Howard’s end, and new beginnings…

16 Feb

I am looking forward to Four Corners next week.


For nearly a year John Howard lived with a spectre of humiliation – the increasing prospect of his government being tossed aside, his own Bennelong seat swamped in a Labor deluge.

At Kirribilli House on election night, November 24, he gathered with family, close friends and staffers to watch the TV coverage – and to witness his own power ebbing away.

He was ready.

He sort of just said, ‘Well, that’s it then, I’m dead meat‘,” his old right hand man Arthur Sinodinos tells Four Corners.

Howard drove to the Wentworth Hotel and delivered a graceful concession speech to grieving supporters before exiting, grey head slightly bowed. And that was that, after nearly 12 years as PM. To this day he has maintained his public silence.

But now senior colleagues are going public to reveal the machinations behind the scenes as John Howard led them to electoral annihilation. Former allies and long time foes speak candidly about Howard’s role in the defeat.

From the secret Howard-Costello succession “deal” in the mid 1990s, through the big policy gambles on WorkChoices and Kyoto, to the panic Newspoll and leadership angst of last year’s APEC, an array of key insiders – among them Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Nick Minchin, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb and Arthur Sinodinos – frankly assess the Howard Government’s slide to oblivion.

Liz Jackson’s compelling report “Howard’s End” airs when Four Corners returns at 8.30 pm Monday 18 February 2008.

It confirms the air of desperation I noted as election 07 progressed, the feeling that we were being sold a house of cards by the incumbents.

Indigenous policy on a new and better path?

I certainly hope this is the case post 13 February. The Opposition need to embrace this, and among other matters they do need to throw open for scrutiny the flawed NT Intervention — even if I still think Mal Brough was a good man, I think he is untouchable now because of that policy. Tony Abbott and his like have to get over it. I was struck especially by two opinions on the Intervention, which I hasten to add was not all bad; it did break the Gordian knot in some respects. The first opinion was restated earlier this week by Fred Chaney:

KERRY OBRIEN: OK, Fred Chaney very briefly.
FRED CHANEY: Broadly I agree with that but you need cross party, cross jurisdictional commitment to long-term, to long-term goals, that is absolutely essential. None of the stop start, no more pilot project, a long-term commitment and I think the other big test for Kevin Rudd will be can you get the Aboriginal community on board, the Indigenous community on board. You cannot do good things to Aboriginal people, you can only do good things with Aboriginal people. And unless the Aboriginal people themselves are part of this and are consulted and brought on board and it’s what they want to happen and it’s happening with government it won’t work.

The second was closer to home. My nephew, an Aboriginal person living in North Queensland, and like Mal Brough a military man, thought the Intervention disgusting and misdirected. He was not talking from an armchair, having worked on Palm Island, for example.

See also the Indigenous Australia pages on this blog and Some thoughts on the events of June 2007 on Old Lines from a Floating Life.

Paul Kelly is worth reading today.

IN a masterful fusion of humanity, symbolism and eloquence Kevin Rudd has branded his prime ministership with a historic mission; a mission where each of his recent predecessors has failed to deliver. This week was about national reconciliation, an event orchestrated by Rudd. It is Rudd who enshrined his first parliamentary week with the national apology. It is Rudd who devised the apology as an act of contrition and a new beginning. And it is Rudd who seeks to pressure Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson by offering the hand of bipartisanship on indigenous policy.

By these decisions Rudd has won himself an epic place in the pantheon of Australia’s great moments.

He told the crowd in the Great Hall after parliamentary approval of the apology that “today is not about us, the politicians, it’s about you, the indigenous peoples of this land”.

The media has universally declared this is a transforming week. But that is a premature judgment. It is, rather, a week that unleashes fresh hope and a new spirit with the potential to transform. Such hopes have been regularly smashed over the past 30 years by policy failure. Rudd’s task is to do better: to mobilise the goodwill from his national apology behind a new beginning in indigenous affairs.

The evidence, fortunately, is that Rudd and his Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, are more realistic about this challenge than many others. Indeed, much of the media response to this week’s apology is plagued by the old ideas and old mindset that Rudd wants to transcend…

The point is that 2008 is not 1997. The debate over the apology has moved on. The spirit of the Bringing Them Home Report report remains, with its grief and loss, what Rudd called in his speech the “terribly primal” quality of the stories. The apology is demanded by our humanity and respect for fellow human beings in a shared community.

But Rudd rejects the 1997 demand for compensation, rejects the report’s accusation of genocide and repudiates the false trail of intergenerational guilt.

The truth is that Rudd and Macklin want to find a middle way in indigenous affairs, though they would not use such words. This middle way recognises the folly of excessive symbolism of former Labor governments and the folly of excessive practicality of the Howard government.

Rudd’s speech to parliament has claims to greatness not because he said sorry with eloquence, but because as leader he seeks to move the nation towards a new position, a new consciousness and a new policy

I certainly hope so.

I don’t think, though, that the issue of compensation will go away; on the other hand, the apology is so framed (in my view) that only those who can establish that there were no welfare issues involved would stand much chance of getting it.  I do think we will have to follow some of the states in this one, though; an interesting legal issue of course is what happens about anything before 1967 when states, rather than the Commonwealth, exercised responsibility for Aboriginal affairs? (I am open to correction on that point.) Reparation is a much broader matter. I have a go at that here and here.


Bit embarrassing for Dr Nelson, wasn’t it, that the case he cited of an Aboriginal person expressing an anti-apology view totally backfired?

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Posted by on February 16, 2008 in Australia and Australian, Brendan Nelson, current affairs, generational change, Indigenous Australians, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Political, Reconciliation, right wing politics


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