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The Punch: Remembering ‘Abbott’s dad’: top 10 Howard era memories

11 Aug 2010

First Published on The Punch 10/8/2010

Goldfish have a neat survival mechanism to prevent them ever getting bored – by the time they have swum around the bowl they have forgotten the previous lap. It makes them a lot like voters at election time.

This is why we are grateful when our failed candidates enter the fray to remind us of why we voted against them. And while Mark Latham has rightly been drawing attention, like onlookers to a car crash, another leader took centre stage over the weekend to take us back to meaner and trickier times.

As he moved in to give Tony Abbott a man-hug at the Liberal launch, John Howard reminded us of many of Australia’s most forgettable moments. Given that Abbott is running on a “re-elect the Howard Government” ticket it is worth dwelling on our former Prime Minister’s Ten Most Notable Contributions to the Nation.

Downward Envy – John Howard trained Australians to look down the chain when we were feeling low – welfare cheats, single mums, dole bludgers, these were the people making life hard for decent Australians. As profit levels soared and CEO wages sky-rocketed, we tut-tutted the Paxtons.

Un-Core Promises – John Howard wrote the play book on trust, famously separating out core and non-core promises. Tony Abbott has adapted and extended his work with the notion of ‘gospel trust’ versus the things you say in an interview.

Dog-Whistling – John Howard got the tone needed to calm economic insecurity note-perfect. All you do is shift attention from foreign companies sending local jobs offshore and transfer it onto unfortunates seeking political refuge from terrorism and civil war. Draw a line in the, eh, sand somewhere west of Christmas Island and everyone will call you a patriot.

Boondoggling –  John Howard focused the national interest into the backyard of voters in marginal seats, using the electoral pendulum to deliver spending to the communities whose votes he needed most. The result was a targeted program of public spending on projects that had no connection to each other.

Casino Capitalism – John Howard conceived of Australia as a sandpit, riding the mining boom to throw money at voters, passing up the chance to build for the next generation of Australians. After a decade of growth, we lacked the roads, rail and port to actually get the stuff out of the country. But those cheques went down a treat!

Stomping Out Dissent – John Howard went to war with the ABC, imposing right wing supporters on the ABC Board, while defunding service delivery agencies that criticised government policy.

Killing Off the Republic – In possibly his finest act of ideological indulgence, John Howard conned Australians to vote against having an Australian head of State because they didn’t like politicians. Then he took the place of the Queen at the Olympic Games.

Refusing to Say Sorry – In the face of evidence and personal experience, john Howard denied the experiences of the Stolen Generation, a stubborn refusal to take the long-term view of history.

Environmental Denial – John Howard was a climate change sceptic, setting the standards for denial and inaction that Tony Abbott has turned into an art form, and creating an IOU to future generations that is growing by the day.

Locking Up Unionists – While his crowning achievement was WorkChoices, John Howard sparked a phoney war on the waterfront and bought in laws that allow workers to be jailed for refusing to disclose what is said at union meetings.

It’s only when you stop and pause, that you remember what happened on the last lap of the goldfish bowl. It is only when you do, that you remember where John Howard took this nation.

A lot of Labor supporters are finding it hard to get excited about this election campaign, but surely a lap of the gold fish bowl is all it takes to realise that the carcass of the Howard Government does not deserve to be rehabilitated.

Peter Lewis, Director, EMC