Bring back John Howard

One of my best friends used to have a website proclaiming his hatred for our Prime Minister of the time, John Howard. I shared that hatred, as did many other Australians, though of course many did not.

I hated John Howard for the road he took Australia down. We went from being a fair-minded people to being insular and reactive. As part of his political shtick he derided those he called the ‘elites’ – in actual fact the thinkers, the creatives, the people with larger ideas and ambitions, those with ideals: the people who propel culture forward. Nothing was more important to him than his own political survival, and so it was in his interest to kill off anything that might undermine that.

Under his tenure most of the important conversations withered and died in the public sphere, with only a few of the discredited elites maintaining the fight. His manner was paternalistic and conservative, valium to progressive ideals. Effectively he said to the Australian people, don’t you worry your little heads about anything. And for the most part we didn’t – the result being a dumbing down of Australian society, a society more compliant than ever before, the erosion of our liberties, and a country changed to something less than what it was before.

These are fundamental things I can never forgive him for as a proud and engaged Australian. That being said, and excepting some decent sized mistakes, the country prospered economically through his leadership. A lot of that was luck with the economic swings and roundabouts, and the good fortune to inherit an economy transformed by the visionary Labor government preceding his. In Costello though he had a decent treasurer who did more good than harm.

I’m re-visiting this now as a curiosity. I thought Howard was despicable, but he seems benign in light of what we are now stuck with. Much as I disliked Howard and his government there was never much thought of him being irresponsible. Sure, he was in the vanguard of the culture wars, but he was smart enough to understand you can’t upset the apple cart. With one eye on his re-election he was always clever enough not to spook the electorate. He moved slowly, conservatively. When he could he left well enough alone.

Howard compared to Abbott is a paragon of prudence, intelligence and common-sense. Wow, never thought I’d say that – but then that’s a measure of just how bad Abbott is. At least Howard had sure hands. Abbott is a disaster.

Going into last election there was widespread mistrust in the electorate regarding Abbott. Ultimately Labor were voted out, rather than the LNP being voted in. Like most I had my doubts about the basic intelligence and judgement of Abbott. For me they were more than sufficient to vote against him. What is it now? – 8 months? And the worst fears of the public have been realised. And for me I’m amazed to find that Abbott is far worse than I expected.

Right now we face a calamity. The cultural shift of this nation continues under the direction of this government. Even worse than that is the very underpinnings of our society are now at threat.

It’s hard to describe just how bad this government is. I suspect that Abbott is not particularly bright (you’d think the head of state would be brainiac, but look around the world, it’s rarely the case). I don’t know that he’s dishonest, but I certainly believe he’s deluded. The rest seemingly are a combination of the dishonest (Hockey, Morrison), incompetent (Dutton, Bishop, Brandis), cowardly (Turnbull), or evil (Pyne, Morrison, Brandis).

There has been much to be disturbed by in the first 8 months of this governments tenure, but it all came to an ugly head last week. That buffoon Hockey has for months been trumpeting how badly the previous government left the budget position. This is rubbish of course. Australia still leads most western nations on most key indicators. Our government debt is but a fraction of our international contemporaries (despite what Hockey will tell you), and the inefficiencies and expense he makes claims about are untrue in every instance.

Of course it’s customary for incoming governments to blame the government they replaced. You don’t expect anything different now. In this case though I think there is something more sinister afoot. Hockey, and the government, are exaggerating the situation as an excuse to tear everything up and recast the nation in their ideological image.

During the week the government appointed Commission of Audit delivered its report. It’s a radical, divisive document that if adopted would change this country forever. It’s a sham. Tony Shepherd, the author of it, is a right-wing ideologue and second-rate businessman. It’s propaganda, not analysis, created by fascist nuff-nuffs who believe there should be no minimum wage, that people get an easy run with Medicare, and that we should work longer for less while the top end of town reaps the benefits. It’s an evil piece of work.

The government has flagged that they won’t be adopting many of the reforms advocated, but it seems clear that they are ideologically driven along this path. Few doubt that given a free hand that they would adopt much of the philosophy espoused in this report, if not now all at once, then over time. If that were to eventuate then the nature of our society would change, and much of what we have built (and are the envy of many western nations) would be dismantled.

What we face is a national calamity. I don’t want to live in a country made by these select few (elites?). I doubt there are many outside of the very rich who would. Notions of fairness go out the window. Justice, as we know it, comes second to their vision of economic rationalism. Cultural progression is snuffed. Divisions along class lines open up, while the basic services so many of us have come to see as our right are either eroded or dismantled altogether. And this by a government that is a climate change denier, and which insists on locking up refugees.

This is terrible.

Fortunately – perhaps – the government has over-played its hand, and managed the message very poorly. They’ve lost what trust the public had in them, and have alarmed many. There’s talk of unrest within their ranks, which is no surprise. Most of the party are battlers happy to have a seat, and fearful of losing it for the cause of a bunch of right-wing fascist ideologues.

The budget gets handed down this week. It will be an interesting document. It won’t be nearly as extreme as the COA report, but it will frighten. How frightening will depend in part by how spooked the government have been to the adverse reaction to the report. Will they play it down? Or will they go hard? One thing is certain, there’ll be plenty of Hockey’s self-righteous bluster.

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