A few things we miss about John Howard

Let’s be honest, the last eight years of Australian politics, specifically the last five, have been the most uninspired in our nation’s history. Self interested power without purpose, internal navel gazing, and personal ambition has given way to the purpose of government: building policies through consensus and carrying the electorate with reforms designed to ensure the long term wellbeing of the nation.

During the past five years, whether or not you have agreed with some of the key policy proposals from either the ALP or the Coalition, it must be admitted that no politician has had the ability to carry the voters with them. In short, the reform agenda has taken a hiatus, and made way for political self interest. Both sides are guilty.

During the past week in particular, I’ve been looking back on how it used to be. Specifically, I recall the years growing up under the Howard government. I’ve heard it a few times lately: Bring John Howard back.

A politician’s legacy isn’t set until the history writers have had time to assess where they sit in the nation’s story, but recent events have done Howard a great favour. It’s even probable that some of his fiercest opponents miss some elements of his time in office – dare I say.

Whether or not you liked Howard, the following list reveals some of the things this country has missed since he departed in 2007.

1. Stability

No talk of leadership spills. No challenge whenever the polls went south (which they did several times during Howard’s long tenure in office), and no internal backstabbing. Some might point out that Peter Costello’s ambitions presented on occasion, but the treasurer put aside his own interests and sat on his hands in the best interests of his party and the country. Yes, this was less than ten years ago. Seems like a distant memory.

2. Competency

I’m not even talking about policy here. I’m talking about the ability to communicate with the electorate. Howard was able to snag middle class, traditional Labor voters because he could prosecute a political argument and carry people with him. He didn’t sound wooden in front of a camera, and he rarely became flustered in an interview. His successors can hardly make such a claim. Rudd was robotic, Gillard was wooden, and Abbott, well, just visit YouTube.


3. Economic reform

The economic ‘debate’ in the past five years has been farcical. ‘Surplus! No, deficit! Surplus! Debt! Too much debt!’ That’s pretty much been the parameter of discussion. Whatever happened to politicians focusing on long term structural solutions to complex issues? Hawke and Keating’s economic reforms during the 1980’s were challenging but essential, and Howard’s introduction of the GST was politically difficult and it nearly cost him an election. Now our federation couldn’t deal without it. It’s highly improbable that any politician would be able to introduce such a difficult proposal, given the knee jerk nature of our political commentary and our key board warriors on social media.

4. Conviction

What did Kevin Rudd actually stand for? Himself would probably be the most acceptable answer. Likewise, what was Julia Gillard’s purpose? The nation’s first female prime minister, and an atheist, didn’t even have the courage to bring forward a debate on same-sex marriage, despite her latent support for it. What about Tony Abbott? His ideological commitments might be clearer than Rudd’s or Gillard’s, but even he described himself as a weathervane on key policy areas. Howard was the last conviction Prime Minister. People knew what he stood for, even if they didn’t like him. He was a conservative with a strong affection for Australia’s British heritage. He was an unshakable supporter of the American Alliance, and on economic policy he was a neo-liberal. Although, in keeping with Menzies’ tradition of nurturing the middle class, he was not adverse to providing government support to his ‘battlers’, as he called them.

5. Respect for office

Howard was hated by many, but even his most vocal opponents had at least some respect for his political ability. Kim Beazley, Labor’s go-to Opposition Leader for much of Howard’s rule, even described Howard as the most formidable politician of our time. Rudd lost all respect post 2010. Gillard never had authority, and Abbott frequently leaves himself open to ridicule. Howard at least presented as a statesmen, and his seeming permanency in office lent begrudged respect from all circles.

History works on perspective. It is not always the events at the time that write the story, but the aftermath that leads us to make our conclusions.

Mr Howard, considering how your first three successors have travelled, history is already treating you very kindly.

21 Comments on A few things we miss about John Howard

  1. He’s been the best I’ve seen. At least he stood by policy rather than run at the first sign of trouble.

  2. Pfft…
    He should be on trial for war crimes. He only had some ‘success’ because of the mining boom. He took all the credit for Keating’s reforms, and he overspent on middle class welfare.

