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Federal Government

HOWARD’S WAY: Nick Mack ponders the doco we had to have


Admit it: You watched the first episode of ABC’s The Howard Years, put aside your own political bias and loved Howard’s cunning and beguile.

Within the constrains of one hour, Fran Kelly and the gang picked up many of the most significant events of Howard’s first term : waterfront reform, firearms control, Hanson, the killer budget of 1996, the Wik 10 point plan, the GST.

Those few years were terrible in terms of governance and stability. Consider the significant events not canvassed that made government even harder:

â–  Members of the executive who fell foul of the Ministerial Code of Conduct;

â–  Howard’s dropping of bonds for high aged care services to keep faith with wrinklies – a big backflip from which the health sector still suffers;

■ Brian Harradine’s role in the Senate;

■ Mal Colston’s superb coveting of the Deputy Presidency of the Senate; and

â–  The drawn out debate over the legislation that overrode NT laws permitting euthanasia.

Howard comes out of the first term as leader who was prepared to cut some core constituents lose and then scramble to win them back. The Howard Years subscribed to the idea that A New Tax System was designed to herd back the Liberal voting small business person who might have been drifting towards Hanson or Labor. I support this view but many.

For many business people, a GST meant the beginning of tax reform they had yearned for. Unlike Hewson, Howard gave them sweeteners: Family Tax Benefits to parents, especially one income families, and the 30 per cent rebate on health insurance has been overlooked to name just a few. He was prepared to be unloved and them bribe’em back – politically, great stuff!

No Government can really be understood without acknowledging the weakness and strengths of its Opposition. Labor chose continuity and likeability in Kim Beazley Jnr but Howard and Costello did a very good job in framing him as economically and administratively incompetent: “Beazley’s Blackhole” and the Collins “underwater rock concert” class of submarines stuck as mud.

Howard got the Hansonites and their sense of marginalisation; Costello had no time for them. History will be kinder to Costello with regards to the ‘put Hanson last’ campaign. Liberals in Queensland have not forgotten the disastrous decision to put Hanson ahead of Labor during the 1998 State election. The Nats could have got away with it but not the Libs whose political bread and butter were well educated Brisbane seats. The Libs were reduced to 9 seats.

In this regard, Costello was politically and morally vindicated. But there was something ungracious and carping about Costello’s performance. He seemed to want own all successes and none of the failures.

Compared to Rudd’s transition, the Howard Government really did struggle. Howard’s ambitious agenda and sense of urgency was almost Whitlamesque in its crash or crash through approach. This is to Howard’s credit.

In comparison, Rudd first year feels so pedestrian and superficial. Terry McCrann has accurately described Wayne Swan’s first budget as Costello’s latest. The Rudd Government has not set about an ambitious first term agenda and seems to be setting up for a much more ambitious second term with an ETS and tax reform high on the agenda. Or is Rudd just Steve Bracks’s writ large tinkering at the edges of his predecessor’s reformist successes? Whaddyaathink?

(My Highlight: Peter Reith’s selective dementia and sense of fun about being a hard bastard as he stared down the Maritime Union of Australia.)


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  1. You’re wrong on Hanson. If the Libs had been smart, they could have preserved her and prospered off her preferences. As it stands, they have no one to do preference deals with. Why they didn’t support Fielding and throw Family First a few bones during the 04-07 is anybodys guess, but then again there were a lot of people in the government who were well and truly past it by that time.

    Posted by Anonymous | November 18, 2008, 17:04
  2. Man why didn’t they throw in alil Keating at the start? Anyways I admire McHoward’s courage to eventually wear the flack jacket! Morris is so sentimental isn’t he towards ol’Janette. Reith looks younger now than he did back in the day.

    Posted by Gimmemore Howard | November 18, 2008, 17:46
  3. From what I hear, Rudd is going to have to wear a flak jacket in Queensland the way his support is going there.

    Posted by flak jacket | November 19, 2008, 12:12


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