The Howard Years: first impressions

Some first impressions on the 1996-8 first term of The Howard Years:

  • Peter Reith says he didn’t know Dubai was a port. But he had the support of the children which meant Janette’s favour.
  • Graeme Morris, JWH’s Chief of Staff in the early years is a real charmer. His machiavellian behaviour eventually resulted in his forced resignation. He would have enjoyed shooting parties with Dick Cheney.
  • Speaking of guns: his response to the Port Arthur massacre was Howard at his authoritarian best and worst. Set the tone for the rest of his regime. Johnny decides, they follow.
  • Peter Costello’s portrayal of himself as gallant hero when drawing up the 1996 budget cuts and the tax reforms which gave us the GST. The El Cid of the Liberal Party.
  • The weakness of the Cabinet. Even in their lack of support for Reith and Corrigan during the waterfront dispute. The PM is still not amused.
  • The Pauline Hanson factor: JWH’s refusal to take her head on. He even had words with Alexander Downer.
  • The impotence of the National party when dealing with Howard, especially Tim Fischer and John Anderson. Their role was to soften up the bush over anything controversial.
  • Howard’s near hysteria at the Reconciliation Conference when the audience turned their backs on him.
  • How the GST almost got rid of his government.

The program has been touted as being in their own words without commentary. Yet the voice over “history” by Fran Kelly accepts a very conventional view of what happened. Most of it could have been written by Howard’s old press office. There is no coverage of any opposition from the Labor Party. It’s hard to imagine how Kim Beazley won the two-party-preferred vote in 1998.

Kevin Rennie

52 Responses

  1. Kevin,

    Howard’s performance at the reconciliation conference revealed his true colours.

    Otherwise it made for pretty ordinary television. Peter Reith looked like a complete dill.

    I guess the Libs won’t be happy to be reading this in today’s paper either:,27574,24668447-29277,00.html

  2. I set up my HDD/DVD to record it but the clock hadn’t changed for daylight savings so it started recording an hour late. Thus I only caught the last 5 minutes.
    From that snippet all I deduced was that Costello seemed to be trying really hard to divorce himself from some of the “less palatable” aspects of the early Howard years…to preference or not to preferecnce One Nation etc..
    When is the next ep televised?

  3. 1 SEVEN NEWS Seven 1,649,000 329,000 472,000 400,000 207,000 241,000
    2 TODAY TONIGHT Seven 1,482,000 275,000 432,000 346,000 192,000 237,000
    3 HOME AND AWAY Seven 1,350,000 394,000 362,000 270,000 166,000 158,000
    4 DOMESTIC BLITZ Nine 1,324,000 369,000 421,000 266,000 116,000 153,000
    5 NINE NEWS Nine 1,240,000 282,000 403,000 322,000 141,000 91,000
    6 TWO AND A HALF MEN -RPT Nine 1,234,000 301,000 413,000 283,000 118,000 118,000
    7 A CURRENT AFFAIR Nine 1,227,000 322,000 404,000 275,000 129,000 96,000
    8 THE HOWARD YEARS ABC1 1,189,000 404,000 349,000 176,000 124,000 136,000
    9 CITY HOMICIDE (Rpt) Seven 1,189,000 326,000 439,000 160,000 132,000 133,000
    10 ABC NEWS ABC1 1,157,000 319,000 361,000 218,000 110,000 149,000

  4. Adrian… meaning?

  5. Just showing where it came in the ratings, roughly equal first for its time slot with a repeat episode of City Homicide.

    Reading some of the other blogs and forums around it must have just about been all wingnuts watching as they are saying what a great documentary it is showing how wonderful John Howard was. This is getting the usual non-wingnut replies of vomit and they have to be kidding.

    I’ve always been amazed at how Howard managed to garner such glued on unquestioning support from both his party and the wingnuts out there. I don’t think there has been another PM in our history, nor many world leaders for that matter, that unthinking people so implicitly followed and believed whilst also polarising public opinion. More than any other person I can think of, there was no middle ground with Howard, just a begrudging tolerance, an unquestioning admiration to the point of being blind to his obvious obfuscations and equivocations or a deep seated loathing/hate/detestation.

  6. Ah, Adrian – I see now.

  7. Luckily I missed it. I intend to miss the rest of the episodes too.

  8. “I’ve always been amazed at how Howard managed to garner such glued on unquestioning support from both his party and the wingnuts out there”adrian

    Notably most of the same people still see GWB as a great & noble leader. Pointing out to them that even his own party affiliates couldn’t get far enough away from him during the recent US election campaign doesn’t even scratch the surface with them.
    More to do with an attitude of “My Country/Party/Ideology right or wrong!” than any sort of objective view of issues based on their merits.
    Of course the “left” is guilty of similar partisanship at times but the Howard/Bush example on the “right” is especially pronounced IMHO..

  9. I didnae watch it.

    How’s the cap-toothed, stammering old polyp doing these days, anyhow? Still clinging on to those grand and glorious memories when he was George’s favoured vanilla-spiced suppository, is he?

    How I’d like to rip the little ***** twenty new a***holes with a ******* spanner.

  10. This program brings back memories. I’ve always thought that Howard acted decisively and admirably on the gun laws issue. Aside from that, I felt that he did a lot of damage in his first term including massive education cuts, racist policy towards Aborigines (and indifference for some time to that other racist politician – Hanson), and encouragement of anti-union behaviour.

    WIth the unpopular GST on offer at the 1998 eleciton, I will never be able to understand why John Howard was not thrown out of office by voters. I feel ashamed that the majority of Australians endorsed the sort of behaviour that we received from John Howard.

  11. “I feel ashamed that the majority of Australians endorsed the sort of behaviour that we received from John Howard.”

    That’s perhaps a bit unfair. I feel ashamed that the majority of Australians found it acceptable to vote for a Prime Minister who was racist, took backward steps in reconciliation, who took education backwards, who acted on ideological despise for unions rather than on fairness etc.

  12. I got the impression that Howard far from showing leadership actually ruled by fear.

    You can see plenty of such cultures in corporate Australia whereby the Top Dog tells his puppies what the position on an issue is going to be without explaining the rationale for the decision. That’s why you get people like Costello breaking out of lock step and preferencing Hanson last in his electorate because he could not understand why his own party was tolerating her. In my opinion Costello came across a bit better than what I expected. I tend to think he was slowly pulverized into total submission over the years and just ran out of energy to really lash out and challenge the PM.

    Then you had Howard telling John Anderson that the gun policy was set in stone and it was upto him to sell it in rural Australia.

    Then we had Reith doing the bidding of Howard over the waterfront without the public support of any other ministers (Howard’s own admission). I got the feeling that whilst the rest of Cabinet might have been all for waterfront reform I don’t believe they were too impressed by the methods being used.

    Personally I cant stand that type of culture as it just breeds lots of surprises by way of cover ups of screw ups because people are too scared of admitting errors. I’ve actually walked out of 2 jobs in my career once I’ve discovered the real culture.

    Anyway looking forward to next Mondays episode.
    By the way Human Dividend I always have the same problem with my HD Recorder everytime daylight saving comes into play. I eventually get it right.

  13. How did Howard do it?

    Step 1: Tell people that they’ve never had it so good
    Step 2: Demonise anyone who might throw a spanner in the works and therefore throw into doubt Step 1 – the disabled, the unemployed, single parents, refugees and lower paid workers. And make certain that you also demonise these groups’ supporters which included church and charitable organizations.

    Result: Anyone who wanted a fairer more equitable society were either leftie socialists (viz distribution of wealth) or bleeding hearts.

  14. I feel extremely embarrased that the majority of Australians voted for this party. It goes to show how far bull will take you. Howard was quite un Australian and history will make him quite harshly. This guy is little more than a skidmark on the sheet of life.

  15. Min,

    Good point. Howard conveniently labelled anything that conflicted with his ideaology as “UnAustralian”.

    In other words; un-middle-class, white, conservative, anglo, hate-filled, meanspirited christian, rascist, homphobe.

