Wednesday, August 05, 2009

John Howard and delusions

I haven't yet watched the SBS show Liberal Rule. But I have enjoyed some of the commentary about it. First up there is Gerard Henderson who claims it is all biased, because it has no right wing academics to match the left. The second criticism comes from Charles Richardson who notes that really the Howard era was not some grand epoch instead;

In psephological terms it would make more sense to think of the Howard government as a one-term government that, by a series of accidents, managed to prolong its term for eleven years.

That is a very interesting view and is perhaps a counterpoint to the other Henderson criticism that Howard didn't achieve much in the culture wars, or in remaking the ABC. Perhaps the reason for that was that Howard simply never had the authority that his longevity implied.

Other flaws have been set out by Peter Brent. These are threefold, that the show over emphasises the subject's importance, it over estimates Australia's importance and - echoing Henderson - just had former Minister's recounting the tale with a few left-leaning critics.

But to the subject himself. He has launched back into the spotlight courtesy of his own musings on the media and his relationship with Godwin Grech. On the media, in delivering a lecture at Melbourne Uni, he is reported as claiming the media was unfair on Hollingworth and Hanson. On the former he said (in part);

You can criticise his judgment...but I thought the relentless pursuit and character assassination of a very, very decent man - I thought that was appalling

It makes one wonder whether "judgement" is not indeed part of being a decent man. Wasn't the core concern that Hollingworth had shown himself not to be a "decent man" by the way he dealt with the claims of improprietry in the Church?

As to anson, the Howard defence is;

I think the media trivialised and therefore did a disservice to our long-term national interest in suggesting that Pauline Hanson was all about racism and nothing else. ...But I think there was a lot more to what was occurring then and I think many in the media failed to understand that she was articulating a sense of dispossession and a sense of being left behind felt by a section of the Australian community, and a sense that the values of this country were being changed without the country being consulted.

Unpacking this really says that the country is entitled to retain an approach to Asians or original inhabitants consistent with the Hanson view. This is Howard - cultural conservative - in full flight. This is the Howard who defended Hanson at the time, the Howard who appealed to the same red-neck approach.

Meanwhile we discover that Godwin Grech thinks of himself as close enough to have written to the former PM in the "depths of his despair". In response the PM has said that "Godwin Grech is a very good and sincere public servant".

It appears that Howard's view was formed in part because when he was in the prime minister’s department, Grech gave informal information to the Howard government. Actually this stands him as a not good public servant the first rule for whom should be observing the protocols for communicating with a Minister's office.

We should all be greatful that the Howard years were not an epoch, just another part of our unfolding story. As when I'm asked about the current economic position and whether I believe our good fortune is all Rudd's doing. My reply is that we have been blessed by Government's from 1975 on that have walked a careful line between a market economy and welfare state and have over the cycle maintained a balanced budget. In reality I could probably add parts of the Whitlam government (Trade Practices Act, tarriff reform) and leave out bits of the Fraser Government (slow on financial reform). The choice of date is more to do with the choice of the end of the oil shocks which necessitated changed approaches.

No comments: