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John Howard is back, stopping Australia again

Welcome to an ugly week. It is one in which the support for “Yes” to marriage equality will continue to soften. It is one in which intolerance will take root and hope will wilt. It is into these hothouse conditions that our shittiest, most cynical living Prime Minister returns to poison everything and everyone anew. It’s John Howard, returned from his dotty project of comparing himself to Robert Menzies. He’s back, doing what he does best at close to full capacity: propagandising.

You may be too young, or you may have been too sensibly drunk, to remember the Howard era. I was sober, more or less, and I can tell you, this guy learnt a thing or two from Goebbels. And, no, I’m not comparing the Howard years to those of the Third Reich—although, those in the Northern Territory who felt the force of a racialised (and ongoing) “Emergency Response” are quite entitled to make that comparison. I am saying, simply, that the bloke is very, very good at what I see as using media to spread his message of class deceit. Perhaps there was never a leader who could so effectively flatter “the battlers” into believing that their service to elites was in their own best interest.

Howard afforded generous tax concessions to investors in residential property. This was sold to the nation as an opportunity for all us Average Mums and Dads to become landlords! Never mind that a nation of landlords requires at least another nation of immiserated tenants. Nearly 20 years later, home ownership rates in Australia have plummeted, and renting is now a much more common experience than it has been in decades.

Then, Howard introduced “WorkChoices”, which he assured the people was a true rebel’s move against those nasty unions, with all their hoity-toity demands for a living wage. It was “simplified” legislation, he said, and killing off all those unfair dismissal laws would be a way to guarantee Australian jobs. Never mind that the facility to sack workers with ease was likely to drive wages down. Howard was a marvellous storyteller when it came to WorkChoices, right up ’til the point that people started losing their job security and booted his arse out.

It was in his moments of “culture wars” obfuscation that Howard showed true skill.

It was, however, in his moments of “culture wars” obfuscation that Howard showed true skill. By turning the attention of the nation again and again to the problem of unhealthy “culture”—just as much as any one of my post-modernist lecturers in the ‘90s did—the emerging problems of our stagnant wages and rising house prices were forgotten. We became fixated on the “black armband view” of history. Although an Aboriginal perspective on history had never been a meaningful part of the Australian curriculum and notwithstanding that the good Howard Australian was required to stand to attention every Anzac Day, remembering just one of many massacres ordered by the powerful, we just had to fight against the possibility—never the reality—of true and uncensored Aboriginal knowledge.

Honestly, to relive his tales about asylum seekers, and Muslim asylum seekers specifically, is today beyond my emotional capacity. It’s just too fucking sad. Of course, Howard was not the first Australian Prime Minister who succeeded in convincing white citizens both to blame their own rotten lot on “others” and to support the US hegemon in profitable battle. But, darn, he was good at it.

In the Howard years, we became briefly fixated on those Troubling Gays, who, in 2004, underwent a pointless sort of double exclusion from The Marriage Act. The words “man” and “woman” were inserted, according to Howard, to “make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation.” This is kind of impressive, if you think about it. Howard was at once able to declare that the state should control the terms of one’s most intimate partnership—and legal amendments that afforded rights to same- and opposite-sex couples identical to those for married couples were not made until the Rudd era—while also seeming like a defiant scallywag screaming in the tyrannical face of Political Correctness Gone Mad.

In my view there has not been a Prime Minister whose policy has been so coercive.

In my lifetime and in my view, there has not been a Prime Minister whose policy has been so coercive. He changed the way we work and he diminished our future possibility of secure housing. He sent the military in to strongarm Aboriginal communities. He made the rich richer and extended the power of the finance sector. He involved our nation in a war that we now all agree was barbarism, and one that many hundreds of thousands of Australians protested at the time. He fought against a style of teaching of culture and history that had never truly been taught. He played a pivotal role in reducing our wages—one’s “choices” do tend to diminish in scope along with one’s available funds. And he did all this while appearing to advance the case of “the battlers”. Many of whom now still believe his deceitful promise that a very contemporary set of economic policies hurt less if they were offset by a very old-fashioned set of cultural values.

