A question for readers

I’m working on a piece for the Fin, and, in my current draft, I say that John Howard never actually used the word “non-core”. Rather, he said he had delivered his “core” promises and we were left to infer that the rest were non-core. Can anyone protect me from error by pointing to an occasion when Howard used “non-core”, or, better still, support me in my contention?

43 thoughts on “A question for readers

  1. Here’s the quote that Donald Oats refers to, dated 9 September 1996:

    No matter what rock solid, ironclad guarantees John Howard gives on this matter, no matter what core or noncore promises John Howard makes on this particular matter, he plans to flog off the lot.
    We now know that that is the case.

    This requires a re-think. It looks like both the Ramsey and Goot references are wrong.

  2. Aargh, my bad! The Hansard I referred to was 090996, which is of course 9th Sept 1996, obviously a little after 21st August 1996 mentioned by previous posters (Faulkner et al also make mention of non-core promises in Hansard 21st Aug 1996). Sorry ’bout that.

    It’s definitely proving tricky to find a specific quote by Howard himself (that is verifiable). I’ve found one quote from Pandora archive (via Webdiary) which suggests a June 1996 interview might be the original:

    “Governments themselves have applied tortuous logic to explain or justify how their actions relate to the promises they made in getting elected to office. The Prime Minister, John Howard, explained in June 1996—soon after winning office for the first time—that some of his party’s promises were “coreâ€? promises, and some were “non-coreâ€?, and that his government (in the light of the unexpectedly poor finances it had inherited) would keep only core promises. The distinction, depending entirely on his own discretion, has now entered the Australian lexicon as a code for political cynicism in general.”
    [From: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/44985/20040929-0000/www.brucebillson.com/flipflop.html%5D

    The Prime Minister website (for Howard, when he had an official site) had a searchable archive of all doorstops, speeches, press releases etc. Maybe that is archived somewhere for ‘posterity’.

    Good luck.


  3. Howard used the Budget situation as an excuse, but everyone knew that was coming, so he’d been asked before the election what would happen when he got Budget bad news, and he said he would implement his promises regardless.

  4. Now here’s a problem …

    Imagine you wanted to write an opinion piece saying that Rudd and Swan should break their election promise and hold off on the tax cuts.

    But if you do this aren’t you letting Howard and Costello off the hook for their ‘core’ and ‘non core’ promises?

    In evaluating governments should we place more emphasis on good policy or kept promises? Do you say that an irresponsible election promise doesn’t justify an obviously bad policy?

  5. After delving deeply into the historical record I have some rather sage advice for you on your first Budget night now Kevin. Don’t listen for a moment to all those tossers in Treasury, Finance and the Reserve mate, lest the shock jocks on the ABC or commercial radio tar you the next day and the intelligentsia feather you for the rest of your political life. Bugger the economy and stick to the bloody election script come hell or high water mate!

  6. A bit of history.

    It was Lawsie who asked Howard during the 96 election campaign, given the budget ‘rumours’ if Howard would implement his promises or would renege because the budget was in much worse shape.

    Howard then said he would implement his promises no matter what the state of the budget.

    Lawsie then pounced post-election on Howard

  7. Obs –

    ABC funding was one of a large and ever-growing list of non-core promises revealed over the first months of the Howard incumbency.

    Others included:

    . promise to have the Auditor-General draw up guidelines on government advertising [sic]

    . halve the amount of ‘red tape’ forms required to be filled in by small business

    . introduce an independent speaker

    . maintain university funding levels

    . reduce foreign debt levels

    Even if the ‘relaxed and comfortable’ and ‘no worker will be worse off’ promises are dismissed as poltical waffle rather than the lies many perceived them to be, this is an impressive list so soon after an election win.

  8. Michael Gordon in the Age on 26 July 1996: ‘Hence the rationale for making “core promises” that will be kept, and lesser promises that may fall by the wayside. ‘

    This implies it was in the vernacular by then. I suspect, by its gradual seeping into the language, that journos were being backgrounded about it by the government.

    And Gordon and Stuart Krygsman on 3 August:
    “Both Howard and Costello have been preparing voters to accept that given the shape of the Budget, the delivery of the “core” promises will be enough. It matters not that they suspected the Budget was in worse shape than Labor made out before the election and that no such hierarchy of promises was established during the campaign.”

