy. The choice of where we squat is entirely our own.

  13. Sitting around and telling lies is a great Australian past time. The media overates honesty as an election issue.

    People aren’t worried unless it affects them in a major way.

    Remember when Qld Labour was going to be in big trouble because of electoral rorting within the party? They didn’t suffer at the ballot box because no one really cared.

    It’s the same with any political promise (Howard or otherwise). Unless people think they have a lot to lose out of it, they don’t care.

  14. John Quiggin comment #14 16/4/2005 @ 6:55 am trots out his Gough-loving, Howard-hating blinkers and it is not a good look.

    Howard has thoroughly trumped Gough in the refugee stakes, both in word and deed.

    I yield to no one in my admiration for Gough’s social policies, but his foreign policies were far inferior to Howards in both moral and political terms. Gough allowed his individual (ideologically bigoted) view against a particular class of persons (anti-communist Vietnamese boat people) and preemptively turned it into institutional policy. Howard, by favourable contrast, was merely vigourously asserting the national sovereigns power to process unauthorised aliens following properly validated procedure in accordance with democratic preferences.
    Gough was a supporter of the INDON takeover of ETIMOR. Howard ended this unlawful occupation. Gough blanket denied boat people whose refugee status was much clearer than the recent waves of secondary destined assylum seekers. Howard at least processed, in a rigourous way, assylum seekers. Those whose qualifications stood up were eventually granted assylum in some acceptable location.
    The proof of the pudding is in the data. I’ll wager Howard’s utilitarian immigration program allowed a larger rise in the proportion of Asian migrants than occurred under Gough. Ditto Howard’s humanitarian refugee program allowed in a higher ratio of Islamic persons than the quota of anti-communists allowed in by Gough.
    Is Pr Q on for that bet?

  15. CL,

    Except that what Hawke actually said – and this is a matter of record – is “By 1990, no Australian child need live in poverty”.

    In the following years, Labour did significantly increase benefits to poor families.

    If soem families chose to spend that money on booze and smokes or failed tgo claim the benefits to which they were entitled, that’s hardly Hawke’s fault.

    Whitlam’s comments while detestable weren’t a lie – they were an honest statement of paranoid xenophobia.

  16. < >

    Umm, Jack, Gough was the person who finally ended the White Australia policy.

    The policy which the Liberal Party defended for about the first decade of John Howard’s memebership.

  17. All western countries supported Indonesia, re East Timor, as the Fretlin rebels at the time, declared themselves to be communists.Howard did not free East Timor, Indonesia did let them have a referendum and if I remember correctly during the invasion of East Timor in 1975 the Whitlam Govt. was being held to ransom in the Senate by the opposition of the Lib/Country Parties.
    How does Dr Glasson feel now,they(AMA)supported the safety net (gave the medical profession the ability to charge what they liked) and said that the ALP’s health policy was unaffordable.Pell also condemned the ALP’s ED policies in favour of the Howard policy.

  18. Ian: appalling casuistry. I think all politicians are liars. Especially when it comes to health, truth-telling is virtually impossible. Think also of Medicare Gold. It was found to be an unsustainable mess but Labor didn’t acknowledge that – how could they? – so they went ahead with it anyway. They were lying as well.

  19. Of course politicians lie.

    Hell, when Abbott says there’ll be “no further changes” to the safety net he’s lying.


    Because eventually the thresholds will need to be adjusted, if only for inflation.

  20. Comment # 20 by Ian Gould — 16/4/2005 @ 10:21 am displays remarkable ignorance about AUS’s not so distant political history:

    Gough was the person who finally ended the White Australia policy.

    No. The LIB parties settlement policy in the 1960s was the best AUS ever had. The WAP was ended by Holt in 1967, not Gough in 1972. The policy was already being diluted in 1958 by the father of the current foreign minister.

    The revised Migration Act of 1958 introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test…and avoided references to questions of race. Indeed, it was in this context that the Minister for Immigration, Sir Alexander Downer, [!] stated that ‘distinguished and highly qualified Asians’ might immigrate.

    Couldnt have put it better myself. The Minister of Immigration Hubert Opperman, made the original, and still best, race-neutral migration policy statement.

    After a review of the non-European policy in March 1966, Immigration Minister Hubert Opperman announced applications for migration would be accepted from…people [of all races] on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia.

    This is a good liberal policy but unfortunately the Wets had to run their own ideological and institutional agenda and discredit the general idea of a more open migratory system. Howard has brought alien settlement policy back to sanity and decency, and away from the twin evils of Hansonit nativist isolationism and Theophanoid multiculturalist seperatism.

    The policy which the Liberal Party defended for about the first decade of John Howard’s memebership.

  21. JQ, howard has not debased the system. It was like that already. That’s the corrupting effect of representative democracy as an institution, that only clears briefly in the wake of some major catastrophe like a World War. That sort of honesty was one of Hitler’s distinguishing characteristics – he said what he was going to do, and did his damned best to do it. All you are remarking on that’s new (yet ever old) is the individual dilemma that Tony Abbott faced on this occasion.

    And no, taking matters into our own hands and not letting the bastards get away with it doesn’t work, except in the brief sense noted above. All that happens is that the new broom becomes old, Democrats become bastards here just as much as the Instutional Revolutionary Party did in Mexico and so on. That is why it is better to have a government that is a mix of elements, Bagehot fashion, rather than a straightforward attempt at democracy. See the remarks I’m going to make later, on the preferential voting thread (not posted yet).