He extended the techniques of the new economic liberalism—neoliberalism—introduced to Australia by Keating. Then, he promised us salvation with an idealised old-fashioned life. Problem was that Mum was now working casual full-time to feed the predatory lenders Howard had permitted to flourish, and Dad had lost the job security to which he had become accustomed. Howard accelerated real-life change in Australia, both cultural and economic, but blathered on for 11long years about his desired return to an era purportedly made unrecognisable by anti-war protestors, unions, Aboriginal academics and, basically, anyone who fell outside his base. Even when he failed the base, he was still perceived by many as a Rational Man with no time for this PC cultural nonsense.

Thanks, in no small part part to Howard, a “No” to the question of marriage equality now seems very likely.

And now, this master of doublespeak is back! Thanks, in no small part part to Howard, a “No” to the question of marriage equality now seems very likely. Why the eff anyone is surprised by this, though, is quite beyond me.

Comrades, we must pause to see how recently others were right here: engaged in a fight for something quite beyond the liberal matter being contested. This matter, so likely to be lost to a popular middle finger, is no longer about marriage. It’s about the conflation of a barely remembered life of middle-class fortune with still-remembered middle-class values.

Remember when it was generally held that the “Leave” vote in the UK would be easily defeated? When few pundits or people questioned the ease with which Hillary Clinton would make her way to the White House? Today, the UK is negotiating its departure from the EU and Donald Trump is President. In some part by accident and in some part by design, these strange illiberal victories occurred due to that “belief” upheld by Howard: things were better in the old days.

Things were, materially, better in the old days. There was a much bigger middle-class. Despite what our current Prime Minister says about this being an Exciting Time to Be Australian it is actually a pretty shitty time to be Australian—unless you think housing insecurity, underemployment and crap wages all qualify as a thrill. Depending on who you ask, things were culturally more stagnant in the old days. Unless we come to understand that the economy has a great impact on the way many people experience the culture, we who are likely to vote or publicly advocate for “Yes” have no hope of outdoing a media Machiavelli like Howard.

Across the West, voters are making some apparently illiberal choices, while their liberal opponents continue to say that these were anomalous, the work of an organised right-wing militia or the product of Russian Hacking. “You’re just stupid and unfeeling if you vote No.”

After more than two decades of separating economic reality from political consciousness, perhaps we’ve all become a little stupid and unfeeling. If someone, however deluded, feels that a return to old-fashioned values may also be a return to old-fashioned comfort—a story they’ve been told by canny propagandists like Howard for a very long time—can you truly blame them? Or, at least, can you hope to shake them out of a lifetime of thinking that everything starts with the culture, when you believe that as well?

Unlike Howard, I do not believe that the state should set the terms for any personal relationship.

That advocates for marriage equality have built much of their campaign on a smug presumption of near-unanimity—i.e. only the intolerant and stupid minority would vote other than “Yes”—always seemed a poor strategy to me. In this week when we will receive our survey slips, it seems tragic. Unlike Howard, I do not believe that the state should set the terms for any personal relationship. This does not mean, however, that I cannot see how much damage this mini-Brexit moment could do to our political life. There are terrible and widening divisions between the “progressive”, but still neoliberal, knowledge class and those Australians who long for a past in which they could still afford a home, maybe a coastal holiday once a year.

We could get together on this. There is no time, sadly, in the moments before Australia, I predict, votes “No”. But when it comes to other matters, we must speak beyond the terms that a propagandist like Howard permits. We cannot let matters of national significance become little more than a contest between the knowledge class and everybody else. We can no longer permit our belief in the primacy of the culture blind us to the economic lies we were told, and are still hearing. On both sides, we believe that cultural belief will change everything. It could be truly transformational if we found some solidarity in the true “centre”.


58 responses to “John Howard is back, stopping Australia again

    1. Nope …
      but don’t think there isn’t a whole section of the community who won’t fight gum and zimmer-frame to keep their privileges (and inexplicably another section who will fight against the own best interests to assist them)

  1. It’s somewhat sad that I have managed to find some decent arguments for marriage equality in the comments section of this article. I too was mistaken on the idea of civil unions being an equivalent to marriage, and the definition. So, I am glad to learn something that can inform my vote.