    Perhaps Michael Gordon is responsible.

  9. I think it is telling that Howard had 11 years to repudiate the core/non-core differentation that was attributed to him, regardless of its origin, and as far as I am aware, never did so. So it would seem he accepted it, even if he did not actually utter the words.

  10. Hal9000, every one of your bullet points is something that no reasonable person would expect implemented “soon after an election win” (provided other things were being progressed). You could argue that at least some should have been done within the life of the parliament involved, but I don’t think any reasonable person would even have insisted that all of them should have been, and certainly not in the timescale you are putting up.

  11. Rossco, you are insisting on a standard that would require any politician to rise to any bait, like insisting that Barack Obama address any attack rather than ignoring it. If that were realistic, it would give their enemies the tactic of snowing them under with stuff to rebut instead of keeping their eyes on the ball.

  12. I look forward to your piece in the Fin Review PrQ. If I recall correctly I think that you at one stage wrote that you thought that one of Howard’s failings was that he was more mendacious than previous PMs.

    As Observa has said the importance of the noncore is that it is a useful stick. That Howard did not use the term doesn’t matter, it will remain as his for ever, it has become the narrative. For example Paul Keating, not averse to a wobbly or two himself and never shy of accusing others claims in an opinion piece in 2007

    “These solemn commitments by Howard, which helped him win the 1996 election, bit the dust under that breathtaking blanket of hypocrisy he labelled “non-core promises”.â€?

    A study in the USA concluded that 65 to 75-percent of all platform promises get carried out. A guess but I think that Howard would meet that percentage, as would Hawke and Keating.

    If you are considering post modern positions by politicians on meeting promises PrQ you might enjoy this one from Bill Clinton’s advisor George Stephanopolous,

    “”The President” Stephanopolous said, “has kept all of the promises he intended to keep.” “

    It caused little fuss.

  13. I couldn’t point to a particular quote but recall a denial about an unkept promise stating that it wasn’t a core promise.

  14. The term “non-core” has been around for a while and used in business jargon and was not coined by JH, Lawsie or Red Kerry eg the Company has moved to to divest itself of non core divisions and activities

  15. Well as interesting as this delve into the archives is, one thing we could all put the house on now, is Rudd will deliver those L.A.W / Core tax cuts now, although he won’t go near such uncouth terms. No, it will be first things first, as priorities permit, first order policy, achieving our agenda, yada, yada. That said it’s probably time to put the same attack dog media blowtorch to the new kid on the block. Now Hal9000 has a good memory for these things, so let’s see if he’s had his eye on Mr Squeaky too of late. Perhaps we’ll let Highlander kick off with-
    “I was disappointed on Sunday to see that the Rudd government has broken their word on intervening in state issues. The incident in question related to civil unions, which the ACT had voted to legally recognise with a ceremony, until the Rudd government intervened, saying they would oppose the act if it was passed. This comes after Rudd stating that he would leave the issue up to the states.

    While Rudd’s had a good start in terms of keeping promises in his term, non-intervention is a big one to break, especially for such an early point in his term.”
    Hmmm… sounds like HL thinks that was a core one right there.

    Now every new chum comes in with shining promises of squeaky Govt and we got the new openness of FOI promised, especially Treasury’s advice on inflation to the Libs, but not their advice on abandoning Workchoices it seems. FOI got pretty selective pretty fast it seems. I also note that Rudd has not been as keen to pull the troops out of the bad war, as he has to bring in legislation to scrap AWAs. That wouldn’t be because the good war isn’t going quite as well would it Kevin? Obviously just like the Libs with that black hole deficit, the new govt in Opposition never suspected inflation was a problem and so calling Howards hand on tax cuts was taken in ignorance of the true facts. Didn’t have a clue about the threat of inflation, not even when the Reserve raised interest rates again in the campaign. Also I recall Labor promising hands off the baby allowance when challenged, so it will be interesting to see if they dip into that in the Budget as is forecast. Any more core/non-core promises you can think of already?

  16. Yes folks, so begins the slow and inexorable tarnishing of the new Ms Sparkles and Mr Sheens, until there’s nothing left but a dull, antiquated, motley collection ready for our democratic dusrbin.

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