20 February 2006

Ten years of Howard

The tenth anniversary of the Howard government is upon us, and it's time to, ah, sort the wheat from the chaff.

The two unimpeachably good policy initiatives of the Howard government are the guns buyback scheme and the liberation of East Timor. These issues have nothing to do with Liberal (or even liberal) philosophy. There is no way that Malcolm Fraser would have done either of these things, not when he was PM or now. Howard never spoke out on these issues, not before getting into Parliament or since, not in Opposition or in Government, until he had to. Generally, Howard is the sort of politician who firmly believes that there is such a thing as "Labor issues" and that it is barely worth worrying about them: both the availability of (indeed, the freedom to own and use) firearms and the putting down of the left-wing Fretilin regime in 1975 are causes that only the most dedicated/deluded members of the far left have only been dimly aware.

It has to be galling to such people that it is despite, and not because of, their decades of activism that anything has happened at all on these issues. When the policies were in place and the people rejoiced and saw that it was good, those who had organised petitions and screenprinted T-shirts and shouted "whaddawewant whendawewantit" were not invited to the feast and learned how cold the inner glow could be.

I wish Howard had stolen the left's clothing more often and more substantially. You wouldn't hear any maoning about the ABC if that had happened in a few more areas.

Aboriginal communities are reinventing themselves in all sorts of interesting ways but Howard can't claim credit for that. Some work of noble note may yet be done by Mal Brough in this area; if so it'll be the making of him (Brough that is).

The GST, so what? Only accountants care about that. The whole nexus of fiscal imbalance remains, whereby those who spend taxes are not responsible for raising it and all the hair-shirt bullshit at COAG and other ministerial confabs is much, much more inefficient than the public servant who, say, spends $20 on a toilet roll or whatever. Much more inefficient and not nearly as much fun as politics junkies might think.

The AWB scandal won't bite with people until (God forbid, but who'll say it can't happen?) the kickbacks kill Aussie diggers, including farm boys. Then Howard is gone and nothing will save him - not sticking by him, not breaking ranks and cutting loose, nothing. Labor may benefit for a short time but they'd be fools to bank on it. Like the 1970s US Democrats with the great gift of Watergate, only to squander it after one term because they underestimated how quickly the other side could regroup, Labor don't have what it takes to chart a course for government.

Of course Australia has become a mean place under Howard - because the economy is doing well, not despite it. All those times we look back on fondly are because we had no money, we had to get our happiness from things other than those we bought. Think back to your childhood, or the economic downturn/war of your choice; not much money to splash about, so you had to get your jollies in other ways and, hopefully, succeeded.

With his comments about Muslims failing to assimilate, he's back where he was in about 1988 promising to cut Asian immigration. Can't help himself, can he?

We've had a great chance to foster mighty industries and great educational/research campaigns and mind-boggling artistic movements that could have changed Australia for the better, and that we've blown that chance in favour of the reasonable economic performance we've enjoyed in recent times. Ah well.

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