Category Archives: John Howard

The Rudd government is not infallible…

But we knew that, didn’t we? This is not to say that they aren’t in more respects than not still a positive change after The Howard Tears Years.

Let’s take one of their goof-off moments though – their being wedded to making the Internet a safe place. I am not taking the high ground here; I actually believe there are limits to free expression, and what’s more I suspect almost everyone agrees with that. Think “hate crime” for starters. So I am not irrevocably attached to the idea that censorship is always a bad thing in any circumstances. However, the plan to clean up the Internet by muffling it at ISP level, much on the Chinese model, was doomed from the start. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald report simply shows that a lot of money has gone into finding out what we already knew: Fatal flaws in website censorship plan, says report. Incidentally, it appears this did not begin with Kevin Rudd.

TRIALS of mandatory internet censorship will begin within days despite a secret high-level report to the Rudd Government that found the technology simply does not work, will significantly slow internet speeds and will block access to legitimate websites.

The report, commissioned by the Howard government and prepared by the Internet Industry Association, concluded that schemes to block inappropriate content such as child pornography are fundamentally flawed…

But the report says the filters would slow the internet – as much as 87 per cent by some measures – be easily bypassed and would not come close to capturing all of the nasty content available online. They would also struggle to distinguish between wanted and unwanted content, leading to legitimate sites being blocked. Entire user-generated content sites, such as YouTube and Wikipedia, could be censored over a single suspect posting.

This raises serious freedom of speech questions, such as who will be held accountable for blocked sites and whether the Government will be pressured to expand the blacklist to cover lawful content including pornography, gambling sites and euthanasia material.

The report, based on comprehensive interviews with many parties with a stake in the internet, was written by several independent technical experts including a University of Sydney associate professor, Bjorn Landfeldt. It was handed to the Government in February but has been kept secret….

Why has it been kept secret? Blind Freddie knew what the findings would be…

Think again, Kevin!

Update: an unprecedented appeal from Aussie Bloggers

See The Internet Filter – A Bad Idea.

Hi all,

Normally we do not allow political topics here on the forums as people tend to take sides and it can end in tears. However on this occasion I think we can *all* agree that the plan to filter the internet –
– will slow down the internet for the rest of us
– will make it *more* difficult for the Federal Police to catch people downloading child pornography – something it is clear the Federal Police are extremely good at and are continually getting better at. If the government would use some of the funding for this filter to fund the Federal Police instead, that would be a much better plan.
– the filter will drive a lot of the child pornographers more underground than they are already, making it more difficult to identify and arrest them
– and now we find out that they intend to do a lot more with the filtering than originally intended – they will be using it to stop people downloading tv shows and movies and games.
You can see Senator Conroy’s blog post here. You can read an article – and an awful lot of comments – about this blog post here. There is discussion on this topic on Whirlpool, also.
What can you do?
Find your local politician and write to them on this topic. For info on how to do that, click here.
Email Senator Conroy and tell him how you feel about this awful idea. His email address is available on this website.
Check out the No Clean Feed site.

Spread the word by blogging about it. 

Think again, Kevin! (Yes, that’s twice!)

Update 8 January

Because this has a special link from the side bar I am excluding it from my usual 14 day comment rule.

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Posted by on December 23, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, awful warnings, computers, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, web stuff, www


Ken Boston outsources, falls on sword…

I will give Ken Boston some marks for integrity, to judge from Australian steps down as Britain’s exams chief after marking debacle. Ken Boston is a familiar name to any of us who were teaching here in NSW in the 80s and 90s. As the article explains: “Dr Boston, 65, was instrumental in delivering many reforms to the NSW education system during the early 1990s under Dr Terry Metherell. He has headed the British authority since 2002.” Here is what happened, according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

ONE of Britain’s most highly paid and powerful public servants, the former NSW education chief Ken Boston, has resigned his £328,000 ($873,000)-a-year post after a chaotic round of national curriculum tests.

Dr Boston, who began his career as a teacher in Victoria and was in his sixth year at the helm of the British schools testing watchdog, announced that he believed in public officials "taking responsibility when things go wrong".

Thousands of British children aged 11 and 14 received late – or incorrect – Standard Assessment Test results this year after the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority outsourced their administration to an American company, ETS, which signed a £156 million contract for the job. The British Government sacked the company in August.