    However, I do anticipate, like Razer, that we will see a No result, if not for the Howardisms that have been injected into the discourse (oh how I hate how that man rode the coat tails of a global credit wave to announce himself a prudent economic manager. Such horseshit), then for the various religious objections of both Christian and Muslim faiths – both of which are large blocks.

    Having said all that, I will take no celebration in a Yes win. Politics has devolved into a sordid mess of virtriol and calling opposition bigots. LIke Razer, I saw it with the supposed win for Remain, and the nigh on impossible odds of Trump winning. Polls mean shit if respondents are asked if they agree with something, or if they are a bigot, and you can thank identity politic activists for this environment. If Yes wins, it will be despite this activism, not because of it.

  2. Thank you Helen for a first class article. John Howard’s tenure as Prime Minister was like the man himself. Little, mad about England, mad about the English upper class. He would have secretly preferred to live in England, his grotesque grovelling to the English Queen-which didn’t stop the English from seating him and his wife behind a pillar on the occasion of the wedding of Prince Charles, (I think). An anti-intellectual, grey little man born in a previous era, and proud of his myriad short comings. In other words, the last PM Australia deserved.

  3. Time will tell what a travesty the Howard years were. Squandered wealth, wasted opportunities in education and health, a truly mediocre time that dragged us back. How about Howard introducing taxpayer subsidies for status seeking parents aka private school promotion? How about the loss of national esteem and happiness thanks to his social division mongering? And how the hell do the coalition ever dare call themselves the non-interventionists when they introduce mandatory detention and change the marriage act? A truly awful PM for Australia. Bravo Helen Razer for telling it how it is.

  4. Helen,

    Had you ever worked or lived in the NT you would understand a little more about the knotty problem which the “intervention” tried to address. Both sides of politics acknowledge that difficulties exist; the intervention was an attempt to improve things.

    You and others of your ilk are so smart, you come up with a practical solution to this tragic set of circumstances. Marriage equality comes well down on the great list of pressing problems which need fixing pronto

    1. So, no criticism is possible unless one has a solution? I am certain you know, as an NT resident, that the intervention, based on the assumption that child abuse levels were higher than those in the general population (now known to be untrue) has done little but immiserate and humiliate the people it intended to help. It was and is a violation of human rights.
      I would say a meaningful return of the material resources on which this nation built its extraordinary wealth, so little of which belongs to descendants of its original inhabitants, might be a good start.

  5. And we would not be in the energy crisis we are now in if he had read and understood the science and done something about it, instead of cosying up to the mining industry and denying coal is now equivalent to asbestos. And if he had not encouraged Abbott as his attack-dog with only one idea – stop progress of all forms. Just imagine where we would be now without Abbott!!!

  6. You are correct in summation of Howard as the greatest arsehole that we have ever had as PM – and boy there have been some doosies – however he was allowed to continue his jingoistic, bigoted, reactionary reign by the total failure of the of the Labor leaders – especially Kim Beazley – to challenge and combat his ongoing lies and deceit especially about asylum seekers, starting with Tampa and continuing with WMD. Unfortunately this jumping on the bandwagon trait has continued since with the Labor leadership, which has allowed troglodytes like Howard and Abbott to still get traction.
    Howard should have been consigned long ago to the dustbin of irrelevance that he deserved.

  7. All conservatives in govt aim to control everything for the promotion of their class.

    However much I dislike conservative politics, I am still proud of PM John Howard when he called for a gun amnesty and restricted access to firearms in the community. That he appeared in person at Port Arthur to be apparent for us in a such an horrific time and showed his capacity to live and care for our communities means a lot still to me as at that time I knew 3 people directly affected by the massacre.

    In my humble view as an ordinary person, Australia can feel good about having elected John Howard, mediocre and culturally backwards PM, as his actions stopped mass murder such as Port Arthur in this country. The rest well , we are better off in this way at least and may have been spiritually the entire meaning behind his political life, unconsciously. The conservatives usually would never stand against the Australian gun manufacturers. We know his politics are wrong because we have had to live through the Howard years. Thank you John for ending mass murder in our communities here at least.

    1. Acknowledged. Perhaps, in recognition for an act that was the absolutely basic minimum expected of any national leader, we should erect a monument to John’s noble eyebrows – just as the US erected its statue to Benedict Arnold’s leg.

  8. For gods sake
    70 percent support it, including many Christians, such as myself.

    And priests will continue , as they are now,to be free to refuse to conduct ceremonies for people who are in their view, for whatever reason, not suitable candidates for marriage ( and that’s not just or simply about gender preference crap).

    Take a stress pill( or three).

  9. I was a Howard hater then and remain one now. The disreputable little shit is the worst PM in history, and that includes the laughable McMahon and disgraceful Abbott. Well done H. A perfect reminder of the depths he plumbed, and continues to. In my view he not only convinced the “battlers” to vote against their interests, but convinced people on 100 grand that they were battlers too!

    1. I actually agree with this, I was a battler on $100k then, $200k now, and I still reckon I’m a fair dinkum battler. I think my belief system goes back to my childhood, where we had less than the average person I reckon.

  10. I’m right with you, Helen. Howard was a megalomaniac with delusions of leadership and importance. He was one of our worst Prime Ministers, second only to Abbott. It’s a pity there is no mandatory euthanasia for outmoded, anachronistic, and simplistically stupid politicians. Howard would be an ideal candidate. The best thing he could do to retrieve any semblance of credibilty would be to shut up and enjoy his retirement. Unfortunately, old politicians never die, they just move one with the delusion that things are the same and they were always right.

  11. Well said HZ.
    It is a figment of alt reality that the Howard Costello years were a model of economic stewardship. What any economist will tell you is that the structural deficit we now have comes from their time in power.
    We had the halcyon days of the mining boom and they spent like drunkards in a brothel all the time congratulating themselves and denying the urgency of global warming or the dire straits of our first peoples.

  12. Why are women allowed to vote in Drunk Tony’s poll? Section 41 of the Constitution enfranchises each “adult person”, which means “adult men” to the blokes who wrote it, invalidating the 1902 Franchise Act enfranchising women. Seriously Australia, get a life. Who’s up for a republic governed by agreement between women’s and men’s assemblies.

  13. What is being sought is the right to marry and have that recognised by the state. If that happens, any organisation granted by the state with that power will be required to marry same sex couples. However homophobic churches can always cede that state authority and confine themselves to offering a prayerfest (or not) to a couple who have married elsewhere (in a registry office or a non-homophobic church). It’s not a problem but merely a homophobic beatup.
    John Howard’s entry into the fray is a plus for marriage equality, as his amendment to the Marriage Act can be shown loudly from the rooftops for what it was – a desperate measure to prevent couples married out there in the rest of the civilised world from entering Australia.

  14. “It is into these hothouse conditions that our shittiest, most cynical living Prime Minister returns to poison everything and everyone anew.”

    Yep, as much as Rudd is fighting for that title, JH just created so much division and dissent, and for political gain and out of a warped sense of nostalgia. His policies and the genies he let out of the bottle still plague us.

    He is a turd, entire!

  15. Helen’s recollection of the deceit of this man is spot on. The damage and division he inflicted on the working class people of of this country is still being felt. How did this ghoul escape from the crypt – time for (dis) ‘honest John’ to be shoved back into his comfortable tax payer subsidised black hole – and while we are at maybe he could be joined by his idealogical missus Bronny ‘snout in the trough’ Bishop and their political love-child the hideous Tony ‘I am an ape man’ Abbott. Please let this trio rot in peace.

  16. So glad to see Howard called out as the destroyer of the future that he was/is – I am so sick of people trying to say he was a good PM, and a good economy manager etc.

    He was the cause so much ill that we suffer today in this quasi-authoritarian, mindless 1950s dystopia he was instrumental in creating. Early on this article could just as accurately have been describing Trump: “the bloke is very, very good at what I see as using media to spread his message of class deceit. Perhaps there was never a leader who could so effectively flatter “the battlers” into believing that their service to elites was in their own best interest.”

