This is SO unfair!
SPARE me the sentimental tosh about John Howard. Here’s why his departure is a joyous occasion.
The scene: The Great Hall at the University of Sydney. The grand opening of a conference for the Centre for the Mind. Crowds have gathered to see Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon. As chairman of the advisory board it is my duty to welcome our patron, the Prime Minister. That long-time opponent of sanctions against apartheid South Africa will then welcome Mandela. When I complain bitterly about my chore, the vice-chancellor murmurs, “Protocol.”
A last-minute phone call from a protocol officer in the PM’s department.
“Do you really want to introduce the PM?” he asks.
“Of course I bloody well don’t!”
“Yes, it would be a bit hypocritical.”
“Not as hypocritical as the PM introducing Mandela.”
The resolution? The VC will introduce Howard. I’ll move the vote of thanks. When I explain the change, Mandela isn’t fussed but asks me: “How’s Paul Keating getting on?”
This backstage kerfuffle is nothing to Malcolm Fraser’s loud performance in front of the gathering dignitaries, including the PM. He tells of a crisis early in his prime ministership involving Vietnamese close to the Australian embassy. They are understandably desperate to be allowed into this country. Fraser phones Gough Whitlam, who agrees they should be welcomed. “So did my entire cabinet, except for one person. Guess who!” And he points the finger at Howard.
The scene: John Laws’s 2UE studio in 1988. Anticipating One Nation by many years, Howard warns the nation of the dangers of Asian immigration. So outraged is the response to his statement that Howard loses his job as Opposition leader a year later.
The scene: A new prime minister manipulates Hansonism in the mid to late 1990s. Forget dog-whistle politics. In a campaign as deafening as any air raid siren, Howard declares war on multiculturalism and political correctness. White Australia rises from its grave. Bigotry is unleashed via an epidemic of racist graffiti, schoolyard attacks and shock-jock broadcasting. Thanks to the main parties’ accommodation of One Nation, Australian racism is world news.
The scene: A few thousand refugees flee the Taliban and Saddam Hussein in 2001. Howard brands them queue jumpers, illegals and has cohorts hint that they’re terrorists. The Tampa sails into view and our detention of decent people in concentration camps becomes an international disgrace. Kim Beazley rolls over. The ALP is complicit in this political pornography, this immense stunt. Kids overboard. The Australian Navy is appalled by what it’s ordered to do. More than 350 die on the SievX. All this wins Howard another term.
The scene: 9/11. Howard jumps the queue to sign up for the misconceived war on terror and the horror story of the Iraq invasion. Immense numbers of Iraqis are killed. We are complicit in hundreds of thousands of deaths, in Abu Ghraib, in torture, in rendition. It isn’t democracy that blossoms in the Middle East. It’s terrorism. To this day Howard insists that the fiasco of Iraq is a success.
The scene: Guantanamo Bay. Howard permits the monstrous treatment of David Hicks.
The scene: The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission prepares Bringing Them Home, the tragic account of the stolen generations. Before publication date in 1997, Howard’s bovver boys not only deride the document but slander Ronald Wilson. Historical revisionism kicks in. Reconciliation is rejected. The black-white divide deepens. Quadrant crows. Pauline Hanson is pleased.
The scene: The Kelly gang – the husbands of retiring member Jackie Kelly and her would-be replacement – are caught distributing a piece of crap designed to press the hot buttons on anti-Muslim bigotry. We’re told this attempt to throw fuel on the world’s most inflammatory issue is a prank. The PM promptly denies any knowledge of this dirtiest of dirty tricks, yet it sits within the culture of bigotry he has encouraged over many years.
The scene: As the election gains pace, Howard’s immigration minister Kevin Andrews targets the alleged criminality of Sudanese refugees and immigrants. Deja vu all over again.
The scene: A few days before the election, Howard is asked to list his proudest achievements. Right up front he says the destruction of – yes – political correctness.
Is Howard a bigot? His support of apartheid South Africa, his long-term indifference to the issues of Aboriginal Australia, his exploitation of the refugee issue and his on-the-record hostility to Asian immigration would suggest so. Or is he a main-chancer, a cunning manipulator of other people’s fears and racism? If the latter, isn’t that morally worse? That’s why I’m not shedding tears at Howard’s departure. Because his fondness for the Menzies era involved the revival of too many aspects of White Australia. No other modern PM on either side of politics would have touched it with a barge pole.
Over to you…
Yes, Phillip Adams in The Australian.
Yes, selective anecdotes.
But is it true?