Known as SATs, the tests are given at the end of years 2, 6 and 9 and are designed to measure children’s progress in comparison with peers born in the same month. The mess led the Government to drop the tests for 14-year-olds and there has been debate about scrapping the tests for 11-year-olds.

An inquiry by Lord Sutherland was launched into the disastrous round of SATs three months ago and is widely predicted to contain serious criticisms of the authority. The report is due to be handed down in London tomorrow…

He said at the weekend that the performance of ETS had been "quite unacceptable" and repeated an apology issued to the 1.2 million students who took the tests and their teachers at the end of the summer term in Britain.

Criticism of Dr Boston has been tough since the disastrous results and he has come under pressure about his salary package, which includes the use of a £1 million apartment in London’s fashionable Chelsea district as well as six business-class flights a year back to Australia. London newspapers have also made an issue of his ownership of a yacht in Sydney…

Our measurement fetish – and theirs in the UK, and ditto in the USA — really needs to be looked at in the light of these events, not to mention the perils of outsourcing to private concerns. The same mob did our Adult Literacy Survey under Howard in 2006: Australian Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2 (with comments by Jim Belshaw).

I wrote more on the Educational Testing Service a year ago on English/ESL: Email about the Educational Testing Service.

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Posted by on December 15, 2008 in Australia, awful warnings, Brendan Nelson, curriculum, education, exams and assessment, future schooling, Jim Belshaw, John Howard, literacy, London


A couple of serious quick responses to TV…

1. It would be such a good idea if people – especially but not only religious people – knew what science is and how it works

That one came to me after watching the first part of this on SBS:


It’s excellent.

NARRATOR: Lawyers for the parents may have impressed the judge and reporters. But many in Dover wondered, "Why is evolution taught as fact if it’s ‘just a theory?’"

ALAN BONSELL: Maybe Darwinism is the prevalent theory out there today, but it is a theory. It isn’t a law of science. It isn’t, you know, a fact. It is a theory.

BILL BUCKINGHAM: We just wanted alternative views talked about, too. We weren’t, we weren’t saying, "Don’t talk about Darwin." Talk about Darwin, it’s a theory. But that’s what it is, it’s not Darwin’s law, it’s not Darwin’s fact, it’s Darwin’s theory.

ROBERT ESHBACH: To say it’s just a theory is really a bit insulting to science because in science, a theory holds more weight than just a fact does.

KEVIN PADIAN (Dramatization): And here I think the term "theory" needs to be looked at the way scientists consider it. A theory is not just something that we think of in the middle of the night after too much coffee and not enough sleep. That’s an idea. A theory, in science, means a large body of information that’s withstood a lot of testing. It probably consists of a number of different hypotheses and many different lines of evidence. Gravitation is a theory that’s unlikely to be falsified, even if we saw something fall up. It might make us wonder, but we’d try to figure out what was happening rather than immediately just dismiss gravitation.

KEVIN PADIAN: Facts are just the minutiae of science. By themselves, they can be right or wrong. But a theory is something that has been tested and tested over and over again, built on, revised. It continues to be reworked and revised.

ROBERT MUISE (Dramatization): Dr. Miller, would you agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not an absolute truth?

KENNETH R. MILLER (Dramatization): Well, I certainly would, for the very simple reason that no theory in science, no theory, is ever regarded as absolute truth. We don’t regard atomic theory as truth. We don’t regard the germ theory of disease as truth. We don’t regard the theory of friction as truth. We regard all of these theories as well-supported, testable explanations that provide natural explanations for natural phenomena.

I don’t mind theological speculation, but I would never call it “science”.

The other thing I took from this program is how glad I am that we do not so far have the US-style tradition of local school boards here in NSW. With all the possible disadvantages we may experience in a centralised system, relying on boards and teams of experts to devise curriculum (even if implementation depends much on the local school), we gain far more, if this series is any indication. There are some things democracy is just not good at, and devising curriculum, in my opinion, is often one of them. By the way, one problem I always felt working in private schools was the sense that the “clients” owned me. That could have a plus side, but was also sometimes an unpleasant constraint. I am sure Aluminium knows exactly what I mean.

Here’s a good blog I have found, or that found me through “possibly related” yesterday: Professor Olsen @ Large. It’s biological. And American.