  17. It has been said before. Howard and the Liberal Party have one very great skill; they make what is rational seem undesirable, even unobtainable.

  18. Razer’s denunciation of Howard – a total and unrepentant miscreant – is incisive.
    My heart just sank when he was elected to what turned out to be an interminable time in office. Right now though I can hear only derision everywhere I go for the Abbott -Howard – Dutton trifecta. These people are widely (and rightly) regarded as manipulative deadshits and nobody I encounter has any time for them – even liberal voters (the few I know). I reckon the YES vote will get up because a whole bunch of cautious Libs (including the current PM and NSW Premier) are pushing the YES vote. They wouldn’t be doing this unless they had the inside running on the final result.

  19. Ripper article – but this whole marriage ‘equality’ thing is stupid;hetero is different to homo as man is different to woman – marriage has been the traditional joining of man and woman,whilst civil unions give gays all the rights and privileges of marriage,so why are they pushing this whole ‘we want to be married too’ agenda?

    1. Civil Unions give most but not all the rights that marriage does. (
      We (our society) have persecuted people for the sexuality they were born with for centuries. If they want Marriage Equality to symbolize the fact that they are entitled to all the rights of citizens, why should they not have it? Indeed, who are we to deny it to them?Would it not be a small step towards assuaging our guilt

    2. Despite their differences, both men and women are entitled to be married by the state pete. Rich are, poor are, people of various shades are, different political and religious views are. LGBTIQ folk aren’t. Get it?

      1. Im actually glad you explained this, I don’t give a hoot about Marriage Equality because I thought everyone was equal under the law. Basically I’m an atheist and think the issue of marriage within the church is ridiculous. I did not understand that the state will not marry same sex individuals.

  20. Marriage Equality- Same Sex Marriage. I don’t understand what this debate/future postal vote is essentially about. I mean, who gives a rat’s about my vote or John H’s ? I thought that recently the GLBTI people were granted under Aust law, the same rights as the rest of the community. But they remained unable to marry in a church.

    Surely, the permission to marry in a religious setting rests with the centres of power of each respective religion who are mainly off shore. If the postal vote comes in with a resounding Yes and the Aust government acts accordingly, who is going to tell the Pope or his counterparts? Will they care or take notice?

    1. Do you remember halcyon days of the late 70’s? Well this is a new century and they’re over – time for some equal treatment in our society.

    2. I’m pretty sure Richard that you have been goosed by the propaganda. This is not about insisting that religions must marry gay and lesbian people. It will confer no right for gays to be married in a Christian or other church that doesn’t allow it based on their theology and doctrine.

      It is about them being allowed to marry, that’s all, not in a church, just to marry. If there is a church that does allow same sex marriage, they will be able to marry them, in the church. Currently they cannot, and the alphabet can’t get legally married and be recognised as a a married couple.

      Although that level of detail is not being talked about, I’m pretty sure that is what it is about. If it wasn’t, there was no way it would get up, as that actually would be about freedom of religion, which it is not. It’s also not going to lead to people being able to marry the Harbour Bridge, and won’t change the discussion about ‘political correctness’ one iota.

      1. Dog’s B, to me, civil unions or marriage is just a play on words and is the same thing to the people involved. If a couple make a very sincere pledge to each other then the venue is irrelevant. All that is left to consider is tradition and tradition, defines a country or culture. Messed with too much it becomes pretty shallow.

        1. Not a play on words Richard you can only be married according to the Marriage Act 1961. Religious organisations or marriage celebrants can marry couples. You can be married in a church or a park or s beach. Marriage bestows many rights on spouses that de facto couples don’t have such as being next of kin which is important to gays.

        2. Civil union does not allow couples the same legal rights as the Marriage Act. Civil unions differ from state to state and may not be recognized in other states or internationally. Couples in civil unions are not automatically recognized as next of kin, which can lead to all sorts of issues down the track . Everyone deserves the right to equal protection under law.

