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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

The Howard Years « Previous | |Next »
November 17, 2008

The Howard Years is a political narrative told in the words of the Liberal Ministers and their staffers looking back on history and relying on their memories of the events of the Howard regime. It is a top-down oral history of 1996-2007. So we have justification rather than objectivity, fragments instead of narrative, and reminiscences rather than context.

Though the ABC is saying it is neutral---we will provide them with the space to talk about themselves and their actions---the conservatives will no doubt say that the Liberals are making it possible for their political opponents to frame their history. However, as there is little critical commentary in the first episode, it's the Coalition talking about itself in power.

The first episode, Change the Government, Change the Country, is about the first term that is marked by Port Arthur; Pauline Hanson; Aboriginal reconciliation and native title; waterfront reform and the decision to introduce the GST. Some things just happened, others were part of a well thought out political strategy.

The subtext is a presidential Howard ruling the roost whilst Costello labors in the windowless room with no natural light on the slash and burn Budget to counter the $9 billion blackhole. But we never learn what Howard wanted to change the country to---what were the sweeping reforms that he had up his sleeve designed to achieve? We are kept in the dark as much as the ministers were kept in the dark by Howard. They did not share his counsel.

So we just have the issues presented by the ministers in a shorthand way of staying on message with a few personal reminiscences. The background documents to the episode are here for us to explore. The context is given by Graham Morris, the PM’S Chief of Staff in 1997, who says:

And in come John Howard, and he says look, he values families, he values small business, he values hard work. John Howard is a bit like a safe Uncle and we’ll put him in there. He’s not going to do anything wrong, in fact he’ll probably do a lot of things right.

Howard was anything but a safe Uncle. He was a partisan figure, committed to fighting a brutal culture war against the symbols as well as the substance of progressive liberalism. The safe uncle interpretation of what Howard's radical change to create an alternative conservative Australia to the progressive one of Paul Keating, the "safe uncle" is shallow and dissembling. The history of 1996-1998 is one of warfare against indigenous Australians and the unions; warfare wrapped up in the Australian flag.

So we can dump all the ABC spin about there being no spin or commentary. There's spin aplenty -- the failure to mention that many of the ministers between 1996- 1998 had to resign. There is nothing to counter the spin by showing it up as spin.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:48 PM | | Comments (6)


It's treatment of the notorious Web Dock was shallow and pitiful. All the other nasties that followed involving IR and so many others things were just airbrushed away under the general heading.
Dear old uncle, indeed!

yes you wouldn't learn much from what the ministers said. Reith's spin is that he knew nothing much at all. He didn't even bother to level about the ruthless strategy of smashing the power of the unions and just continued the public front of the Howard Government. The ruthless strategy was buried underneath waterfront reform. Why not come clean----Howard's Australia is an Australia with no union power. Unions have no place in Howard's Australia.

So it is only just that the unions were a key force in knocking off the Howard Government over Workchoices in 2007.

the good point of the Howard Government after it was elected in 1996 was the gun buy back scheme. Howard took on his own conservative base to do what was right despite the political consequences of the base turning against the Liberal Party in white hot anger. Hence the idea of Howard as a conviction politician.

However, the gun buyback was forced on Howard by circumstances and it was not part of his political agenda. Waterfront reform was.

I'd forgotten how ugly that reconciliation meeting after Wik really was. What a contrast between that Howard and the later one.

Reith is still a shameless swine.

I experimented with believing Howard - that he thought if they ignored Hanson she'd evaporate by herself - but it didn't work out. Not with Crosby and Textor lurking alongside. Costello comes out of it looking half human.

I guess that Howard felt that he had to restore the conservative base that he alienated with gun buyback. he did that withe culture wars and shifting away from the centre, hoping that conservative Australia would allow him an electoral majority.

The ABC program was a bit of fizzer really.

It didn't make much of a splash in the media did it. A bit like Rupert Murdoch's Boyer Lectures.