  22. The following comment is so thoroughly in my own self-interest that I barely need point it out, but that does not make my comment any less true:

    If the electorate hadn’t decided to give John Howard control of the Senate, he wouldn’t have been able to break this promise with such total ease. Having control of the Senate means he can even more easily get away with saying one thing and doing the opposite – even on matters like this that require amendments to the law. Given this is what people voted for (even if it was very narrowly), one could assume that the majority aren’t that interested in having at least some protection against breaching promises.

    Which does raise the fact that everyone (myself included) is just assuming that all Coalition Senators will support this blatant breach of promise when it does come before the Senate. Perhaps they should all be asked if they will agree with it.

  23. Constitutions are there to enforce the long term social contract between citizen and state. Democratic elections modify the terms of that contract in the short term.
    Chronic and systemic dishonesty, of the kind practised by our current crop of political masters, calls for constitutional change. Perhaps our constitution should included a clause that authorises the courts to enforce partisan electoral promises. This would be equivalent to having the Trade Practices Act regulate commercial claims.
    It might be more effective than the contingent, though worthy, efforts the DEMs make at “keeping the bastards honest”.

  24. PML, Howard definitely has debased the system. Compare the resigned reaction this time around to the outrage when he ripped back the “Fistful of Dollars” tax cuts back in 1977.

    And look at the comparatively trivial wrongdoing that used to entail ministerial resignations, as late as the early years of this government.

    It’s true that standards declined under Hawke and Keating, but hte decline has continued and accelerated under this government.

    Andrew, a minor point is that the electorate didn’t exactly decide to give Howard control. This was an unforeseen consequence, I think. It will be interesting to see how things go in the next Senate election.

  25. I remember gough’s words,jack.I also remember that around 200,000 vietnamese and other victims of america’s asian war were allowed to settle here under that pinko fraser v how many reffos under howard-nothing like the same numbers.I also remember howard railing aginst asian immigration in the late eighties.
    As for lauding howard for liberating timor-he cared as little for the timorese as the ALP.It was only the power of public opinion that forced him to act-his office copped more public feedback over timor than any other issue.
    Just for the record jack,how many letters or phone calls did you rack up since 1975 defending the timorsese aginst the suharto butchers?
    Let me guess-NONE!

  26. Good for the oz yesterday telling us of doctors fiddling the books and jacking up fees to take advantage of the governments generosity.
    Why is the doctor’s union immune from criticism-oh,sorry,I forgot,they’re not workers.

  27. Jack –
    You must be aware that, while the 1958 and 1967 legislative changes made the *laws* race neutral, that gave the Ministers much more discretion. And at least in the 1960s, and probably until Whitlam, that discretion, as delegated to imigration officers, meant that people with the wrong skin pigmentation faced much more difficulty qualifying.
    Criticism along these lines was, IIRC, the reason the original ‘points’ system was introduced.

  28. I’m sure Jack will be only too happy to provide us with an itemised list of all the ways in which Howard opposed the Indonesian invasion of East Timor during his eight years as a senior minister in the howard government; his howevermany years as opposition leader and during his first 4-5 years as Prime Minister

  29. That reference in my last post to “the howard (sic) government” should, of course, have been to the Fraser government.

  30. Comment #29 by marklatham — 17/4/2005 @ 10:42 am

    Just for the record jack,how many letters or phone calls did you rack up since 1975 defending the timorsese aginst the suharto butchers?
    Let me guess-NONE!

    I dont want to get into a competition about which person really and truly has more political virtue. But marklathan leaves me no choice.
    I spent a a rair bit of the lattter part of the nineties informally ploughing resources into various media efforts that aimed to constrain the TNI’s depredations in and around our Near North. For myself, I can be vouched for having made at least two representations for military service in the ADF before, and during, the INTERFET operation.
    If I were marklatham I would think twice about slinging mud like that, because it makes him appear to have more ignorance and malovolence than might actually be the case.

  31. JQ, you left out the bits between 1977 and now. The point is that the debasement occurred under the ALP (Australian Labor [sic] Party, not to be confused with the Association of Little Presses which I have just found out about). By “under” I do not mean to impute causality to the ALP – that would be post hoc ergo propter hoc – rather I am pointing out that it cannot be a consequence of any action or inaction of Howard’s.

  32. Comment #29 by marklatham — 17/4/2005 @ 10:42 am

    around 200,000 vietnamese and other victims of america’s asian war were allowed to settle here under that pinko fraser v how many reffos under howard-nothing like the same numbers.

    Its true that Fraser, in his eight years in office, let in SE Asian refugees at a rate of about 25,000 pa. That was both fair and reasonable since AUS had some responsibility for the well being of the South Vietnamese. Even so, the relaxed standard of entry meant that some settlement problems for that category did crop up later on.
    Howard, in his nine years on the job, has accepted refugees at about half that annual flow, around 13,000 pa + resettlement aid. AUS is in no way responsible for the persecution that current refugees are fleeing from. Indeed Howard, by assisting in bringing down the Taliban and Baathist party, has helped to stop persecutions in AFGHAN and IRAQ.
    Moreover, Howard has stopped the rorting and over-lawyering of the immigration and refugee programs. This has put AUS’s alien settlement programs on a sounder political footing by focusing them on utilitiarian and humanitarian objectives. Thus AUS’s NESB intake ratio is on a long term secular incline.
    When will our progressive-constructive elites come to grips with these realities?

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