  16. Just a tincey point Reb, christian organizations copped heaps from the JWH organization via ‘bleeding hearts’ especially regarding refugees and their interment in desert concentration camps and the homeless. Only one sort of christian in JWH’s world, those who donated.

  17. Min (13) and David (14) how did Howard do it? Self interest was promoted as admirable – remember all the references to ‘asperational Australia’.

    We were also bombarded with the mantra of ‘responsibilities of the individual’, while the Govt neglected it’s responsiblilities to the collective (privatising of debt). When people began to feel a bit of pain he blamed unions, workers, the disadvantaged anybody except the corporations and failings of his own Govt to be socially responsible.

    Clearly many believed that the economic advantage was the result of Howard & Costellos excellent management and didn’t want to rock the boat.

    Too much self interest will eventually weaken compassion and empathy IMO.

  18. Howard was quite un Australian and history will make him quite harshly.

    I would prefer that the current Govt and the judiicial system ‘dealt with him (and his Govt) VERY harshly’.

  19. Howard was the sort of faux Christian who appealed to the likes of Hillsong Church, Opus Dei and Exclusive Brethren.

    I always wonder how such types reconcile themselve with Christ’s teaching that: “A camel has more chance of passing through the eye of a needle than a rich man has of entering the Kingdom of Heaven”.

    Christ was pretty clear on the subject of wealth, but some ‘Christians’ are either unaware of this or ignore it.

  20. “Christ was pretty clear on the subject of wealth, but some ‘Christians’ are either unaware of this or ignore it.”

    “Some?” I would suggest most.

    Especially the evangelical Hillsong variety. I’ve never met a christian that didn’t hold back from showing off their flash cars, having the biggest house, and stuffing their fat sanctiominous arses with as much food as possible.


    Can I get an amen!!

  21. Amen brother!

  22. Thank you joni.

  23. 20,21 and 22…

    In the end, christianity is all about self-interest…pesonal salvation etc…saving your arse.

  24. MJ @ 23…. eek!

  25. MJ, no wonder it (christianity) appeals to Liberal sensibilities…

  26. Sometimes I wonder whether those Churches really do believe, or whether for them Christianity is just a convenient legal way to avoid tax and receive Govt funding.

    Their actions (especially the Catholic Church) seem to in many ways be at odds with the teachings of Christ who they claim to follow.

  27. Hello Tracie. I was quite interested in Howard’s technique and at the time was surprised that no journo or commentator seemed to notice it (this was before me finding that there were any such things as blogs).

    Firstly have stories run as headliners..remember that family who were all unemployed and the sons refused to have their piercings removed nor cut their dreads. This must have run for weeks. Then TRAAA DAAA, surprise, surprise JWH introduces some punitive ‘solution’. Done time and time again.

    The above formula repeated re the you-know the wink-wink nudge nudge disabled (and they aren’t really cos I saw this guy get out of his car and I saw him walk).

    You see it even now of course viz Why Should I Pay For…yet with the same sort of people not a bleat about paying for welfare for the wealthy. It’s all been twisted about me-thinks. It’s ok to provide subsidies for the wealthy but heaven help if anyone should provide a brass razzoo for ‘the other mob’ because they’re just a bunch of lazy sods.

  28. Tracie..yet again I agree with you. There are christians running 24 hour soup kitchens and there are christians spruking ‘wealth creation’. In the scheme of things, it’s not about the religion it’s about the character of the person.

  29. My last post on the man as he does not deserve the space!

    Music break.

  30. Min that’s right. Today Tongiht and A Current Affair have a lot to answer for as well.

    It is easy to manipulate public opinion using the media and Howard did that in a particularly nasty way.

    Maybe we need some sort of de-programming initiatives by the ALP to reverse this phenomena.

  31. First impressions last night:
    Howard was the ultimate autocrat.
    The Private School Bullies were (as most bullies are…) whimps.
    What a bunch of liers (“…I didn’t know…” “…I told ‘so n so…” “…oh yes he knew because…” etc.

    Off Topic
    Late post because The Minister and I have just come back from the movies (tightarse Tuesday as my son calls it – 1/2 price) – highly recommend “Traitor” with Don Cheadle and Guy Pierce…well written, acted, directed, filmed, SFX – good stuff.