    3. Actually marriage can be both a civic institution and a religious one, but Howard could only legislate against same-sex-attracted people under the law, and that is what this national survey is purportedly addressing. I’d say most homosexuals are probably not particularly interested in getting married, but don’t like it that an abstract Daddy like the Government gets to say ‘No. You’re NOT ALLOWED!’ in the event that their situation changes and they want to ride in a Cadillac with Mr or Ms or X Right, and cans rattling behind.

  21. Interestingly I ran into the Rodent on the streets of Sydney today after my lunchtime jog. I asked him if he was voting “Yes”. He laughed out loud and said “Good heavens – no!”. I told him my boyfriend and I were counting on his vote. He laughed again and trotted off. He is like your racist old uncle at the Xmas family lunch, but infinitely more dangerous..

    1. Racist old uncles have been tolerated for various reasons over time (why?) but NOW its time for these bastards to be outed and for them to be firmly slapped down – and I mean really slapped down, enough IS enough – it’s time

      1. They are probably many more old uncles out there than Ross’. If you want to verbally ‘slap them’ to try and further your causes you may bring about undesirable polls. Everybody is entitled to contribute without hostility.

  22. Great piece Helen. Throw in the inevitable personal-nostalgia angles and Howard, Australia’s great 21st century opportunity-missing catastrophe, has lately started to take on the glow of elder statesman in the rear view mirrors of too many who should know better. Amazing what a brace of investment properties on the right side of the equity hump will do to a Gen Xer’s political memory…

    He was a viciously destructive, cynical cunt then. And he remains a viciously destructive, cynical cunt now. Please forgive the cuss. I lost more skin to that time than I care to recall. Still licking wounds that will likely only fester more, as the fruits of his reign rot.

    Bless your clarity of recall. And thanks for maintaining the rage.

  23. He is using the same tactics he used in the Republican debate. Appear like a wise and kindly old man, then quietly se about dividing and conquering by sowing doubt.

  24. Howard also changed the definition of marriage to include the phrase “voluntarily entered into for life”. Does this mean that there is no such thing as divorce?

  25. Thrre is not enough discussion about the material ways in which exclusion from marriage discriminates against GLBTI people. Like guaranteed access to your partner in hospital, the ability to sponsor your partner for migration under a category which is not “interdependent” (whose onus of proof is much harder than for married couples) and so on. Instead it’s all about love and romance and weddings and the right to gay wedding cakes which is all very lovely but kinda like building your house on sand.

    1. Thanks Daniel forr your comment. The author did write very glibly and inaccurately that Rudd had ‘equalised’ gay unions with marriage. Clearly she is not in a situation where the inequalities you mention will affect her – I hope!

      1. ‘Clearly”, if we’re playing identity politics, neither of you were in a same sex relationship on or before 3009 when more than 100 pieces of changed legislation came into effect.
        These were the efforts of the GLRL and what was then HREOC. Can you tell me how this suit, designed to remove all legislation that discriminated against non married couples (same or opposite sex) did not work at the Federal level?
        If you have no experience of these life-changing amendments fine. But get knotted when it comes to your accusation that I have no knowledge of my topic.
        Where were you in 2008?

        1. Thanks Helen. As a doctor the ‘I cant visit my partner in hospital so we need marriage’ bollocks shits me no end. Its an American argument that has no place in Australia – its simply not the law or practice in any hospital. The 2009 amendments were a huge swathe of changes for our community but they seem to be an inconvenient fact to my predominantly middle upper class white gay comrades who think marriage is ‘the solution’. And who voted for that bloody cretin Howard and keep the equally duplicitous Turnbull ensconsed in Wentworth. Thumbs up for reminding us all how horrendous (and long) the Howard years were.

        2. 3009? Do conventions for quotation marks evolve over the next 992 years? It looks like the lexicon has evolved a bit too because I honestly have trouble following your response. Are you the same person that wrote the article? The article is funny and incisive but this response here is, in my book, incoherent. Still, I’d probably be like a plate of creamed corn after traveling such distances in time-space so please continue to regale us with comparisons between Australian legislation in the early twenty first and thirty first centuries… Righteo, think I’ve mined all the gold out of those typos… I really did like the article though


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