2. You didn’t really expect Howard, Bush and Blair to say anything new on Iraq, did you?

I refer of course to last night’s episode of The Howard Years: transcript.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard’s enemies were about to be handed more ammunition.

Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.

The primary justification for the war did not exist.

(Excerpt, Lateline, 22 July 2004)

ABC JOURNALIST: Today the inquiry by former intelligence chief Philip Flood confirmed Australia’s spy agencies got it wrong.

(End of excerpt)

PHILIP FLOOD, INTELLIGENCE INQUIRY HEAD 2004: The intelligence was thin, ambiguous and inaccurate. And Australia shared in a general intelligence failure.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: Everyone assumed from the Secretary-General of the United Nations downwards, everybody assumed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That really wasn’t a subject of conjecture. I was very surprised that they weren’t found.

TONY BLAIR, UK PRIME MINISTER 1997-2007: I often think the simplest thing for us should have been in retrospect is just to have published the intelligence assessments, rather than actually the Government compile a report about them, what we should actually have done was just publish them.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: The intelligence assessments may, in the final analysis, have turned out to be defective because stockpiles of WMD were not found although programs and the capacity to generate stockpiles were certainly found. But we didn’t take the country to war based on a lie. We didn’t invent the intelligence.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard had survived the war in Iraq. His future seemed secure.

Even if we are kind and take all that at face value, it still strikes me as very odd. Why wasn’t anyone taking any notice of what I thought was very persuasive argument at the time? Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies had a primer freely online at the time which was much closer to the truth than the “everybody assumed” of Downer’s selective memory. Then there was Scott Ritter, of course.

His views at that time are well summarized in War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know a 2002 publication which consists largely of an interview between Ritter and anti-war activist William Rivers Pitt. In the interview, Ritter responds to the question of whether he believes Iraq has weapons of mass destruction:

There’s no doubt Iraq hasn’t fully complied with its disarmament obligations as set forth by the Security Council in its resolution. But on the other hand, since 1998 Iraq has been fundamentally disarmed: 90-95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capacity has been verifiably eliminated… We have to remember that this missing 5-10% doesn’t necessarily constitute a threat… It constitutes bits and pieces of a weapons program which in its totality doesn’t amount to much, but which is still prohibited… We can’t give Iraq a clean bill of health, therefore we can’t close the book on their weapons of mass destruction. But simultaneously, we can’t reasonably talk about Iraqi non-compliance as representing a de-facto retention of a prohibited capacity worthy of war. (page 28)

We eliminated the nuclear program, and for Iraq to have reconstituted it would require undertaking activities that would have been eminently detectable by intelligence services. (page 32)

If Iraq were producing [chemical] weapons today, we’d have proof, pure and simple. (page 37)

[A]s of December 1998 we had no evidence Iraq had retained biological weapons, nor that they were working on any. In fact, we had a lot of evidence to suggest Iraq was in compliance. (page 46)

I read that 2002 publication and found it quite convincing, and it did after all turn out to be pretty much on the mark, didn’t it? No, Bush just wanted to invade Iraq. Trouble is none of them really had any idea once they actually got there. Now, many gigabucks and heaps of bodies later, it may be that things are a touch better, but what actually has been achieved in relation to terrorism?

I’ll leave that there, but nothing last night came as a revelation – put it that way. Except that Downer is incredibly smug… A perfect yes-man.

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Posted by on December 2, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, History, Iraq, John Howard, memory, terrorism, TV


Watching The Howard Years has made me nostalgic…

No, don’t get me wrong! I really don’t miss The Howard, and last night gave plenty of reasons for that lack of sentimentality…

But I was reflecting on what I was up to at the time, and the horrible thought is that for much of it I was blogging, mostly on sites that are long gone. You may recall I found out back in January 2008, however, that much of it was not as far beyond recall as I had thought, which is scary, at times more than a little embarrassing, but also satisfying.

For example:

January 28 [2001]: A bit of a spray…

Going to fire shots right and left today, folks. I hope it will be fun. I’m also composing this on my old but lovely Brother Power Note (memory 32kb!), obviously designed for George W Bush, as one of its quirks is to leave out "W" from time to time, so everything must be carefully checked: "ill" for "will" etc. can be most frustrating as spell checkers don’t notice.