  32. I think the main reason that howard was ‘able to do it’ was the complete lack of an alternative.

    As a rusted on Labor voter, it was appalling watching them get torn to shreds and blamed for everything bad, and they didn’t do anything to stop it.

  33. I didn’t watch the program. I will not bother myself with the man.

    I find the comments on this thread far more accurate and entertaining than the media beat-up about some mean spirited ex-pm.

  34. TB. I endorse your comments about Traitor. Just loved the twist at the end.

  35. TomR – but how many Labor press releases viz alternative policies/criticisms actual made it into print? At my guess around 5% and then only begrudgingly as a token gesture of ‘balance’.

  36. I think the reason why the wingnuts loved Howard was because it was the closest to a ‘real’ right wing leader they had.

    The Liberal Party, while anti-Union and pro capitalism was never into the ‘culture wars’ as Howard was. These so called wars seemed to me to be an import of a nasty ideology from the right wing in the USA. The ‘black arm band of history’, the usage of the ANZAC as the embodiment of the true Australian, the disappearance of the idea of multiculturalism, the use of war and of course the dog-whistling xenophobia appeals to the wingnut.

    Of course many of them loved the affinity he had with the hero of the wingnut George Bush. That is why some of them are going into apoplexy because Rudd may have confirmed what an idiot it is. How this has rubbed on the MSM is somewhat worrying. Here we have substantial amounts of media time wasted to examine whether Bush smiled at Rudd, or whether the handshake was a few microseconds longer of shorter than others. When the vast majority of the Australian population probably thinks ‘so what?’ as they might believe (rightly I suspect) that they have more nous than Bush anyway.

    There seems to be sort of nostalgia for Howard years in many section of the media. Maybe Rudd should be more friendly with them. Just don’t tell them what idiotic right wing USA presidents have just said.

  37. 32. Tom R

    Used to frustrate me no end! Labor just seemed to lay back, open wide and smile!

    I had been saying the Keating would go down in history as the best treasurer this country had ever had – and why – as soon as Howard took the reins…took another decade before the Labor Party started to realise and defend his policies – dumb, dumb, dumb!

    Hope you’d figured it out before the end (there was a couple of twists actually) – I particularly liked the one on the bus near the end! Don’t want to spoil it for others!

  38. I agree with Min’s take at #35. Labor did plenty of criticising. The media were very biased and didn’t report most of their criticisms.

    I think post #13 is right on the money as well.

  39. I also agree with the point made by TB that the Labor Party made a huge error in failing to defend Paul Keating’s economic record.

  40. Agreed TB. As much as I love Kimmy to pieces, he was far too nice and honest to be able to counter The Howard Machine. But what a wonderful PM Kimmy would have made.

    TB..I suspect that the Libs worked out far earlier than the Labs how to use the media machine. And of course Keating is still well and able to stand up for fact manages to get a few of his writings published in the main stream media.

    I do hope that people realize that if you send out 20 press releases that maybe, if you’re lucky that one of them might be published. It just urks me when general public states, Oh but you don’t do anything. Far from the truth. It’s just that the media choose not to publish..anything….

  41. Min, you lavish praise by calling them media – bloody high school journalists could do better – have you watched Today Tonight or ACA lately – movies, film and pop stars, diets and real estate sales…no wonder they call it ACA these days instead of A Current Affair!

    Thank Gawd for 7:30 Report and Lateline (although one often repeats the other)

    as for your press releases – they are a bit like emails (or the old memos) in large companies – even if they reach the correct destinations – you can’t guarantee they’ll be read…

    The Minister and I redesigned a phrase in the car after visiting a client on the Gold Coast one day:

    You can lead a person to thought but you can’t make them think!

  42. Agreed’s getting a bit crook when Sky journos are the penultimate of ‘insightful’. And it’s a long time since intelligence has been worth a cracker.

    Must choof..hubby home and I owe him a half way decent meal.