  3. Led is into war, botched the proceeds of the mining boom, started the racist rubbish with refugees. Nope – don’t miss him at all. He might be better than Abbott but they are both just as sinister and nasty as each other.

    • So it’s racist to stop people dying at sea is it? Hundreds (perhaps thousands – I lost count) died as a result of the ALP’s soft policy on boat people after Howard was voted out. Since the government has returned to his policies that hasn’t been happening. People can and do seek assylum in other ways that don’t encourage risking lives and line the pockets of criminals.
      And bothced the proceeds of the mining boom by leading a government that ran a booming economy? It was his successors who squandered that.

  4. I miss him. It was a mistake to vote him out in 2007. Glenn – there is nothing racist about having a proper, structured process for dealing with refugees. Labor tried a kind approach and look what happened. How is it racist to want to protect your borders? By labelling it so, it’s just another attempt at shutting down debate.

  5. Worm…

  6. John Howard was the best PM we have had in many many years!
    All those who voted him out, look what you have done to Australia!

  7. its not easy being the big man in the office, yet every wanker thinks he can do it better.

  8. I loved John Howard. I bet the nation is looking back in hindsight wishing that they could reverse their decision to boot him out. Australia’s last great politician

  9. In the aftermath of the Port Arthur Howrad’s policy to remove firearms was and still is a bitter pill to swallow for many gun owners but since the Firearm buy back we have not seen another active shooter in Australia. Good on you Mr Howrad thank you for making Australia a safe place for my family to grow up in.

  10. John Howard was the best!
    People who say he was a racist have no idea. He simply had a tough policy on people coming here illegally and so we should have tough policies on it. Howard and Costello’s government had our economy booming and the moment Rudd got in all he did was spend spend spend. The 900 dollar cheques that he handed out to everyone was just a popularity contest for him he just wanted to be popular. It was one of the worst policies and it cost us billions.
    And for the people who said about the war well have a look at isis now. Maybe we should just sit back and let extremists take over the world because them attacking australia, USA or anywhere else is fine. But if we fight back or go to war ITS A WAR CRIME! I’m sick of left winged people saying we shouldn’t be at war with a clear growing threat

  11. If Howard didn’t bring in work choices he probably would have remained in office for at least another term, and as we know the term after Howard was shocking to say the least.

  12. The biggest crime was by the voters

  13. What did Howard actually do in the 11 years he was in government .what are the standout policies he brought in,well i can tell you three the GST,WORKCHOICES and he sold TELESTRA for 46.6 billion dollars that originally was to go into the futures fund instead it was used for something else.No wonder they could have surpluses.334billion dollars made out of the mining boom chicken feed to what the mining companies made and sent their profits overseas.If we would have had a mining tax at the time wewould not be in the predicament we are in today.

  14. Look at it this way he brought in the GST no one liked it and it worked he put tougher border security and all but stopped the boats he worked his ass off and dos what was needed to be done to get australia to where we all wanted it to be but didn’t have the balls to say so than u get labour in and bang long long after we are in det more boats of illegal immigrants are showing every week than in a year of when Howard was in and ur telling me he did nothing

  15. Stability? Only because Costello was a coward, look at Howard’s role earlier with the Howard v Peacock years. Competency (or communicating with middle class and labor voters)? He just dog whistled and push polled racist policies and started the race to the bottom to compete with Pauline. Economic reform? He put more hardship onto the poor by giving middle class tax breaks, introducing a regressive tax, and driving down wages with Workchoices, then squandered it all in his last year in a desperate attempt to stay in power. Conviction? Again the dog whistling, apart from gun control he followed the wind rather then led – like Keating with native title or even Rudd with stolen generations apology. Respect for office? No doubt he did, and I think all our PM’s do- but do I have respect for what he did or didn’t do in that high office – workchoices, children overboard, Iraq, failing to ratify Kyoto, failing to say Sorry. Sorry Dale but your article is misguided nostalgia.

  16. I will agree with a few items here but I won’t give you Economic reform. The only economic reform he did was introduce GST. Apart from that, the economy didn’t really experience much growth under his government. The surplus was a result of cutting spending, not actual economic growth.

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