Fancy the poor American people getting George W, thanks to his having pots of money and the Americans having a daft electoral system. Lack of intellect is not a disadvantage obviously; speaking of which there was a documentary here on TV last night about Richard Nixon: scary stuff.

We have a government here I have little respect for. Amongst other things they strike me as alarmingly deficient in the humanity department, not to mention their lack of a sense of history–except what suits them. One Tony Abbott, a would-be but never-will-be Prime Minister (my bet is on Peter Costello, whom I actually prefer), is a "man with a mission" according to today’s Sun-Herald. "I don’t see why unions should have any special rights and privileges in the industrial system," says the deeply experienced and empathic Employment Services Minister. We no longer need unions, says Abbott, because workers and management can make their own arrangements, thanks to "high education standards and the mass media." Fan pi as they say in Mandarin: the greatest load of it is possible to imagine.

I have read, thanks to my flatmate, a few of these "workplace agreements". Suffice it to say they are very professionally drawn up–and guess whose interests they serve, hmmm? And guess how many workers, without the skills in industrial relations and industrial law that a good union can draw on, get sucked in by the fine print? I am in a sector that is still unionised, and, while I am not a raving leftie on all issues, I am very glad my cash goes to an organisation that can supply all kinds of support when things get nasty–and they will and do. Employers are not all evil, but their interests cannot be allowed to rule unbridled. In many sectors the profit motive drives inexorably towards exploitation: profiteers are not moral people, never have been, never will be–and many employers are profiteers. Something has to be there to keep them in check.

Those who argue that economic laws are analogous to natural laws are forgetting that economic arrangements are human creations, like governments and legal systems. They are therefore open to human intervention. One rather obvious fact is that the enormous gaps in the distribution of wealth, the obscene salary packages of many high-flying CEOs, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of the world’s population, cannot go on without some kind of Armageddon. I don’t have slick answers, but I do predict that sometime in the 21st century, either after or in order to avoid such a crisis, people will start rediscovering democratic socialism–one hopes in a less naive form and stripped of the pseudo-science of Marxism.

Back to Abbott. I heard a particularly nauseating interview with him on 2GB a few weeks ago, conducted by the oleaginous Reverend Doctor Gordon Moyes of Wesley Mission (an organisation that does a lot of good, incidentally). At the end Moyes brayed interminably about the fact we now have a "godly government". Oh my God!


Monday, October 30 2000

Spent the day at Bondi in a workshop session on policies/strategies on racism. Quite interesting.

Which brings me to John Howard. "Who is he?" you may ask, if you are in some other country–actually even if you are not. He is the Australian Prime Minister. Here is the joke:

John Howard decided one day to get to know young Australians, so he visited a school. "Now, children," he patronised, "I have a little quiz. Can you tell me what a tragedy is?" "Oh yes," said a little girl. "If my best friend was run over by a bus, that would be a tragedy." "Close, but not right," replied John. "That would be an accident."

So a little boy said: "If all the class was in a bus, and it went over a cliff, and they were all killed–that would be a tragedy." "Oh no," replied John. "That is close, but that would be a great loss, not a tragedy."

Then a little girl said: "I know–if you and your wife were on a plane, and some terrorists aimed a missile at it, and hit, and you were killed–that would be a tragedy." "Right!" said John Howard. "Tell me, how did you work it out?" "Easy–I knew that it would be no accident, and it certainly wouldn’t be a great loss!"

How disrespectful!


November 7 2001: Australian elections on 10th… and I am praying for a change of government

I have had the vote now for 37 years.

For the first half (approximately) of that time, being of mainly Scots/Ulster Protestant background, I voted Liberal, as did my parents and grandparents before me. For most of the second half I have voted Labor, except in the Senate where I have favoured one or other of the minor parties. For the first time ever I will not be voting for either major party in either House.

As Ian McPhee rightly observed today, there are no Liberals left in the Liberal Party. What we have are conservatives (like Costello) and reactionaries (like the Prime Minister). Of course there are precious few Labor politicians in the Labor Party either, and the crunch issue separating me from them, and the government, has been the obscene asylum-seekers "crisis". I have canvassed that issue before on this diary, so do not propose to do so again tonight.

Further, while not excusing those responsible for the attacks of September 11, I find myself increasingly appalled by the crudeness of the response by the United States and by our government’s alacrity (supported by Labor) to leap into the action. (Of course I also wish our ADF members well.) Our "non-evil" weapons, to paraphrase George Bush, are likely directly and indirectly to exact a human cost far in excess of the 6000 in the twin towers. I just hope the causes of terrorism are addressed by the world community more effectively at some time in the future. I fear the present course will in sum probably increase the appeal of terrorism in those parts of the world that currently feel, for whatever reasons, obliged to take that path.

I hope that liberal and secularist religionists of all faiths will become stronger in their opposition to fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Back home again, I am impressed with much of the argument in Quarterly Essay 3:2001: "The Opportunist: John Howard and the Triumph of Reaction" by Guy Rundle. If you want an image of the kind of prat the Liberal Party throws up (and in this case out, after he fell on his face) look no further than Jonathan Shier. He embodied the mindset beautifully. He was just too nakedly prattish to succeed, but he was their man, very much their man.

You are free to disagree with any of the above.

I do lean more towards the Labor Party in certain policy areas, especially social welfare, health and education. I feel they could form quite a respectable government, if not an adventurous one. I also feel they will be quite conservative in terms of economic management this time around; their options are limited there anyway.

M, who experiences nausea everytime he sees John Howard, asks: "Why does Australia want tough leaders? What Australia needs is wise leaders, compassionate leaders." Amen to that–but I can’t recall many: John Curtin maybe? Gough Whitlam? Not wise. Paul Keating? Flashes of wisdom but too much folly. Malcolm Fraser? Only since he retired. Who? Menzies? No, too deep a concept to sum him up, but he was much more of a Liberal than the current crop. Bob Hawke? Plenty of compassion, less wisdom. It’s a lot to ask, M. Depressing isn’t it?

If you want some idea of what wisdom looks like, revisit the International Declaration on Human Rights.

And finally:

November 16 2001: An ex-student in UNHCR

I had a delightful lunch yesterday with an ex-student who was recently working in Pakistan with UNHCR among the Afghan refugees. What he said did not change my views on the subject; rather the reverse.

We also talked a lot about school issues and gay issues.

I have revamped and added to my page about the refugees and related matters. [Updated link November 2008.]  I had admittedly thrown the thing together quickly the other day, and have taken the opportunity to revise and add. There is a much more wicked cartoon of John Howard.

Evan’s call at that time was that the government’s line was a bit like the “tiger repellent” joke – that despite appearances there was no horde of refugees about to descend on Australia. I had that in mind as I listened to the to-ing and fro-ing on the matter last night and learned what “planning” had gone into the Pacific Solution. Evan went on to some exciting times in Malaysia after that.

FEBRUARY 2003: After a perilous five-day journey by sea in tongkangs or slow wooden boats, Acehnese displaced by the escalating war in their troubled Indonesian province cross the narrow Straits of Malacca and land on the long west coast of peninsular Malaysia. Their favorite landing spot is on Penang Island. From there they head overland to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office here, a seven-hour journey by bus, where they hope to get some shelter and protection.

The UNHCR office has been handling scores of requests for refugee status and asylum to third countries since the Indonesian military imposed martial rule in Aceh on May 19. Since then, military operations have, rights groups say, have killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced 46,000 people. Because of the large number of applications, the UNHCR office has reserved Tuesdays to handle applications from Acehnese to interview, reject or confirm and issue them refugee papers.

But when more than 600 Acehnese arrived last weekend, they found neither shelter nor protection but police waiting for them…

The police action, sudden and inexplicable, puts the spotlight on Malaysia’s conflicting policy toward Aceh, a province that has a long history of resistance to colonialism and deep cultural and historical ties with Malaysia because of their proximity.

There are many Acehnese settlements along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia and several prominent individuals, including actors, politicians and writers, are of Acehnese descent.

The UNHCR asked police to release the detained Acehnese. "We urge the Malaysian government to grant temporary protection to those fleeing the conflict in Aceh and ensure they are treated in accordance with international standards," a UNHCR statement said.

In closing the UNHCR offices, "we cannot operate with the police present and deterring people from approaching our office", said the agency’s refugee eligibility coordinator, Evan Ruth.

At the core of the issue is Malaysia’s refusal to ratify the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees that grants displaced people rights, protection and shelter and asylum.

I gather Evan is now in London.