  43. A nationalist at heart is Howard, even Grahame Morris said so.

    Remember Howard’s old man was supposed to be a member of a white supremacist organisation – Howard learned his bigotry and racism at his father’s knee. Typical of conservative ideology, Howard just regurgitated the dogma. Wingnuts don’t think about anything rationally or critically, they just parrot the same thinking as their parents, then defend it on the basis of history and tradition.

    Howard was, and still is a national embarrasment, it is to our shame that he remained in power for so long.

  44. And I have to say that I am always in awe of Patrick Dodson’s strength, intelligence and dignity, he inspires me greatly.

    Hope I’m still around if he ever becomes a PM or President.

  45. I’m left with 2 indelible and haunting images after watching the Howard Years: the nauseating sycophancy of Reith and Downer.

    As Reith gushingly relayed Howard’s approval “my kids think you’re terrific !” my thoughts turned to TV images of balaclavas, snarling dogs, and the terrified expressions on the faces of the wharfies’ kids, as the law broke up the picket line.

    If this is what passed for entertainment in the Howard menage circa 1998 then Australia has had a close call. For the sake of the Howard sprogs
    I hope it’s environmental and not a genetic thing.

    As for Downer…”(Howard) was seriously pleased” about Downer “pulling off” some wondrous diplomatic feat. Hopefully the Howard kids weren’t allowed to see Downer in action, and I was glad the ABC kept the Downer shots above the waist.

    Reith, who is no dill, would be feeling somewhat embarrased at his performance I iamagine. Downer, who is a dill, would still be incontinent with excitement at the opportunity to lick his master’s leg.

  46. What great diplomatic feat was that Mangrove?

    Downer was fobbed off as a whining annoying pest in some diplomatic circles.

    You all know the type, they get promoted or cushy postings just to get rid of them out of one section to become someone else’s problem, who then also promote of move them on. I ran across a few like this in Defence, including one officer who was annoying, incompetent, a woeful manager but well connected, who kept getting passed up the chain until in a position of real responsibility he nearly caused a major accident. He was then promoted to a permanent desk job in Canberra.

    Downer was apparently like this. Everyone would listen to his whining and big noting himself (self aggrandisement is something he does constantly) politely nod their heads, agree with whatever he wanted and move him on. This is how he apparently managed the increase for Australia in emissions output, he whinged and whined so incessantly and stridently that they just gave in and sent him packing whilst they got on with the real stuff of reduction targets.

    I’m wondering if this is the “diplomatic feat” he is on about?

  47. Great line I just read in a letter to the Australian on The Howard Years:

    Let he without spin cast the first stone.

    I think we might be waiting a while if that was the case.

  48. …What great diplomatic feat was that Mangrove?…

    Maybe it was the blackmailing and bullying of the fledgling E Timor into giving up their oil and gas rights.


    Along with Howard, never seeing a single cable informing him of the The AWB cowboys rorting the oil-for-food program (and it now looks like the AWB canaries are not going to go to gaol because they’ve threatened to take govt. ministers down with them).

    Who else thinks that the delayed AWB exec court case will never happen?

  49. “As for Downer…”(Howard) was seriously pleased” about Downer “pulling off” some wondrous diplomatic feat”

    It was the “Pacific Solution”, wasn’t it?

  50. Sycophancy. It describes the attitude of Howard’s ministers to him. It is the attitude of his rusted-on followers. And it is the attitude of much of the media.

    But it’s also a chain thing, a pecking order. Just as many grovelled to Howard, he grovelled to others above him. To the rich and influential, all the way up to GWB.

    All these suckholes in a line of order, from highest to the lowest, all grovelling to those above them on the line.

    Must be conservatives from whence the command came: “Know your place.”

  51. “All these suckholes in a line of order, from highest to the lowest, all grovelling to those above them on the line.”

    Sounds very much like a conga line of suckholes Caney. 😆

  52. Sounds very much like a conga line of suckholes Caney.

    It does, doesn’t it Bacchus. It’s an inescapeable conclusion when you consider their behaviour: Kick down, grovel up (or however the saying goes).

    Mark Latham said a lot of things in his time, but not many were more fitting than his description of conservatives as a conga line.

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