Back to the present

Jim Belshaw has done two excellent posts today. The first notes the silliness of the Opposition’s stand on deficits: my feeling exactly, Jim, and I wish Debating Society Politics didn’t rule at times like these! The second is Jim’s reaction to last night’s episode of The Howard Years. Jim focuses on Indonesia, having had a long-term interest in the matter and more knowledge than most of us.

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Posted by on November 25, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, human rights, immigration, Jim Belshaw, John Howard, memory, nostalgia, politics, reminiscences, reminiscing, Tony Abbott


I have been checking “The Howard Years” site

There is a lot appearing there, including transcripts. Episode One is, of course, the only one so far, but I welcome the opportunity to reflect on what was presented without distractions. One might also reflect on the role of the presenter, which does seem to be largely narrative, and how the excerpts from interviews are juxtaposed and framed.

Here is a sequence which stayed in my mind after the episode had ended, partly because it evoked a number of memories.

PAULINE HANSON, INDEPENDENT MP: I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Of course I will be called racist, but if I can invite who I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.

(End of Excerpt)

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER 1996-2007: Now you’ve got to remember that Hanson had been sacked by us as a candidate, so when I heard these comments I thought to myself well that’s why she was sacked.

(Excerpt continued)

PAULINE HANSON, INDEPENDENT MP: Wake up Australia, before it’s too late.

(End of Excerpt)

CHRISTOPHER PYNE, LIBERAL MP 1993-2008: It was just a diatribe of bitterness and hatred and factually incorrect statements that I knew were ones that had to be countered and, ah and countered very quickly.

FRAN KELLY: But John Howard remained silent.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: My view however was that a full frontal attack from the Prime Minister only elevated it.

FRAN KELLY: Twelve days after Pauline Hanson gave her maiden speech, the Prime Minister made a speech of his own to the Queensland Liberal Party.

(Excerpt of footage of John Howard’s speech to Queensland Liberal Party, 22 September 1996)

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: One of the great changes that has come over Australia in the last six months is that people do feel able to speak a little more freely and a little more openly about what they feel. In a sense the pall of censorship on certain issues has been lifted.

(End of Excerpt)

FRAN KELLY: Those already suspicious of John Howard’s views on race believed he’d given Pauline Hanson the Prime Ministerial stamp of approval.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER 1996-2007: In Queensland to talk about lifting the pall of censorship when Hanson was the person that was actually on fire, in my view was to give the wrong speech, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and it showed an, an ambivalence that he always had in relation to the views of Pauline Hanson.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: And I did make some remarks about a pall of censorship being lifted and those remarks were not designed to give a green light to Pauline Hanson or indeed anybody else, but they were a statement of what I believe.

JOHN FAHEY, FINANCE MINISTER 1996-2001: The Prime Minister ah, and I might add the Treasurer throughout all of that stood steadfast in the view that if you ignored her, she would lose oxygen and ultimately wither.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER 1996-2007: Sure, ignore her if that’s going to put out the flame. But after the flames burned brightly you’ve got to actually take the issue on and I think we should have taken the issue on earlier.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard’s Cabinet colleagues broke rank and condemned Pauline Hanson.

The Prime Minister would not tolerate public dissent.

AMANDA VANSTONE, EMPLOYMENT MINISTER 1996-1997: I remember one occasion when there was something in the paper that I’d, reporting what I’d said about Pauline Hanson and I got a call from the Prime Minister, quite near Question Time.

I had the phone out here and could still hear clearly what he was saying. He was clearly agitated and tense and angry.

(Excerpt of footage of Alexander Downer speech, 6 November 1996)

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: We must absolutely reject old-fashioned, racist, elitist attitudes.

(End of Excerpt)

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: I made a speech attacking Pauline Hanson pretty vehemently. And I think I’m right in saying this, in nearly 12 years as the Foreign Minister I think it’s pretty much the only time he’s rung me to chastise me.

But he wasn’t too impressed with it because he said well you know it’s just going to leave me out there and people are going to say, "Well you know, the media are going to say, well Downer’s doing the right thing, why doesn’t Howard?".

I can assure Alexander Downer that it wasn’t only the media saying that. Many of us were. I for one…

Meanwhile we have seen nothing so far of the Great Robot or The Living Dead or The Cadaver. But his characteristic tone has been captured in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald report on the ending of the special orders against Guantanamo alumnus David Hicks.

The former attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, told the Herald he believed the US process had been too slow but Hicks had been treated fairly.

"His position is no different to any other person," Mr Ruddock said. "The law has operated as I believe it was intended."

Asked how he felt about Mr Hicks’s impending freedom, he said: "I don’t comment on my personal emotions in relation to these matters."

1 Comment

Posted by on November 21, 2008 in Australia, History, John Howard, TV


So now I have seen the second program…

You may recall I said I regarded two this week as “must see”. Tonight’s was even more must see, in my opinion, than Monday’s, and by any sane standards or values far more worth while, far more substantial, far more significant than the much hyped Australia – though that I have not seen. I am just saying that in principle a campy fantasy Australia on which probably obscene amounts of money have already been spent is, when you come down to it, more than a little questionable. Yes, I know that will seem rather puritan, is a comparison of apples and oranges, and it may just be my passing mood. If I do see Australia I may well find much to enjoy in it.

It is a fact, however, that tonight’s A Well Founded Fear was not only a very well-made film, but an utterly devastating experience, which ought to be spliced into next week’s Howard Years as a balance to the same old same old that some will no doubt come up with. Indeed, imagine them running split screen! What a juxtaposition that would be!

The depths to which we fell in those years on the matter of refugee policy infuriated and shamed me at the time, but there were things shown tonight – let’s call it government and official duplicity and that is to soften things – which I didn’t know, and I am sure few of us did. Deporting people with false one-way passports to countries they hadn’t even come from, for example. And in case that is ambiguous, it was our Immigration Department involved in the false passports.

It was, fortunately, not only devastating. The sheer decency of those who care, who made the film or caused it to be made, and the sheer courage and decency of many of our rejects – all those gave cause for hope.

May people on the Opposition side like Petro Georgiou be strengthened in what they are doing, and may Kevin Rudd and company do even more – and they have done quite a lot – to undo this despicable legacy of the Howard Years.

I make no apology for the epithets I have chosen. They are the most accurate in the lexicon for the perpetrators and for their craven publicists and apologists in the media.

Another must see?

Little Fish (2005) is an Australian film which may well also be more significant, in real terms, than Australia – and it is a feature film too, not a documentary. I haven’t seen it but recall people who did praising it highly. It is on ABC on Sunday night. And it has Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill and Hugo Weaving….

Next day

I should add, too, that while A Well Founded Fear was harrowing and evoked some rage in me, as you saw, it was also very inspiring. Full marks to the Edmund Rice Centre and Phil Glendenning, just a marvellous human being. Go there and you will find you can do something about the issue!


Yes, I watched it…

tue18 I refer of course to The Howard Years. I thought it a good job, though it was rather scary seeing what I for one regard as having happened just a few minutes ago receding into History. Oh yes, I remember Pauline 1996! I was teaching at Sydney Girls High at the time and my English and History classes were all a-twitter about her. In general she was not going down well in that context… I myself wrote to every politician under the sun about her, and even received a bland reply from JH himself, adopting the stance we saw last night. Interesting to see that was just about the only occasion he gave the ever faithful Alexander Downer an earful… Pauline put me in hospital too as I scored a hernia going out of my way to be nice to every Asian I met, including helping one Korean carry some heavy luggage up the stairs here in Elizabeth Street (right), causing the hernia and hospital. 😉

But did you read Gerard Henderson this morning? He clearly got out the wrong side of bed. What does he want: hagiography? He’s wrong too about the Menzies doco. Sure it speculated about Menzies’s ambition in the UK, but not crudely. If anything it went a long way towards rehabilitating Menzies as wartime PM in my eyes. I didn’t see the Chifley one.

If you can be bothered with Gerard at his most tendentious, see The left writes Liberals’ history. I certainly didn’t see last night’s program in that light. I can’t imagine Howard being too displeased with it. Rang true with my memory. Gerard, Howard was such a dominant figure that just about the only “objective”  thing that can be said about him was that he was Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007 and he isn’t Prime Minister any more. The fact I smiled when I wrote the last bit is of course not objective – but then neither is Gerard’s rather pathetic piece today – and I use pathetic in the proper sense there: “Deserving or inciting pity”. Last week, on the other hand, as I noted, Gerard wrote a rather splendid piece on World War I. I keep reading him because he does from time to time write something really good…


Posted by on November 18, 2008 in Australia, History, John Howard, TV